The team that started a tradition

Before Friday’s baseball game between Pine Bluff and Benton at Taylor Field, a special ceremony was held honoring the 1959 Pine Bluff team that won the program’s first-ever state championship.

“The greatest thing about today was the comradely (act) of getting us back together,” former player Jim Handley said. “… We have all gone our separate ways. We are scattered all over the place.

“Getting together again and remembering the old days, really meant a lot to us.”

In 1959, no Zebra baseball team existed until James Morgan, a high school junior at the time and future White Hall mayor, begged for and borrowed uniforms and organized a group of 13 to form a team.

“It means a lot,” David Thornton said. “To get to see people I haven’t seen since high school.

“I’m so glad to be here.”

Thornton said one of his favorite memories of the state championship was trying to play despite nursing a hangover.

“The night before was prom night and all of us had a good time except for (Lloyd) Langston,” Thornton said. “He didn’t drink because he had to pitch the next day.”

The route to Little Rock began in Altheimer where Pine Bluff played their first organized game and won. Eventually, the Zebras played for the state championship on May 30, 1959 and behind Lloyd Langston’s strong pitching – five hits, nine strikeouts and three walks – the Zebras defeated Sylan Hills 3-1 to win the first of a state record 10 state championships.

Organizer Taylor Eubank, who graduated from Pine Bluff in 1959, said he did not attend the championship game.

“The championship game was on May 30 and the graduation was on May 29,” Eubank said. “Frankly, I did not know there was a game.

“I would say, basically no one other (than the players) knew there was a team either, let alone there was a championship game.”

Eubank said he was pretty confident that the only ones who knew there was a game were the players themselves and maybe their close friends.

“They were brand new,” Eubank said. “There was not a team before (Morgan) had put it together.”

Eubank said bringing everyone back for the 55th-anniversary celebration was not too difficult thanks to the help of current Pine Bluff head coach Ryan Stinson and athletic director Bobby Bolding.

“(Stinson) was real cooperative and very helpful,” Eubank said. “And Bolding, likewise. He just wanted everything to go right.

“In that sense, it wasn’t difficult at all.”

Eubank said instead of trying to find a mutual day in which every one agreed on, they just picked a day.

“We picked a day the Zebras were at home and they defeated Benton 1-0,” Eubank said. “It worked out well.”

After graduation the team became doctors, mayors, FBI agents and architects. The two sophomores on the team have since passed away and at least two continue to work while the remaining are in some type of retirement.

“Taylor Eubank just did a fantastic job of putting this together,” Handley said.