Cherryville has become one of the state’s top American Legion baseball programs. The foundation for that success was built in 1953
By Richard Walker
With seven state titles in history, many think Cherryville Post 100 has always been an American Legion baseball power.
It just seems that way, but it all started with the magical summer of 1953.
That season, a first-year coach more known for his time at Gardner-Webb took over a program that had won only two playoff series in its history and guided Cherryville to its first state title and first American Legion World Series appearance.
Along the way, the team created memories that last to this day with star players – and even a batboy who is arguably the most famous sports figure ever produced by the town.
Norman Harris was a Gardner-Webb coach best known at the time for being a blocking back at Asheville Lee Edwards High School for the famed Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice. (Justice, a football star at the University of North Carolina and in the NFL, would actually spend the last several years of his life living in Cherryville before his death at 79 in 2003.)
Harris had just completed his fourth year at Gardner-Webb Junior College, where he was a football and basketball assistant coach and head baseball coach. Harris would later become athletic director and head coach of all three programs, most notably football; Gardner-Webb honored Harris in 2010 with the naming of Norman Harris Field at Spangler Stadium.
Harris inherited a Post 100 team that had finished 17-13 under Wake Forest basketball and baseball coach Murray Greason in 1952.
The team was led by pitcher Hugh “Buzz” Peeler of Lincolnton, who had just completed his freshman year at Lenoir-Rhyne.
Other players were Cherryville’s Jimmy Lail, Ronald Turner, Ronald Whitaker, Bobby Turner and Eugene Lail, Lincolnton’s Walter Cornwell, Larry Armstrong, Jerry Gates, Terry Gates and Jim Lineberger, Denver’s Ray Cloninger, High Shoals’ Bobby Lineberger, Belwood’s Marion Miller and Tryon’s Darrell Smith.
Many year before he became a world-renowned bass fisherman, Guy Eaker was the team’s batboy. Eaker is a member of the Cherryville, National Bass Fishing and Gaston County Sports halls of fame after a career in which he was frequently the top-ranked bass fisherman in the world.
And as talented as the 1953 team may have been – Cloninger was joining the team after helping Rock Springs win a Class 1A high school baseball title – Post 100 had never beaten nearby rivals Gastonia Post 23 or Shelby Post 82 in the playoffs.
In 1953, Post 100 defeated both along with playoff success against Charlotte Post 9, Concord and Wilmington. Cherryville also won a regional playoff series in Cherryville and a sectional playoff series in Sumter, S.C., to qualify for the ALWS in Miami, Fla.
The team finished fourth in the regular season race before catching in the postseason behind many dramatic victories.
The clinching win over each of the first four playoff series came by one run. Peeler was the winning pitcher in three of those games and Cornwell the winner in the other.
In the regionals that drew overflow crowds at Cherryville, Peeler pitched and hit Post 100 to a 1-0, 11-inning victory over Norfolk, Va., in the opening round; He threw a complete-game four-hitter with 11 strikeouts and beat out a two-out bunt for an infield single to drive in the winning run.
Four days later, he was the winner again in front of 5,500 fans in Cherryville’s 8-4 regional-clinching win over Memphis, Tenn.
The following week in Sumter, S.C., Peeler won back-to-back games over Monroe, La., as Cherryville won to advance to the ALWS.
In Miami, the magic ran out for Post 100 as it lost 2-1 to eventual ALWS runner-up Winnetka, Ill., and 3-2 to Milford, Mass.
For a team that went 31-16 overall, Peeler’s pitching record was 19-5 with 210 strikeouts.
Peeler, who pitched one year in the minor leagues, would go on to coach high school athletics and Legion baseball and was a 1988 N.C. Legion Hall of Fame inductee.
Cornwell finished with a 7-6 pitching record and Jim Lail (.316 average), Bob Turner (.269) and Ronald Turner (.266) were other top hitters.