LOOKING BACK: One of the Lismore High School teams who won the Proud Shield in the 1980s.
LOOKING BACK: One of the Lismore High School teams who won the Proud Shield in the 1980s. The Northern Star

The history of baseball in the Northern Rivers

THE decade of the 1980s saw a tremendous growth in baseball's popularity on the Far North Coast.

A group of players and parents, led by FNC stalwarts John McKee, Bill O'Sullivan, Bob McClelland, and Rick Healy, introduced an afternoon T-ball competition in the summer of 1980.

This was followed by a senior competition played under lights at Oakes Oval, Lismore.

Both had an overwhelming response and put the future of baseball on a solid footing for years to come. The T-ball competition outgrew Oakes Oval and was transferred to Clifford Park where it ran for a further nine years.

The 1984-85 season saw a record number of T-ballers turn out with over 120 players wanting part of the competition.

Regular Saturday baseball became so popular that the four grounds at Albert Park, Lismore could not accommodate all the teams so alternate grounds were used at McKenzie Park, Nesbitt Park and Richmond River Park, along with Casino and Ballina fields.

All of these diamonds were full from Friday night until Saturday evening.

Casino's ranks grew and saw them enter teams for the first time in B Grade and under-15s along with an already established under-18 team in 1980.

Casino entered their first team in Major League in 1983 after a number of successful years in the B Grade (Division 1) competition.

FNC baseball was so strong in the late 1970s and early 1980s with many talented players and a record number of players gained state selection.

In the 1976 and 1977 seasons FNC Baseball gained just four FNC juniors in the Queensland State teams but with the increased popularity over the following five seasons, the association boasted 67 State representatives.

From this number six gained Australian selection.

Along with this Lismore High School took out the state-wide knockout competition (the Proud Shield) in 1979 and 1980.

They had players the calibre of Allan Worgan, Michael Youngberry, Steven Devlin, Pat Youngberry and Michael Davison, all of whom were state and/or Australian representatives.

Kadina High School entered the Proud Shield competition for the first time in 1981 and reached the state final but went down to a strong Hurlstone High School 11- 2.

Lismore High School again was triumphant in securing the shield in 1985 and 1987 with a team that consisted of virtually all Queensland State players.

The Queensland Claxton Shield team of 1981 had a number of FNC players led by Adrian Meagher junior, Peter Gahan and Bob McClelland with Rick Healy as assistant coach and Ron Hepburn as manager.

The growth in popularity among junior players led to the decision, in 1981, to form a separate Junior Association to accommodate the increasing number of teams.

In 1982 David Youngberry gained selection in the Australian team to compete on the world stage at the Under 19 World Series in the United States and went on to be picked in the World Under 19 Team, giving him the distinction of being the best catcher in the world in this age group.

David then accepted a scholarship to Georgia Southern University where he played under legendary College Coach Jack Stallings.

Mark Buckley, in 1989, emulated Youngberry's achievement in being selected as part of the Australian Team to play in the World Under 19 Tournament.

Like Youngberry, Buckley was also named in the World All Star team.

This article is compiled from The Northern Star archives and with the assistance from Bill O'Sullivan, Bob McClelland, John McKee and Geoff Baxter. See The Northern Star tomorrow for the second part of this instalment.

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