Kevin Felber runs to first base after a hit for the River Bats T-ball team. (Staff Photo by ANDY CARPENEAN)

By Bruce Campbell

Staff Writer

Kay Atkinson could feel the spirit of her late husband, Bob, as she watched the T-ball tournament named in his honor at David Allen Memorial Ballpark Saturday.

Atkinson, a longtime YMCA baseball coach and youth director, no doubt would have enjoyed what he would have seen -- kids having fun playing the sport he loved.

"He enjoyed getting kids interested in baseball," said Kay Atkinson. "At this age (4 and 5 years old) he didn't want any pressure on them. He just wanted them to get acquainted with the sport and have fun ... He loved watching kids play."

No score was being kept at the tournament, which almost resembled a circus with three games going on at once -- one in the infield, one in left field and one in right field.

"From everything I heard about him, he would have really liked what we're doing here," said Scott Baugh, Enid High School baseball coach and tournament director. "He did so much for the community. We wanted to do something to honor him."

The event, a fund-raiser for the EHS baseball team, attracted seven teams. There will be another round at 12:30 p.m. today. Baugh said organizers wanted the youngsters to have a chance to say they played at David Allen Memorial Ballpark.

Kay and Bob Atkinson had planned on being regulars at the Enid ballpark when he retired, Kay said. Bob died of cancer in 2001.

"He loved this ballpark," said Kay Atkinson. "I think he's watching down on us now."

Atkinson's 52 years with youth baseball began when he was a kid. As a 12-year-old he coached his team because the group couldn't find anyone else.

"He was a big 12," said Kay with a chuckle.

His impact on sports went beyond the playing field. He coached integrated teams as early as the 1960s.

Kay Atkinson remembered her husband's teams being denied access to amusement parks and restaurants while at tournaments in Oklahoma City because they had two black players -- Cleveland Williams and Dale Holt.

"He didn't care what color you were," she said. "He just loved people ... he was a friend of youth and fought for them. The children were his pride and joy."

The team's sponsor paid for the team to go to the amusement park after hours. If a restaurant wouldn't serve the whole team, Bob Atkinson just didn't go there.

"It really was ridiculous," said Atkinson about the racial barriers her husband's team faced.

Most of all, Bob Atkinson tried to teach a respect for the game. He wouldn't tolerate players arguing with umpires.

Bob Atkinson, while emphasizing fun, was still a competitor.

"He always said he teaches kids how to win," Mrs. Atkinson said. "That's the fun of the game. Losing is no fun."

Dawn O'Brien and Carla Burdick, whose sons play on the EHS team, hoped the kids on the field would learn to appreciate someday what Bob Atkinson meant to youth sports.

Burdick remembered how he was the first to reach her son, Richard, when he broke his arm in a YMCA football game. Her husband, Chris, played for Bob Atkinson.

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