By T. Scott Boatright
Ruston native and College Baseball Hall of Famer Wilbert Ellis has always been in it for the long haul.
And that’s what made a nearly three year wait almost unbearable, even though he knows it’s been for the right reasons.
On July 30, the Wilbert Ellis Baseball Clinic, an event free to attend for youth from ages 4-16, is set to take place for the first time in nearly three years.
The last Ellis baseball camp was held in 2019. But then came the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the cancellation of the clinics in 2020 and 2021.
That kind of wait hasn’t been easy for a man who has devoted his life to coaching baseball, but maybe more importantly, coaching the game of life to all who will listen, but especially youth who are so impressionable at young ages.
Ellis was an assistant under Grambling President/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 championships and five NCAA regional appearances while amassing a record of 740-462-1 over 26 seasons/
But even after retiring he never gave up the game, continuing to hold his annual youth baseball clinics in conjunction with the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, and bringing a version to those clinics to Ruston’s Fraser Field, where Ellis played hardball as a youth himself.
And he can’t wait to get back to the field located on Martin Luther King Street on Ruston’s east side.
“I’m so excited I don’t know what to do,” Ellis said about finally being able to bring the camp back. “It hasn’t been easy not being able to hold it. I know we had to stay inside and stay safe, especially that first year when the pandemic was really just starting to take off. But it hurt my heart not being out there with the kids.
“And even as things slowly got better, kids who had been at the camps before would ask me when I was going to be able to put on another, and I couldn’t answer them. I thought hard about it last year but realized it still just wasn’t safe enough yet. The pandemic might not really end anytime soon, but things have gotten better, and the time feels right. It’s something I need to do, especially because it’s something I know the kids want and need.”
This year’s Ellis Baseball Clinic will feature instructors including Ellis, GSU Baseball Coach Davin Pierre and his staff; GSU softball coach Nakeya Hall; Robert “Demp” Smith, a former GSU player and coach; Ruston native James Maryland, a former Southern University player; Hank Aaron III, son of the MLB home run legend; Ruston native and former MLB pitcher George Stone and former GSU/Major League Baseball players such as Benjamin Williams, Ralph Garr, John Lewis, Ronnie Lewis, Ira Truell, Gary Eave and Bobby Dupree; former GSU baseball player Arthur Herbert and longtime GSU supporters and community leaders Willie Washington and Eddie Robinson III.
But despite all of that knowledge and experience being provided to youth, the thing that makes the Ellis Baseball Clinics so special in addition to the fact they’re held free of charge is that they’re much more than only about teach hardball fundamentals and skills.
The Ellis camps also focus on teaching youth about the game of life and the importance of things such as staying in school and completing educations, becoming good and productive citizens and leaders, and now more than ever, learning how to stay safe and healthy.
“It’s a changing world, and not always for the better,” Ellis said. “But that’s something I want — we want, because that’s why all these wonderful people help me conduct the camps — to change. We want to change things and move them back in the right direction. A direction that will help create better futures for these children and everybody else.
“We’ll have law enforcement people, possibly including the Sheriff and the Chief of Police, out not only to talk to the kids but to make sure everybody at the camp is safe. We’ll talk to them about staying away from drugs and other trouble. And we’ll have (Health Hut Director) Jackie White out to talk to the kids about trying to keep themselves as safe as they can from COVID and Dr. Pruitt from the dental standpoint. And we’ll talk about the importance of conditioning and sportsmanship along with a “Just for Parents” session while the kids are out on the fields.”
Registration for the camp (which will include T-ball for ages 4-7 as well as baseball for ages 8-16) will be held from 8-9 a.m. July 30 with the clinic itself being held from 9 a.m. until noon followed by a hot dog/hamburger lunch. All campers will receive a camp T-shirt as well as a gift courtesy of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
Those wishing to preregister for the camp can do so by seeing Ronnie Lyons at the Ruston Housing Authority Maintenance Office, calling 318-957-4741 or by emailing WEllisFreeBBCamp@yahoo.com.
“I’ll probably be out there jumping and hollering more than the kids, I’m so happy,” Ellis said. “I’m just thrilled that we’re going to get back out there and start doing this again.”