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SUMMERVILLE — Years ago, Doty Park near downtown looked drastically different when it was a huge hub for Black residents.
There wasn’t a community center. And baseball fields used to sit where tennis courts now stand. Those fields were typically filled predominately with Black residents from the Alston and Brownsville areas.
Anthony Pinckney, a 58-year-old native Summerville resident, said his wife ran the concession stand. He used to drive around the park after the baseball fields were replaced, trying to remember the good days.
Louis Smith, another longtime Summerville resident, said being there in the 1980s and ’90s felt like a neighborhood experience.
“You probably had a lot of marriage proposals out there,” he said. “It was a cultural hub of the community.”
For decades, Doty Park was the home to the Carolina Dixie Youth Baseball League. It was a program where Black and White children in large numbers could gather and play baseball as a community. In 2020, a program of its scale doesn’t exist at the park.
It started in 1969, the same year Dorchester County schools were ordered to integrate. Though there was a Summerville youth baseball league that invited all children at the time regardless of race, that league had cuts. It only made space for a select group of children.
Most Black families chose to have their children play at Doty because it felt more comfortable. The league also gave children more opportunities since they didn’t have cuts.
This further diversified the Doty league, since some White parents weren’t comfortable with a cuts policy either.
“We didn’t want to hurt their feelings,” said Jerome Sanders, one of creators of the league at Doty. “We never cut children.”
The Doty league no longer exists today, and some residents say the park doesn’t have the same feeling it once had. The park has also seen controversy.
In 2018, James Martin, a Black tennis court instructor, was banned from providing free tennis lessons at Doty because of disputes around scheduling. It resulted in several protests at the park.
Doty also isn’t a forgotten or neglected park. Today, visitors are more likely to see a small group of parents with their children playing tennis or on the playground. By October, the park will be the home to new pickleball courts that are set to replace old horseshoe pits.
Some residents hope that more can be done to include additional recreational opportunities for Black children. That could be from the community doing it themselves or the town pushing an initiative.
Former Doty league coaches said they saw the impact the program had on the children.
“It just made a big difference,” said Pinckney, who served as the commissioner of the league for 18 years.
An established league
Former organizers at the Doty baseball league say the program was an opportunity to keep children in the area occupied.
After graduating from Summerville High School, Preston Thorne went on to play on the University of South Carolina football team’s defensive line for four years.
He has performed in front of thousands. But he said he was more nervous playing in an all-star tournament for the Dixie Youth Baseball League in Summerville in the 1990s.
The tournament included a match against a team of mostly White children who played at Parks Field in the town. Thorne said he doesn’t remember much from the game, just the nerves.
“It felt different for that game,” he said. “The amount of pressure was definitely unhealthy.”
It was common knowledge in the 1990s that the Black children typically played at Doty and the White children played at Parks Field, Thorne said.
He was a part of the Doty league from 1993-94. He and his family moved to Summerville when he was in fifth grade. Pinckney, the commissioner of the Dixie league at Doty, came by Thorne’s home and invited him to join.
Doty was the space that introduced Thorne to sports in Summerville. He said he remembers the smell of the concession stand and the sounds of multiple games being played.
“It was a welcome into Summerville’s community,” he said.
The league started in 1969 with Jerome Sanders, Sam Green and Pinckney’s father, Alonza. At the time, Anthony Pinckney was a bat boy #for the league.
Sanders said there was only one dispute when the Carolina Dixie Youth Baseball League invited the children at Doty. The leagues in Ridgeville and Harleyville dropped out because of the inclusion of Black children.
Other than that, he said, they felt welcome.
“We weren’t a Black league, we were an established league,” he said.
There wasn’t much racial division within the Doty league, he said. Most of the children were able to interact without issues. The league was also highly supported by the town.
Sanders said they never had issues with finding sponsors for teams to get equipment.
“It made the Summerville community something special,” he said.
Pinckney said his favorite memory was seeing the children hit home runs and watching them grow into skilled players. Thorne was one of the best, he said.
