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 > Little League Online > Media > Little League News Archive > 2012 > September-December > Little League International Mourns the Passing of Lee Bennett, Coach of the 1955 Cannon Street YMCA All-Stars

Little League International Mourns the Passing of Lee Bennett, Coach of the 1955 Cannon Street YMCA All-Stars

Little League International Mourns the Passing of Lee Bennett, Coach of the 1955 Cannon Street YMCA All-Stars

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Little League International mourns the passing of Lee Bennett, Sr., a coach with the 1955 South Carolina Little League Baseball State Champion Cannon Street YMCA All-Star team. He was 90.

“I have little doubt that you have put many of the lessons learned in Little League to good use in your life.,” Stephen D. Keener, President and Chief Executive Officer of Little League Baseball and Softball, wrote in a letter to Mr. Bennett recognizing his 90th birthday. “Reminiscing about the fun of teaching children, the thrill of seeing your team succeed, and the pride of knowing your community came together to provide a healthy, fun activity are memories that last a lifetime.”

In the summer of 1955, 14 boys from the Cannon Street YMCA Little League in Charleston, S.C., were looking forward to entering the Little League Tournament, along with tens of thousands of other boys in all 48 U.S. states and several other countries. Like all Little League players their age, they knew the tournament ended with a trip to the Little League Baseball World Series in Williamsport, Pa.

At the time, there were 62 chartered Little League programs in South Carolina. The only league with African American players was the Cannon Street YMCA Little League. Until then, no South Carolina teams with African-American players had entered the postseason tournament.

Each of the 61 other leagues refused to play the Cannon Street YMCA team. Little League International responded immediately, informing the other leagues that racism would not be tolerated, and that they would have to play, or forfeit.

Although the Cannon Street YMCA Little League played a full regular season of Little League ball, and selecting an all-star team, it was prevented by Little League policy from entering the playoffs because no other leagues in the state were willing to play.

Despite not being able to advance in the tournament by way of its play on the field, Little League invited the Cannon Street team to Williamsport for the World Series. The team experienced all the things any other Little League World Series participant would, except it did not play a game.

Little League ended up losing hundreds of franchises over the controversy as several leagues in the South left the program. Many of those programs never re-chartered with Little League. Yet for Little League, the incident remains one of the organization’s shining moments.

Nearly 50 years later, during the 2002 Little League Baseball World Series, the surviving members of the 1955 Cannon Street YMCA Little League all-star team were honored in Williamsport. The team was presented with a banner proclaiming them the 1955 State Champions of South Carolina.

“There is no way to right the wrong perpetrated on the boys of the Cannon Street YMCA Little League team, just as there is no way to right the wrongs perpetrated throughout history on people because of their skin color,” Mr. Keener, said during the ceremony. “Little League is honored that the Cannon Street team was here as our special guests.”

Gus Holt, an honorary member of the team who was instrumental in coordinating the recognition efforts with Little League International, said following Mr. Bennett’s passing, “Charleston has lost a giant. He left a lasting impression on kids in the Charleston peninsula … A lot of his kids went on to accomplish great things.”

A craftsman, specializing in carpentry and upholstery, Mr. Bennett taught at the Boys and Girls Club for many years. He worked hard in his church, in the schools throughout the Charleston area, and in the community.

Mr. Bennett was preceded in death by his wife, Josephine Whaley Bennett and his sister, Melvinia Bennett. He is survived by his children, LaVerne S. Bennett, Clarice B. Lemon, Lee James Bennett, Jr., Stephanie B. Reid; and several grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews and cousins.