Post 94 Senior Legion team hangs up cleats
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on January 15, 2008 1:48 PM
SNOW HILL -- When James "Rabbit" Fulghum started an American Legion baseball program nearly four decades ago, his plan was to put a competitive -- and formidable -- team on the field.
A pioneer in his sport, Fulghum's teams at Snow Hill Post 94 progressed and enjoyed continued success. They won several Area I East and Area I championships, and advanced to the state tournament on a few occasions.
However, 34 years later, Snow Hill Post 94 -- a program of dubious distinction -- has disbanded. Fulghum announced he would not return to coach for health reasons and notified current players of the decision during Christmas break.
"It was very hard," said Fulghum. "We kept getting squeezed and squeezed, and it got down to us and Farmville Central as the area to pull (players from). Then, you had to go out and get releases to pull other people in.
"The concern was getting to the point where you couldn't compete with enough players. I just felt like I couldn't do it another year."
Fulghum missed most of last season due to illness and Post 94 labored to a 10-9 record overall. The team finished in the lower half of the Area I East South Division and failed to reach the playoffs.
A handful of those players are expected to return this summer, but will undoubtedly wear a different uniform. Fulghum said he will the players who wish to continue their Legion careers. They must try out with the team closest to them before they can get released.
Post 94 plans to keep its Junior Legion program in an effort to help cultivate players for Greene Central's perennially-strong high school team. Snow Hill won the 2003 Junior Legion state championship with current head coach Scott Jones.
Fulghum added that showcase ball and other distractions have "watered down" American Legion baseball over the years.
"It takes away from the development of high school programs, I think, too," said Fulghum, a 1981 inductee into the N.C. American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame. "Now, unless you're an exceptional junior, you're going to get left out. I was a pioneer for Legion baseball. I loved it and promoted it."
Snow Hill had rivalries and camaraderie with nearly every other post statewide. Opposing coaches picked Fulghum's brain before and after every game, and took copious notes while watching his many talented teams perform on the field.
Post 94 advanced to the state championship series in 1981 and 1988, falling to Cherryville and Kernersville, respectively. Fulghum guided his 2000 and 2003 squads to the eight-team state tournament, which was the springboard to the Southeast Regionals.
"You just enjoy playing against somebody who you wonder what he's going to do next," said Wayne County Post 11 skipper Brad Reaves. "And it's been a pleasure to coach against someone as knowledgeable and well-thought of like Rabbit is. You always like to sit around before games and talk with him.
"I'm going to miss it."
Snow Hill is the only Area I East team to have a winning record against Wayne County. Reaves teams played Post 94 on an even keel and ousted them from the playoffs a couple of seasons ago.
"I hate to see Rabbit go and hate to see the program fold," said Reaves. "It seems like Legion is fading a little bit and that's a shame. With all the showcase stuff going on ... well ... let's just say I've got my own opinions about a lot of things.
"The Rabbit Fulghums and Doyle Whitfields (former Post 11 coach) don't come along every day. You hate to see them go and you know they're not going to be replaced. Of course, they're going out on their own terms."
Fulghum credited part of Post 94's success to athletic officer Willie Jones, an 1985 inductee in the N.C. American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame.
"Willie is the reason Legion ball survived as long as it did in Snow Hill because he raised all the money," said Fulghum. "He told me 20 years ago that when I decided to get out, he was getting out, too.
"I hate to see it go. But it's something that happens with time."
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