Forty years ago, the 1978 Pine Bluff Jaycees Little League Baseball Program captured the National League Championship.
Over the weekend, many of the Jaycee team members returned, some seeing each other for the first time in four decades, to celebrate their championship season and to honor their former coach, Ed Brown.
Brown, the founder of Little League Baseball in 1952, coached the Jaycees for over four decades with his top assistant Harry Quinn, who was with him most of those years.
His sons, Tommy, Richard and David, helped him in the later years, along with a few others.
“The 1978 Jaycees was a special team in many ways and many traveled far away as Atlanta, Georgia, Nashville, Tennessee, and Houston to be a part of the ceremonies in person; others sent video-recorded messages,” according to a news release.
Many of Brown’s players from the ‘78 team had much success after Little League in Babe Ruth, high school and American Legion Baseball.
Several went on to play college baseball, and a couple were involved in professional baseball as players or scouts.
Many became coaches and volunteered their time to coach youth programs like Brown did. Some even went on to coach in college.
Brown’s biggest impact on his players and future National Little League players came in 1978 when he drafted Sedgwick McCollum.
The Jaycees, who had the last pick in the draft, told the other seven teams that if they passed on selecting McCollum, Brown would pick him up.
“Sure enough, that’s what happened, and McCollum became the first black player to join other white players in the league when he was selected by the Jaycees,” the news release said.
“Coach Brown had the biggest influence in my life,” said McCollum, who resides in Atlanta. “The times I had playing for the Jaycees were the best times of my life. Coach Brown, the entire Brown family, coaches and my teammates all treated me like family, and I love each and every one for that.”
McCollum went on to play college baseball at Southern Mississippi.
Jeff Gross remembers when he was selected to play on the Jaycees as a 9-year old.
“I remember on draft night I had a knock on the front door, and I went to answer it and there stood coach Brown, coach Quinn and coach Lightfoot in their Jaycee shirts and baseball caps. They came to let me know in person I was picked up to play for the Jaycees, it was one of the happiest days of my life,” Gross said.
“I knew through hard work and dedication that lots of championships would come, and they did. No one taught the fundamentals of the game like coach Brown did back then and cared for his players like him. I was blessed to have him as my coach, be a part of the Jaycee family and to have great teammates over the years.”
Gross coached college baseball (Arkansas-Monticello & Pensacola State College) and scouted professionally with Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs. He operates PRO-DAY Baseball - “Helping players receive scholarships to go off to college.”
Jaycee player Mike Reed said, “Playing for coach Brown was a pleasure and playing on the ‘78 team with some of best players I can remember. If I could say anything to coach Brown today, it would be, ‘thank you for teaching the game the right way.'"
Reed is the president of White Hall Junior Babe Ruth Baseball League and continues to help young kids locally.
The Jaycee Championship weekend “40-Year Anniversary” Celebration consisted of visits to three ballparks (Hill-Alford Field, Ed Brown Field and Taylor Field), visits with Pat Brown (wife of the late Ed Brown) and Brown’s three sons.
Dinners were held at Bar-B-Q Hut (2303 W. 26th) and Harbor Oaks Country Club. The Pine Bluff Bowling Alley served as host for recreation activities.
The team members also held a special graveside memorial at Graceland Cemetery to honor their coach.
The 1978 Jaycees were McCollum, Gross, Mike Reed, Rob Irwin, Buddy Owen, Bubba Rook, Donnie Grimmett, Allen Shanks, Mark Wilmoth, Morgan Rush, Joel King, Jim Taylor, Richmond Ross, Mike Johnston and Kurt Ray.