By T. Scott Boatright
Coach Wilbert Ellis, one of Lincoln Parish’s biggest ambassadors for and supporters of youth baseball, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch as Ruston Youth Baseball (RYB) begins its spring 2021 season on Saturday.
The ceremony will take place at 9 a.m. Saturday at Field B1 of the Ruston Sports Complex.
Jeff Parker with RYB said that 650 players and volunteer coaches have signed up for Ruston Youth Baseball this spring, offering parish youngsters between the ages of 4 and 15 an opportunity to learn about and experience America’s pastime.
“We start off with T-Ball with no scoring for the 4- to 5-year olds,” Parker said. “Then we have 6 and under T-Ball with scoring and records, and Coach Pitch for kids ages 7 to 8.
“Then the 9-10, 11-12 and 13-14 age groups play with more and more rules and options phased into each category as they get older.”
Parker said the organization is thrilled to have someone of Ellis’ hardball stature on hand to help them celebrate the start of the RYB season.
“You’re talking about a Ruston native and a College Hall of Fame baseball coach,” Parker said of Ellis. “We couldn’t be more excited to have him on hand for the occasion.”
After playing baseball at Grambling Ellis became an assistant coach under Grambling President/Head Baseball Coach Ralph Waldo Emerson Jones for 17 seasons before taking over as head coach in 1978 and guiding the Tigers to eight divisional championships, three Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) championships and five NCAA regional appearances while amassing a record of 745-462-1 over 26 seasons and becoming the fourth all-time winningest college coach in Louisiana behind Jones, LSU’s Skip Bertman, and Southern’s Roger Cador.
A seven-time SWAC Coach of the Year (1978, ’83, ’84, ’85, ’91, ’98 and ’99), Ellis won numerous other awards over the years and was recognized by the Louisiana State Legislature on five different occasions because of his outstanding coaching record and service to Grambling State University. He produced eight All-Americans, sent 49 players on to sign with Major League teams and helped bring the New York Yankees to play the Tigers in three exhibition games on the GSU campus.
Some of his biggest career highlights include exchanging lineups with Yankee managers three times. He also was awarded several times by the American Baseball Coaches Association and was honored with the ABCA 25-year award, for his 400th coaching win in 1993, and with the Louisville Slugger Award in 1999.
He also served for well more than 20 years as regional/super regional tournament director for NCAA Division I Baseball as well as chairman of the Ruston Park & Recreation Board and vice chairman of the Lincoln Health System.
Ellis, who also served as an assistant and associate athletics director at GSU over the years, was inducted in the American Baseball Coaches Association College Hall of Fame in 2007, the Grambling State University Alumni Hall of Fame in 2007, the SWAC Hall of Fame in 2011 and the GSU Legends Hall of Fame in 2012.
He was also honored by the Ruston-Lincoln Chamber of Commerce with the Robert E. Russ Award in 2016 and GSU’s baseball diamond is fittingly named Wilbert Ellis Field.
But all the while much of his focus was on the annual YES clinics for youth, 20 of which he conducted as part of the festivities surrounding the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. In 2011, Ellis was recognized for 20 years of service to NCAA Youth Clinics during the College World Series. And here sponsored the annual Wilbert Ellis Baseball Clinic from 2009-2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic prevented one being held in 2020.
“I love kids,” Ellis said. “I love the American youth. I’m always wanting to give something back because people gave back to me and made a difference in my life. Youth baseball gives us a chance to break down some of the barriers that we are going through in our society, and it’s using a game that’s known as America’s pastime to do so. Baseball has done a lot for me and hopefully one day can do a lot for some of these bright stars that will be playing Ruston Youth Baseball this season.”