By Mike Steely
The Pond Gap Neighborhood Association has been celebrating its history and establishing its identity for several years now. These efforts have included placing street flags and banners on utility poles, fighting and losing against a large apartment complex, campaigning for retaining walls along Hollywood Drive, recognizing the first airport in the city there and distinguishing itself from the neighboring Bearden.
The latest project would seem to be a home run.
President David Williams hopes he’s in the closing minutes of what seems to be a nine inning game of establishing a small park along Sutherland Avenue. The idea is to recall the baseball games played in Pond Gap where men of all colors played each other in true inter-racial games.
The Neighborhood Association has plans drawn up showing a strip of land next to the UT RecSports Fields along Sutherland. The association members have pledged to build and maintain the park and the University of Tennessee has agreed to give the land but the solution to insuring the park has been elusive. Williams hopes the City of Knoxville can help with that.
The Lions Club recently donated the Fountain City Park and Lake to the city in a similar move to create an official city park there. Nearby is the Bearden pocket park dedicated to the Everly Brothers. Tyson Park and Third Creek Greenway are also nearby along Sutherland.
Recently Williams met with Vice Mayor Gwen McKenzie about seeking city help with accepting the UT donation with the association bearing the cost.
“I had a meeting with Councilwoman McKenzie about the city getting the property and assuming liability coverage. Gwen is thrilled with our project,” he said.
Mayor Indya Kincannon expressed her support last week as well: “I am very supportive of a historical park space along the greenway adjacent to the UTK athletic facilities along Sutherland should; (a) UTK provide an easement or other dedication real estate for such a use and; (b) the Pond Gap Neighborhood Association raises all funds necessary to design and build this new amenity.”
She went on to offer advice on what steps to take next and encouraged the park project.
Williams said the pocket park would be an ideal addition to the spirit of racial harmony in the city.
Games were played on Sutherland from the early 1930s until 1952 when field was converted to a miniature golf course and driving range. Several leagues ran regular schedules from June to Labor Day, Williams explained.
”The leagues were: City, Municipal, Suburban, Manufacturing, Atomic, Carl Strong. Top teams were Cherokee Mills, Cecil Hurst, Tenn. National Guards, Byington, Leonard Grocery, Bearden Civic, Knoxville Iron Co., Weidemann Beer and Glazer Steel,” he told The Focus.
“Local talent played teams from Sunbright, Newport, Lenoir City, Oak Ridge and Oneida. It is believed Bud Henson of Henson ESSO prepared the field. Black players included Willie ‘Pinky’ Boatwright, left-handed third baseman Walter Keith, pitcher Willie Curry, outfielder Arthur Curry, and first baseman Doug Curry,” he continued.
“The Bearden Tigers were managed by Cecil Groves. Some of the best teams played on Sutherland. White players included Bernard Waggoner Sr. and Bernard Waggoner Jr., grandfather and father of Bobby Waggoner, and they were quite versatile as they played several positions. They were always willing to organize local players to take on teams from out of town.
“Youngsters Bill White was White and Robert Kelso who was Black made sure kids in Pond Gap got to play. Bill lived on Sutherland across from the field and Robert lived on Mann Street opposite the field,” Williams added.
In 1950 a home run was hit across Sutherland and landed into the clothes basket of Mrs. Cozart as she was putting her wash onto a clothesline in the backyard of 500 Hollywood, which would now be the parking lot of Red Onion Pizza.
“Once the City acquires the 40’ by 100’ plot they could provide liability coverage for us. The Pond Gap Neighborhood Association would do the rest. We would pay for it, build it, and maintain it,” the neighborhood association president said.