WALNUT — When Larry Wilcoxen moved from Bradford to Walnut in the early 1960s, he brought Little League baseball with him.
Wilcoxen started up the Western Bureau Valley League in 1965 featuring a Little League including Walnut, Amboy, Buda, Manlius, Ohio, Sheffield, Tampico and Wyanet.
“Back then, parents let you run the whole shooting match. They didn’t get involved, griping and moaning all that stuff,” said Wilcoxen, who has served as President of the Walnut Park District Board since its inception in November of 1973.
The WBVL Little League Tournament marked its 50th consecutive year on the Walnut diamond over the weekend. Wilcoxen, a longtime Cubs fan who was in the fourth grade the last time his team reached the World Series, thew out the ceremonial first pitch of Sunday’s championship game to Walnut Park District Executive Director Jerry Fairbanks, who’s run the WPD and WBVL since 1977.
The pitch was called a strike by Wilcoxen’s son, Ken, a former Walnut Little Leaguer who has been umpiring the tournament for 40 years and played it for another four years.
Wilcoxen remembers well the early years of the WBVL Little League when Walnut fielded the Pirates and Indians teams.
“Very much, so. There’s nobody else, I guess, except for my wife and she ran the concession stand,” Wilcoxen said of the first Little League Tournament in 1965. “I told Jerry, ‘I don’t care how many tournaments you host, but I want you to host that for 50 years.’ … I’ve enjoyed it.”
Many of the original towns still play today — Walnut, Manlius, Ohio, Tampico and Wyanet with Sheffield and Buda now combined. The field now includes Annawan, LaMoille and more recently, Princeton.
“”I think it’s pretty cool. The Western Bureau Valley League is a testament to the little towns and the volunteers in those towns to keep things going,” said Fairbanks, a former Wyanet Little Leaguer for Bobby Lee Oloffson, who missed playing in the tournament by one year. “We’ve got no fancy organization we’re associated with, but we’ve been able to keep things going.”
Fairbanks said when the towns in the league that merged together to form the Bureau Valley School district in the mid-’90s, the WBVL helped to keep the towns’ identities.
“It’s a positive thing,” he said.
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