The league would go on to participate in multiple tournaments and consistently win. Doty would create an all-star squad consisting of its best players from different teams. Anytime they went up against the team at Parks, Pinckney agreed with Thorne that the games were always intense and good.
“We would take turns beating each other,” he said.
Over the years, the Doty league qualified for the Carolina Dixie Youth Baseball state tournament four times. Pinckney said they would either come in second or third place each time.
They were often one or two slots from being invited to the World Series tournament. Pinckney said one of the best parts was that the program kept young boys occupied and motivated.
“I had some pretty good children in the league,” he said.
In 2009, the baseball league was asked to leave Doty when Mayor Berlin G. Myers announced the revitalization of the park.
The changes included a children’s park, community center, a gazebo, six horseshoe pits and additional green space and covered areas. The baseball fields were replaced by six lighted tennis courts.
“We tried to satisfy as many needs and maintain a good appearance because it has a unique look to it,” said Mike Hinson, then town parks and recreation director, in 2009.
The horseshoe pits were created because of public feedback. The change in sport play, Hinson said, came from a lack of parking and frequent accidents.
Sertoma football, the Carolina Dixie Youth Baseball League and the Summerville Girls Softball League were all using Doty Park.
The baseball league was moved to what is now Alston Middle School with full support from the town. At the time, the area had baseball fields. When those fields were removed to build the school, the league spent a year without a home.
It was eventually invited to play at Gahagan Park, located on the opposite end of downtown. By that time, much of the momentum and interest in the league had died down, Pinckney said.
He also became too sick to run the league.
“Hopefully it will happen again,” he said.
Children being involved in community recreational activities has been consistently shown to have a positive impact on their lives. Crime reduction, health and psychological improvements are some of the studied effects of youth recreational activities.
In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that high levels of physical activity in children improved academic performance and decreased their risks of heart disease and diabetes.
Researchers at Washington State University looked at low-income children between ages 8-13 who participated a summer physical activity-based youth program in 2013. The children that returned to the program the following year had improved and sustained positive perceptions of self-worth and hope.
Following the youth baseball league’s departure from Doty, others attempted to develop similar youth programs at the revitalized park. Martin, a Summerville native, started teaching free tennis lessons at Doty for underprivileged youth after the new courts were built. Most of the children were Black.
When disputes with another tennis instructor about scheduling court usage started emerging, Martin was banned and asked to relocate the program to Laurel Street Park in 2018.
Laurel is about six blocks from Doty and sits near Summerville Baptist Church. Felicia Whetsell and Louis Smith spoke out against the move, saying the courts at Laurel had cracks in them.
Doty Park was also a more centralized location for the Alston and Brownsville community. Whetsell said she preferred her son to learn tennis at Doty with Martin.
During a 2018 protest against the ban, Smith was arrested for disorderly conduct. The police came after a resident called and complained about the volume of Smith’s speaker.
Smith said he feels like all the controversy may be a sign of people being pushed out.
“Those options are gone,” Smith said. “Doty helped a lot of boys become men.”
The town has been working to do a little more outreach. Free tennis lessons are offered at Doty for ages 5-14. Soccer lessons are offered for free in partnership with the Amon Foundation.
It’s also developing a scholarship fund to help minority and underprivileged youth participate in athletic programs.
Hall of Fame
This year Pinckney will be inducted into the Summerville High School Athletic Hall of Fame under a special category.
The school is recognizing him for his time with its baseball team as a player. He was on two state championship Green Wave baseball teams in 1978 and 1979.
He is also being recognized for his work with the baseball league that started at Doty park.
“I’m really proud that my coach can be in there,” Thorne said. “I think he did a huge service for us.”
There was a running joke that Pinckney always ended up with the best players. Thorne said people would often argue that “Rat’s” team was always stacked. Rat is a childhood nickname given to Pinckney by his parents.
Pinckney said his team was good because he allowed any boy on his team, even if they or their parents were labeled troublemakers. Some coaches didn’t want to coach children from “bad neighborhoods,” he said.
“I didn’t have a problem with them,” he said. “I enjoyed it.”