One man’s love for baseball resurrected an American Legion Baseball program that had been idle for 16 years.
That man is James Clinton Britton Jr., perhaps better known as “J.C.”
Britton loved baseball from the time he could pick up a bat.
“Baseball was my game every since I was a little boy,” Britton, 77, said in January. “I’d walk three miles to practice in Alcolu. Then I got me a bicycle and it was a little easier to get to practice.”
Britton played every position until he was about 11 or 12 years old.
“I broke my arm catching a Little League game,” he remembered. “I called for a pitch out and the batter stepped across the plate and swung at the ball. He hit my hard arm and broke it. I never caught another game.”
Britton made the first team as an 8th grader at Manning High School.
“In the 8th grade, seven of the starters on our team were from Alcolu,” he said. “Back then, Alcolu fielded a lot of good baseball players.”
Britton played three sports: baseball, football and basketball while attending Manning High School. He also played American Legion Baseball.
“I was on the last Manning Legion team,” Britton said. “In the 11th grade, I started playing for the Sumter American Legion team.”
After graduating from Manning High School in 1952, Britton attended Furman University, where he played freshman basketball.
From 1955 through 1957, the Alcolu native played for and sponsored the Manning Blues, a team in the semi-pro Mid-Carolina League.
Britton coached Dixie Youth baseball for seven years and he was the first coach to take a Manning team to the state tournament. His team won the local title the last five years he coached.
A member of the National Guard, Britton fielded a National Guard team for 13 years.
“I always wanted to coach,” he said, “but, it paid very little if anything.”
Britton enjoyed coaching and with a job as an insurance agent, he could make the time in the afternoons to coach.
“I worked for Farm Bureau for 47 years before retiring,” he said. “I’d take off when I needed to coach.”
In 1966, Britton was tired of losing great baseball players to other towns and decided to field a Manning American Legion team.
“We had eight boys, some from Turbeville and Summerton, who were going outside of Clarendon County to play Legion ball,” Britton said. “For three years, we played behind the elementary school. When they started adding portable classrooms, we didn’t have anywhere to play.”
Britton said the Manning Legion team played for one year on the Christian Academy field and for two years in Sumter.
After struggling to find suitable fields for several years, Britton decided it was time to find a home for his team.
Britton said land was purchased from Monk McLeod off the Raccoon Road near the Silver Road for a baseball diamond and bleachers.
“Jim Darby helped us find a grant and the county helped clear the land and build the bleachers,” he added.
J.C. Britton Park was established at a cost of just $60,000.
“It would cost a lot more than $100,000 to do what we did back then with only $60,000,” he said. “We had a fine facility.”
Today, J.C. Britton Park on the Raccoon Road is home to an entire recreational league of baseball players from T-ball, Little League, Dixie Youth and more. A soccer field and tennis courts have been added along with a covered picnic area with plenty of sufficient parking.
“He was instrumental in bringing back the Legion program in Manning,” said G.G. Cutter, a former member of Britton’s Manning Legion team. “That’s big. He paid for pretty much of it out of his pocket.”
Cutter said Britton wanted the children of Clarendon County to play baseball.
“He wanted to generate interest in the sport he loved,” Cutter said.
As a member of Britton’s Legion team, Cutter remembered him buying uniforms and feeding the players after the games.
“He bought gas for players who lived out of town so they could get to the games and practice,” Cutter said. “He got people to donate to the program and he still watches games today.”
Cutter called Britton a “good coach” and an “exciting” coach.
“We’d have a player on second and someone would hit the ball and he’d be coaching third,” Cutter said. “He’d be jumping up and down sending the player home. He got excited watching the game.”
American Legion coaches don’t get paid, added Cutter, who today coaches the Manning-Santee American Legion team.
“You do it because you love it,” Cutter said. “And, he loved it.”
Another of Britton’s former players, Lee Stogner, described Britton as a dedicated coach.
“When I played Little League, he was our All Star Coach and took us to the state playoffs in North Augusta,” Stogner added. “I also played American Legion ball for Coach Britton on one of the first teams after he restarted the program.”
Fresh out of college, Stogner said he went to work for the Bank of Clarendon.
“Yogi Johnson and I coached the bank’s Little League team,” he added. “It was sometime in the mid-1970s that we decided, after meeting with all the Dixie Youth coaches, that we would integrate the league. We left the meeting and word got back to the people with authority over the Gibbons Street Park of what we planned to do and they denied us playing there any more.”
Within two weeks, the Dixie Youth program had a well-lit ball field to play on, courtesy of Britton, Tootsie Hardy, Carl Gamble, G.G. Cutter and others, Stogner said.
“We didn’t miss a lick,” Stogner said. “And, we could have without J.C. Britton, Tootsie Hardy and others. We began playing baseball at J.C. Britton Park.”
“J.C. Britton is a remarkable man who loves baseball,” Stogner said. “And, he wants the all children of Clarendon County to enjoy the sport he holds so dear.”
Britton said he was honored to become a member of the Clarendon County Athletic Hall of Fame.
“I’m mighty proud and humbled,” he said. “I’ve always loved sports, particularly baseball.”