published Friday, October 19th, 2012

Knothole memories: Members of former kids' league reunite as Engel Stadium opens its doors to public

Bob Fortson, left, looks at some pictures handed to him by Johnnie Fritts, right, as they settle in for the Engel Stadium Knothole Gang reunion Thursday afternoon. Members of the Knothole Gang visited Engel for a reunion Thursday night. The public was invited to the event as well to see the refurbished stadium.
Bob Fortson, left, looks at some pictures handed to him by Johnnie Fritts, right, as they settle in for the Engel Stadium Knothole Gang reunion Thursday afternoon. Members of the Knothole Gang visited Engel for a reunion Thursday night. The public was invited to the event as well to see the refurbished stadium.
Photo by Jake Daniels.

The seats at Engel Stadium were filled with Knotholes on Thursday night.

Engel Stadium opened its doors to the public Thursday as part of a community open house and reunion of the Knothole Gang, a baseball league that also gave kids the opportunity to attend Lookouts games for free if they met certain requirements.

"This may be the first time in a long time these seats have had people in them," said Bill Kuehn, manager of Engel Stadium. "But I can guarantee you, there will be fannies in them for years to come."

For many, visiting the stadium Thursday was a reminder of good times in the past.

"To visit this stadium means a lot to me, because when I walk on that field, it's like a church to me," said Buck Johnson, former sports editor of The Chattanooga Times, who spoke Thursday. "The thing that the Knothole Gang gave to me made me who I am today."

Knotholes were expected to study and earn good grades, go to church and not use curse words in order to be able to play baseball in the league and earn the ultimate benefit of attending Lookouts games for free. They were given official cards that were signed by their parents.

Bill Neighbors was wearing copies of his three Knothole cards, the first of which he received in 1937, and said he used to come to games at the stadium with his grandfather.

Ralph White spent two years selling popcorn and Coke in Engel Stadium starting in the summer of 1949. Every once and awhile, Ruby Williams, the woman who ran the concessions, would let him sell hot dogs.

"You had to come over here real neat looking if you wanted to sell hot dogs," White said. "A lot of us boys, we'd come over here after playing baseball -- we weren't looking that good."

But despite the outpouring of support, there is still a big question about what the future holds for Engel Stadium.

"We really are at a decision point in this community about whether we are going to save this thing or not," said Chattanooga City Councilman Peter Murphy, who was at the stadium Thursday with his son, Burke.

Rink Murray and his sister Erin Murray said they would love to see the stadium used for community events, particularly concerts.

"I understand the draw to get everything down by the riverfront, but they could do so much here," said Rink Murray, who was there with his kids. "This would be a great place for a kid's carnival, or a brewfest would be great here. I would come down here for that."

about Rachel Bunn...

Rachel Bunn is originally from Ellijay, Ga., and graduated from the University of Georgia with degrees in magazines and history. While at UGA, she wrote for the student magazine UGAzine, served as news editor for the student newspaper, The Red & Black, and spent a semester studying British history at Oxford University in Oxford, England. She has previously worked at The Rockdale Citizen in Conyers, Ga., and The Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the ...

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