This photo is reminiscent of a scene in the movie Sandlot. The O’Neal School baseball team of 1974 had the amenities of a backstop and some dirt for practice as the mobile unit school buildings sit not too far from the action. By this time, O’Neal was serving students in grades 4-9. It was a young team.
Like all sports, baseball has a skill set. The act of catching a fast-moving ball hit from the force of a strongly swung bat requires confidence. Fear will get you hurt. Therefore, most ballers, even today, start playing baseball in their single-digit years where the fundamentals are engrained and the comfort of playing the game is realized as they grow older. In short, baseball isn’t for everyone. But for those Falcons who have had the guts to stick it out and play the game, there has been “heart”, when the talent came up short.
In the early years, O’Neal’s home games were played at the Sandhills Community College field. In 2001 the Dr. Jack Young Baseball Field was built. Jack Young was an O’Neal parent who succumbed to colon cancer. Dr. Young’s first love was baseball. His good friend, Dr. Farrell Collins, led the way for fundraising to build the baseball field in his memory. O’Neal parent Ron Kirby built the dugouts.
There was a special dedication ceremony at the first game on the field. Sean Salemme ’03 was the first Falcon to hit an out-of-the-park home run on the new field.
O’Neal’s Brandon Allen ’06 joined the University of South Carolina Baseball Program. An honors program student, his pharmacy major had certain demands where Brandon had to make a choice. Nevertheless, his decision to pursue his PharmD has put him on a successful career journey. Brandon is now a pharmacy owner in Argyle, TX and mentor for other pharmacy business owners. In 2007, DL McLamb ‘08 signed with Southeastern Community College for baseball. DL later continued to pursue his law degree at Campbell University. Presently, he is an attorney at VanCamp, Meacham & Newman, PLLC in Pinehurst.
Throughout the baseball scene at O’Neal, one of the most memorable parts of being on the team, is the relationship with the coach and the coach’s relationship with the players. There were coaches before him, but perhaps the one who held the position the longest was Middle School Teacher Sam Amato. His perspective, as is with most – “baseball teaches you life.”
New as Head of Upper School this year, Matt Peal has returned to O’Neal where he started his teaching career and was also the School’s varsity baseball coach from 2007-2009. He is looking forward to the upcoming baseball season.
Christian Bolduc ’10 reflects, “Having both Mr. Amato and Mr. Peal as coaches are a huge highlight of mine. Both had an incredible impact on my life and taught us a lot of lessons, not limited to the diamond.”
After a few years of coaching at O’Neal, Kevin Milligan has settled in and is ready to start the season. Previously on Pinecrest Baseball’s coaching staff, Coach Milligan played for Elon University before transferring to ECU to finish his degree. He is the president of the Sandhills Optimist Baseball League and though he doesn’t have sons of his own, he has a tremendous amount of coaching experience at all age levels and with a variety of leagues.
Though there have been peaks and valleys for baseball at O’Neal, there’s still nothing more exciting than watching a dinger hit the treetops for a walk-off win in extra innings. Such was the case this past spring, when the Falcons were tied with Trinity Academy 17-17 in the ninth inning when lead-off hitter, Jacob Bates hits a walk-off homer to win the game. Last year’s team record earned them an appearance in the state tournament. Coach Milligan was quoted to say, “The players are buying in to the program we are building. What the team is accomplishing is about far more than baseball. I am extremely happy for them!”
“In playing ball, and in life, a person occasionally gets the opportunity to do something great. When that time comes, only two things matter: being prepared to seize the moment and having the courage to take your best swing.” – Hank Aaron
Falcons Fly to 50
O’Neal is excited to share its history with readers as it celebrates its 50th year in educating and cultivating youth in becoming successful, effective contributors to communities large and small. The official celebration starts school year 2021/2022. This weekly blog will focus on different aspects of the School as it grew through the years. With every entry, there is just as much more information to gather than what is already written. Readers who have been a part of the O’Neal community are encouraged to reach out and share their O’Neal memories. It is with great hope that the efforts of many in contributing information and photography can be published into a book for reflection and reference as the School continues to prosper for the next 50 years.
Please send your memoirs and photos to:
The O’Neal School
c/o Kathy Taylor, Director of Communications
P.O. Box 290
Southern Pines, NC 28388