The Lehighton Legion baseball team enjoyed one of its most successful seasons in recent memory a year ago.
That makes it all the more difficult to imagine that it could be the program's final season.
Just one year removed from an 18-9 season that ended with an extra-inning loss in the championship game of Lehigh Valley Legion Baseball League post-season tournament, the Lehighton Legion announced that it will not a field a team for the 2011 season.
"It is with extremely emotional feelings that I must announce the Lehighton Legion Baseball team had to withdraw from competition this year," said veteran Lehighton manager George Zellers. "Despite an extension from the Lehigh Valley Legion Baseball League, an extended advertised sign up, and calls to all high school baseball coaches in the program area, we just did not get enough players eight to be exact to field a team."
Zellers said he never saw the shortage of players coming. A year ago, Lehighton had a 16-player roster.
"The hardest thing I had to do in my 30 years of coaching baseball was to tell eight young men we would not be having a team," said Zellers. "A year ago, we were one pitch away from playing in Regionals. This year, with three area school districts in our area (Lehighton, Jim Thorpe, Panther Valley), we could not get enough players. It's hard to believe."
Zellers, who has been coaching the Lehighton Legion team since 2001, said the impact and history of Legion baseball in the community makes it even harder to take.
"Lehighton was one of the first original charter members of the Lehigh Valley Legion Baseball League back in early 1960s," said Zellers. "But the program was in existence even long before that. It started back in the early 40's with the likes of Leon Moose Kunkle and George Zellers and ran through the years to include players like Glen 'Pap" Warner, Bill Kunkle, Dan Kunkle, the Petrucci boys and many, many more. I personally played under my mentor Moose Kunkle, who installed in me a winning tradition of playing Legion Baseball in Lehighton."
Zellers said that Lehighton will be meeting in the near future with Lehigh Valley Legion Baseball League officials to inform them they will not have a team this season.
He will also talk to Lehighton Legion Business Manager Richard "Reds" O'Donnell to decide what the program's next step will be.