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Bill Williams Epitomizes Role of Optimist Volunteer
It was 38 years ago this month that my family moved into the homestead in Knightstown. That’s when I first met Bill Williams. He was the next door neighbor and about six years older than me.
I had never held a baseball bat in my life and that first summer he and his buddy, Gary Morris, introduced me to whiffle ball.
Bill taught a lot of kids from that neighborhood how to play baseball. All summer long those older guys would spend time teaching the younger kids how to play the game. I, childhood buddies David Phelps, Doug Abrams, Jeff and Raymond Brown and countless other kids from the neighborhood would gather at the small field next to the railroad tracks at the intersection of Madison and Brown Streets. We would play whiffle ball all day long.
Nearly 40 years ago Bill was taking the time to teach kids how to play every sport. The makeshift diamond doubled as a football field as well, and the area backyard and alley basketball courts were also the sites of hundreds of pickup basketball games in which the older guys took the time to teach the younger ones.
I’m not sure there are very many 17- and 18-year-old kids willing spend hours playing ball with 10- and 11-year-olds these days, but we had Bill and Gary back then. We were fortunate.
It’s not like they didn’t have other things to do. My older sisters and every girl in the neighborhood thought “Billy” was the cutest guy in the universe. Phelps, Abrams and I spent entire summer days playing another baseball game that involved bouncing a rubber ball off of the porch steps – a game partly invented by Bill. All the while we were playing, we had to listen to Susan Jacks’ “Which Way You Goin’, Billy?” or The Fifth Dimension’s “Wedding Bell Blues” (Come On And Marry Me Bill, I Got The Wedding Bell Blues) being blasted on the stereo by some girl in an attempt to get his attention.
We always thought that was so stupid.
After a couple of summers of learning the game under Bill’s guidance, Phelps and I played little league and then Pony League baseball. I went on to play a couple of years of high school ball in a sport I would have never taken up had it not been for those older neighborhood boys who took the time to teach the game to some younger kids.
As the years went by, Bill moved on from playing high school baseball and football for Knightstown to becoming a volunteer at Sunset Park with the Knightstown Home Optimist Club.
He spent more than two decades putting in time, sweat and hard work to do what every Optimist Club member does, and that is devote themselves to the betterment of the youth in this community.
Just like last year’s winner, Larry Loveall, Bill has been working with and mentoring kids in Knightstown for as long as I can remember.
I’ve never told him this, but Bill had such an impact on me as a kid that in both Pony League and high school baseball I used a “Billy Williams” style baseball bat. Of course, the bat was named after the Chicago Cubs baseball star, but that didn’t matter.
Bill has always been one of the good guys. He recently retired from the Knightstown Volunteer Fire Department after a long term of dedication to yet another community-service cause.
Last Saturday, the Optimist Club paid tribute to one of my childhood heroes by presenting Bill with the Barry Elzey Award, which is perhaps the greatest compliment one who has devoted himself to youth can receive.
I knew he would be humbled, and he was.
“When you are down here doing all of the things that have to be done, you never think about winning a plaque or getting any kind of credit for it,” Bill said. “You do those things because someone has to, so it might as well be you. There are a lot of people deserving of this and I really had no idea I was getting it.
“To have my name on something associated with Barry Elzey, knowing how much he meant to this program, well, that’s quite an honor.”
To put a little perspective on the tenure of Williams, as well as previous winner Loveall, that duo has combined for over 40 years of volunteer service at the Optimist Club Diamonds. Elzey himself put in 18 years.
That’s quite impressive and speaks volumes for the importance and validity of the Knightstown Home Optimist Club.
I was at the ball diamonds Saturday when Bill was presented the award. My mind went back to that V-shaped, rock-filled field where he and Gary taught me how not just to play baseball, but to love sports.
They had no idea of the positive impact they were having on my life.
That could be a little food for thought for all of the men and women who devote so many of their precious hours and days working with the youth of this area in sports or any other endeavor. The impact you are having on those kids will likely last well into the future, and what you are doing is probably more important than you think.
What the Optimist Club does for the youth of this community is immeasurable.
It’s people like Bill who make that club possible.
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