Herald Photo / Dean Hockney
HONOR  — With Nolan Sanburn looking on, UCT President Andy Keating presents the first Carl A. Koontz Mental Attitude Award to Kassie and Noah Koontz.
Herald Photo / Dean Hockney HONOR — With Nolan Sanburn looking on, UCT President Andy Keating presents the first Carl A. Koontz Mental Attitude Award to Kassie and Noah Koontz.
On April 16, UCT hosted its 67th annual opening day ceremonies with a packed park of players, coaches, families, and friends. 

After introducing every player, a prayer by Amy Roe, and a perfectly-executed rendition of the National Anthem by Sean VerLee, Noah Koontz, who was escorted to the pitching mound by his mother Kassie, delivered the opening day game ball to UCT alumnus and current professional baseball pitcher Nolan Sanburn. 

But before Sanburn could toss out the ceremonial first pitch of the season, UTC President Andy Keating had a special announcement that thrilled the crowd.

“We have not had a mental attitude award at UCT,” said Keating. “But we now will have one: The UCT Carl A. Koontz Mental Attitude Award.” 

Of course, that declaration elicited a long ovation from the hundreds of fans in attendance as they honored the Koontz family. 

Koontz, Noah’s father and Kassie’s husband, was a Howard County Sheriff’s Deputy who was killed in the line-of-duty last year. Keating presented the inaugural award trophy to the Koontz family in a ceremony that took place on the UCT pitcher’s mound.

After Sanburn fired a strike to Patrick Hardimon of Coke, Keating grabbed the microphone one final time and yelled the most famous words in baseball: “Play ball!” And with that, the 2017 youth baseball season was underway.

Three teams were undefeated at the end of the first day of Major League action as McPike’s defeated CJ’s Car Wash 13-2, Kings Heating beat Jarrell Orthodontics 8-6 and Coke downed Eriks Chevrolet 12-6. 

In 2017, UCT hosts seven T-Ball squads, eight Rookie League teams, three Minor League teams and six Major League teams. Under the leadership of Keating, more than 300 Kokomo youth will be playing America’s Pastime each evening through June.

Each spring, young baseball players gather around the nation and play baseball. Kokomo is no exception, and since 1951, future Major Leaguers have been playing at Miller-Highland Park along the banks of the Wildcat Creek. 

In 1953, the league was renamed UCT Little League after a donation by United Commercial Travelers of American. 

Decades later, UCT Cal Ripken Youth Baseball League is a power not only in Howard County but also around the state. The league owns 11 David A. Kasey Memorial Youth Baseball Tournament titles and is the defending 12-year-old all-star state champions. 

NOTE: Southside (260 players) also opened on April 15. Greentown, Northwestern, Taylor Southeast and Russiaville opens on April 22; Northside on April 29; and Eastside on May 6