In the small town of Edmonds in the 1940s and 1950s, they were the Boys of Summer. They may not have had fancy uniforms when they played sandlot baseball; however, the boys had all they needed — bats, baseballs and gloves. The game of baseball was in their blood. When chores were done, you could find the boys at the Civic Playfield on Sixth Street practicing to improve their skills.
In June of 1948, a photographer from the Seattle Times captured some of these boys on film as they sat beside one of their devout supporters — the former and well-remembered Edmonds Police Chief Victor Holmquist. Recently, one of the boys, Lee Ayers, sent me his copy of the 1948 Times photograph. Lee knew that this photo would mean a lot to me — it does. Seated beside Chief Holmquist was my little brother Tom — 14 years old. Pictured during this one moment in time, the boys are: Front row, left to right: Bill Bartlett, Mickey Ferlaak and his dog, Neil McReynolds and Fred Ewing. Second row, left to right: John Sipe, Larry Naughten, Edmonds Police Chief Vic Holmquist, Tom Deebach (my brother) and Clayton Crymes. Back row, left to right: Jack Wilbourne, Lee Ayers, Dale Burdett, Clyde Knapp and Dwaine Jones.
The boys in this photo were all students at Edmonds High School. At least two of the names may seem familiar to some. Larry Naughten served as mayor of Edmonds (1984-1992); and Neil McReynolds became the press secretary for former Washington State Governor Dan Evans.
My little brother became a remarkable all-around athlete with a special gift for baseball. During his 1952 senior year at EHS, Tom was the chosen candidate for the All-State Baseball Team, which was scheduled to play the Seattle All-Stars in a double header at Sick’s Seattle Stadium. Tom was called the unknown of the high school team. He didn’t hit home runs to make the headlines, but at the end of the season when the batting averages for Edmonds High School were announced, he headed the list with an outstanding .448 average. He became the top hitter for all of Snohomish County. Second base was Tom’s position and the local paper reported that he made many sparkling plays at his infield position. Besides playing on the high school team, Tom had five years of experience at second base as the kid on the town teams, and in 1951 he hit the ball at .389 for the Edmonds Lions.
While attending Whitman College at Walla Walla, Tom’s baseball talent attracted the interest of scouts from two East Coast Major League baseball teams. However, professional baseball was not the path in life Tom chose. Even so, right up until his death at the age of 79, my brother never lost his love for baseball.
Classmate Lee Ayers and my brother Tom remained close friends from the time they were youngsters. In fact, Lee was on his way for a visit and to play some golf with his long-time friend when he received word of my brother’s accidental death at his home in Utah.
With the use of the internet, Lee Ayers — also a 1952 graduate of EHS — has long been the glue that holds early graduates of Edmonds High School together. With the use of his list of email recipients, Lee keeps them up-to-date on the latest happenings in the lives of former classmates.
At the age of 13, Lee Ayers had his own shining moment. The headline on the sports page of the Seattle Times on Friday, May 7, 1948 read: “Ayers Wins Woody at Edmonds.” It went on to say “Lefty Lee Ayers, who specializes in pitching sinkers down around a batter’s knees, won the Old Woodenface Baseball Contest at Edmonds yesterday.” According to the article, Lee Ayers had “whiffed” the Times-Park Board automatic umpire eight times to beat out 168 other contestants for the school district’s crown. A photo with the article showed a beaming Lee Ayers standing between his classmates Dean Blevins and Dick Correll, and surrounded by the smiling faces of numerous other local boys. In a playoff for second place, the finalist was George McCullough, a fifth-grader at the Alderwood Manor Grade School. The contest was held on May 6, actually a school day, and as reported in the paper, it seemed like a holiday with scores of spectators lining the Edmonds Civic playfield to cheer the boys on. Spectators included Edmonds civic officials; Police Chief Victor Holmquist; as well as Richard Rowe, Edmonds High School football and track coach and Director of Physical Education for the Edmonds school system.
Some long-time residents of Edmonds, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace may have memories of their own youthful days and the Seattle Times Pitcher’s Contest with Old Woodenface. For others, the following explanation of the long-ago very popular contest was provided by Seattle baseball-memorabilia collector Charles Kapner.
“In 1921, the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department in conjunction with The Seattle Times began an athletic contest which lasted for almost 50 years. The event was called the Old Woodenface Contest (nicknamed Old Woody). It was a simple wooden frame with a rectangular hole the width of home plate which simulated a strike zone. Contestants threw baseballs at the frame from 50 feet away. If three pitches (strikes) made it through the hole before four balls missed the target, the imaginary batter was struck out and the contestant then faced the next imaginary batter. Once an imaginary batter was walked, the contestant was done. Originally the contest visited only Seattle area playgrounds, but in time, it was expanded to other northwest Washington cities. To be eligible, contestants had to not be older than 14 as of the starting date of each yearly contest, usually around April 4.” The accompanying photo shows some Seattle boys in 1924 receiving instructions on the finer points of the Old Woodenface contest.
In the Edmonds School District during our present day, the sports the youths take part in seem to have almost reached a professional level. I often wonder if there is still the same joy in playing baseball as there was long ago when life seemed less complicated. Will the young people of today have pleasant memories? Will they remember their own youth as a time of fun? I hope so. Good memories are a panacea during the golden years.
— By Betty Lou Gaeng
Betty Lou Gaeng is a long-time resident of Lynnwood and Edmonds, coming to the area in 1933. She researches and writes about the history and the people of both early-day Lynnwood and Edmonds.