Tonawanda News — When the Tonawanda National Little League closed its doors in 2000, the games may have ended but the impact of those that kept it alive for about 50 years continues to be celebrated.
On Saturday night at 6 p.m. inside American Legion Post 264 in Tonawanda, TNLL will host its second annual reunion.
Many individuals have left their mark on the league, but maybe none more so than 74-year-old Bill ‘Bear’ Bearfield, who volunteered within the organization for almost 40 years.
Bearfield’s love of the game and passion for teaching allowed him to coach and even undertake the responsibility of league president for 12 years. All of his time and hard work was to help youngsters play the game he loved.
“We taught the kids about good sportsmanship and being good sportsman, and to play the game fair,” said Bearfield, a retired Spaulding Fibre factory worker and union rep. “I think I enjoyed the games as much as the kids did. I think that’s how most of the managers felt, because we’re like big kids. We always had a good time and when the game ended — sometime you would be at each other, tooth and nail, for the game, but it was all in competition.”
Bearfield moved to Niagara-Wheatfield after he got married, but never could divorce himself from the league and city that he loved. When he got out of work at the factory he’d go from Wheeler Street over to the fields off Fletcher Street on Little League Drive.
‘The Bear’ said that TNLL and Tonawanda American Little League were one of the first organizations to compete in interleague play. With only four team in the majors TNLL wanted to give the players a chance to play more teams and avoid repetition.
“We did a lot of things in the league. It wasn’t just one person it was a lot of people,” Bearfield said. “We started a tee ball program early and we started interleague play, probably 10 years before Williamsport said it was OK. … We had probably the only in-ground dugouts which was kind of neat for the kids because that’s what the major leaguers had then. We tried to maintain them to the very end.”