A man small in physical stature, Henry Curry proved to be a giant in the annals of baseball in the Gingerbread City.
While Paul Richards may be synonymous with Waxahachie baseball, a conversation about the history of the sport will quickly turn to talk about Curry and all he did for the baseball playing youth.
Waxahachie was booming in the 1920s. The county seat had a population of almost 8,000 and boasted more than 200 businesses including a trio of banks, three cottonseed oil mills, five cotton gins, two daily newspapers and two weekly newspapers. Cotton was king – driving the economic boom as Curry and his brother Arthur moved to the city in 1926. Natives of Marlin, Texas, the pair purchased the Trinity Pharmacy on Main Street and later opened a sporting goods store next door to the pharmacy.
Henry was a stalwart baseball fan with his fascination with the game stemming from childhood days in Marlin, where he watched the great Christy Mathewson and the New York Giants partake in spring training. Hooked on the game, Henry played until, at Marlin High School, he injured his arm trying to pitch both ends of a double header. But, his passion for the game never waned and he remained close to the game his entire life.
Shortly after arriving in Waxahachie, Curry soon formed a baseball team of 13- and 14-year-old boys. Known as the Trinity Pharmacy Cubs, the players continued to play for Coach Curry until they graduated in 1929. Curry continued to sponsor and coach teams in the summer and then did the same for basketball in the winter.
In 1928, Curry was instrumental in organizing a baseball league of teams from Howard, Palmer, Bardwell, Boyce, Avalon, Forreston, Maypearl, Trinity Pharmacy Cubs, Five Points, Red Oak, Midlothian and Mountain Peak. The league continued to operate for many years with the Cubs and Curry always involved.
In 1930, two junior baseball leagues were formed in Ellis County. One was made up of Midlothian, Maypearl, Ovilla, Buena Vista, Boyce and the Trinity Pharmacy Junior Cubs. The other league was comprised of teams from Ennis, Howard, Avalon, Palmer, Rockett and Garrett. Curry was right in the mix getting both leagues functional.
Curry also found time to coach an American Legion team in the summer.
Year in and year out, Curry and the Cubs played in the Ellis County Baseball League.
Helping out the Indians
In 1936, Waxahachie High School received an invitation to play in a tournament in Austin. The school did not have a team at that time and Curry enlisted his Cubs, operating with high school boys, to go to the Capitol City to play ball. The school board ordered uniforms for the team, as their plan was to resume baseball at WHS in 1937. But, no funds were available for equipment or trip expenses. Curry again stepped up, by not only coaching the team but also underwriting the expense of the trip.
Curry was chosen to be the coach of the new WHS team in 1937, playing home games at the old Jungle Park, now known as Richards Park.
In 1940, Jimmy LeBlond took over as the WHS coach while war raged worldwide.
During World War II, there is no evidence of youth organized baseball activity, but according to several members of the 1948 WHS championship team, kids just played when and where they could. Jungle Park fell into disrepair and became a pasture.
Baseball returned to the high school when the war finally wound down. Logan Stollenwerck became the coach of the WHS baseball team as players followed the heroics of Paul Richards in the 1945 World Series. Richards had four RBIs in the deciding seventh game of series that saw his Detroit Tigers down the Chicago Cubs 9-3.
With baseball fever at a high pitch, Curry stepped up for his kids once again. The need for a good park to play the national pastime became obvious. A committee was formed with with Curry as chairman, and committee members Paul Richards, Brown Chiles, Judge Bruce Allen, Jim O’Neal, Homer Robnett, Bill Howard and Odell Whitesell deciding the best way to handle the problem was to form a non-profit company to operate at the site of the old Jungle Park.
Work on the ballpark progressed daily with Curry and fellow committeeman Howard, along with the assistance of Thomas Robnett, Everett Bishop and numerous volunteers laboring until April of 1945. The WHS Indians were then able to play the first game at what eventually would become known as Richards Park.
New league formed
With the park in playable condition, Curry and Bishop organized another league. Curry was instrumental in getting light poles and lights installed and summer baseball returned to the youth of Waxahachie.
“I can’t say enough good things about Henry Curry,” Buck Jordan of Waxahachie said. “He brought a bunch of us all the way through (our youth) playing baseball. He was dedicated to us. He bought a Blue Bird bus and took us all over the state to play ball. He fed us. He took care of us. Our parents knew where to find all of us at all times – we would be playing ball at Richards Park.”
As chairman of the park board, Curry helped plan, raise funds and supervised the improvements to the park, clubhouse and press box. He was a key to getting things ready for the Buffalo Bison training camps in the spring of 1948 and 1949.
Ted Hughes, who now lives in the Metroplex, was another one of Curry’s boys. “Somehow Henry Curry got a bunch of us boys together to play baseball. We had a couple of teams, the reds (Sparks) and whites (Volts). We played ball constantly. Mr. Curry furnished all the equipment, balls, bats, uniforms – everything. We won a state championship in American Legion ball and we owe it all to him. He got us organized. He made us alive. We lived at the ballpark. Baseball was huge and Henry Curry is the guy that put it all together.”
Hughes fondly remembers going to downtown Waxahachie.
“We would go into the pharmacy and get a Coke, then go next door to browse in the sporting goods store. Many times Mr. Curry would supply gloves and cleats to players who couldn’t afford them. He just wanted the guys to be able to play ball,” Hughes said.
‘A second father’
Mack Wiese, another Curry player who now resides in southern California, remembers his former coach as a second father.
“Billy Hancock and I played for Henry Curry, starting back in 1945. I remember him so well because he was like a second father to me. When my father died he (Curry) was so good to me. Even though I was just a kid, I had to get a job to help out at home. I worked at the Empire Theater on the south side of the square. After baseball practice I would have to go home, shower and go to work. We used to play ball all day and then practice at 4 p.m. when Mr. Curry got there.”
Wiese is quick to point out just how much Henry Curry did for his boys.
“He bought the bus and took us everywhere. He paid for everything. When I was scheduled to work and couldn’t go to a game, he would go see my boss, John Callahan, and tell him he needed his star pitcher. He always got me off so I could go to the games. Then he would ask me how many hours of work I missed. He would then give me the money to make up for my lost wages – 35-cents an hour. But that was a lot of money in the mid-1940s. He was a wonderful man. He gave us spikes, gloves, bats – everything. We were his children. He looked after us and took care of us. He made sure that we made good grades and that we stayed out of trouble. He knew us and he knew our family situations. I cannot say enough good things about Henry. He deserves more credit than anybody when it comes to Waxahachie baseball. Mr. (Paul) Richards deserved all the credit he has received, but Mr. Curry was the one that made everything work.”
Optimist league organized
As the decade of the 1950s began, Curry met with the Optimist Club officials and discussed a league program for younger boys. The result was the birth of the Optimist Club League and in appreciation of Curry’s efforts the Optimists made him an honorary member for his devotion to the Optimist slogan of “A Friend of Youth.”
Signups that year were held at Curry Brothers Pharmacy and the first championship went to Curry’s team, the Sparks. Curry then coached a team in the Dallas Little League Tournament that season.
The Waxahachie Daily Light called Curry “…the organizer of the Little League Program.” But, interest waned and the league did not play in 1953. Curry and a group got together and sparked interest so that youth league baseball was reinstated in 1954.
Curry coached, sponsored and did everything he could for youth, pony league and American Legion baseball until his death on Jan. 19, 1962.
Perhaps Mack Wiese summed up Curry’s contribution to the youth of the Gingerbread City with the statement, “When I was in the service everyone wanted to know about what kind of town Waxahachie was. I simply told them that it was a town rich in baseball tradition.”
E-mail Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org