By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Playing ball at Carter Park is a rite of passage for many Bowling Green children. It’s where they learn to run for first base, not third after hitting the ball. It’s where their families fill the bleachers to root them on. It’s where they grab a handful of gummy worms and a slush after hot nights on the field.
So Modern Woodmen recently honored the man who has devoted 41 years to the BG Youth Baseball program as a “Hometown Hero.”
Tim Dunn was recognized at the Carter Park diamonds last month, and the fans seemed to appreciate the honor, since Modern Woodmen paid for hot dogs and drinks for anyone interested.
“About 400 people took them up on it,” Dunn said.
Many of the young ball players may be unfamiliar with Dunn and this enduring role with the youth baseball program. He started in 1976 by taking care of the grounds as a kid. He went on to umpire in high school, became Pee Wee League commissioner, then president of the BG Youth Baseball and BG Pee Wee League. Dunn has held that position since 1982.
He coached teams for years, but now focuses on more administrative items like the scoreboards, sponsorship contracts, and organizing eight tournaments a year.
Dunn still enjoys watching games from the stands, but now he usually has a pen and pad, so he can take notes on issues that need fixed. He knows a lot of people are counting on him and the program.
This year there are nearly 400 children in the youth baseball program. Some years, the number reaches 500. It is a summertime staple for many Bowling Green kids, ages 4 to 15.
Dunn knows it’s programs like this that start lifetime loves of the sport. He watches as kids start pretty raw in April and polish some skills by July.
“They learn putting the gloves on their right hand, while they are digging in the grass,” he said. “The light really does come on over time.”
Then there’s the lifelong lesson about sportsmanship. “They are one piece of the puzzle to make the team go.”
The ballpark not only brings joy to kids, but also to their families who pack the bleachers.
“You see friends and families,” Dunn said. “A lot of lifelong friendships occur out there. A lot of people tell me it was the best years of their lives when they came out here.”
“That’s good stuff,” Dunn said, smiling.
The nine ball diamonds on about 25 acres, are used for several large tournaments that bring crowds into the city. But they are also used by average kids who just want to play ball.
“Where a kid just wants to come out and play 15 games a year,” for fun, he said.
But giving young ballplayers that opportunity in the summer takes planning year round. The 10-member volunteer board works to keep the operation running, since it is not city funded.
“We have to make this place go,” Dunn said. That includes everything from maintaining buildings and fields, finding umpires, getting sign sponsorships, conducting candy fundraisers, running the concession stand, getting team sponsors and organizing tournaments. This summer the Black Swamp Tournament will bring 106 teams to the city.
“Our goal is we want our baseball to be well organized,” Dunn said.
Dunn is full of appreciation for local businesses, organizations and individuals who have helped fund the program over the years.
“I feel so indebted to so many businesses and sponsors that make us go,” he said. “It’s been a lot of people pulling that weight to make this go.”
Now Dunn is focusing on how to keep the youth baseball program running long into the future.
“We have to stop living year to year,” he said.
So his goal now is to find long-term funding that keeps kids learning to bat, catch and pitch for generations to come. “I think that’s the only way this place is going to survive long-term,” he said.