Although Bill Sears died in 1965, his legacy of Creston youth sports lives on.
Beginning in 1955, Sears organized, coached and helped fund youth baseball in Creston.
In 1983, the city of Creston finished building three new ball fields on East Clark Street south of the railroad tracks. During that process, the Creston Parks and Recreation Board invited citizens to suggest names for the new park. Sears’s former referee and umpire partner, Howard Browne, nominated Sears for the honor. Max Sandeman gathered the information needed, and the board voted to name the new park “The Bill Sears Memorial Ball Complex.”
Later that summer, Midge Scurlock, Sears’s wife at the time of his death, and their children, dedicated a flagpole at the field in his memory.
Passion for youth
Scurlock said she believes Sears’s passion for youth stemmed from his difficult childhood. Sears was raised by his father until his death when Sears was young. He then went to live with his grandfather in Greenfield. After Sears’ grandfather died while Sears was still in high school, a family in Greenfield took him in until he left home to join the Navy during World WII.
Sears and Scurlock continued taking care of boys in need. Scurlock said Sears noticed when students had needs he could fill. He was known for giving shoes to boys who had holes in theirs. One time, Scurlock recalls, a lady told her Sears saw her son playing with a “ratty, old football.” A few days later, Sears delivered a brand new ball to the boy.
Scurlock also said their home and dinner table were often filled with young men. Two different years, boys came to live with them as seniors to finish out their high school careers. In the early days of Southwestern Community College’s basketball team, there were three black players who went to church with them and then came home to share their Sunday dinner every week.
Sears and Scurlock had four children of their own at the time, Michael from Sears’s first marriage, and Sharlene, Rodney and Sam. Finances were tight for the family through the years of working at, and then owning, a cleaning plant and Sears’s job of selling sporting equipment. Scurlock said, sometimes, Sears’s checks from refereeing were the only way they could get by. However, that didn’t keep Sears and Scurlock from spending both their time and money to help others, especially in the area of youth sports.
There was no organized youth baseball in Creston until 1955, when Sears put together a team for boys from ages 10 to 15, coaching and financing the team with help from donations.
After a year, there were too many players for one team, so they split them into Peewee and Midgets based on age.
Sears and Scurlock would borrow her parents’ car to have two vehicles to take the teams to baseball games in places such as Red Oak, Stanton, and as far away as Walnut. In those days, traveling so far by car was unusual. Only two years later, in 1957, Sears’s Midget team won the state championship.
Scurlock said Sears loved and was loved by young people. He was asked to speak at banquets of all kinds in small towns from Shannon City to Mount Ayr.
Scurlock said a contributing factor to Sears’s popularity was his dedication to including everyone. She remembers one young player whose mother didn’t think he could “stay on his toes” enough to play ball for Sears, but he was included anyway.
She also remembers boys who played for Sears coming to the house just to talk.
Sears was well-known and respected as a high school referee and umpire for baseball, football and basketball.
Scurlock remembers girls coming up to her for years after Sears’s death saying, “We always knew we were going to have a good game when we saw Bill walk in.”
Sears’s first chance to referee at the state tournament came at the expense of his day job. He was invited to referee — an honor, Scurlock said, because he would be the youngest referee ever — but his boss wouldn’t allow him to go. Sears quit his job to be able to referee and then promptly came back and began to work for his boss’s competitor - eventually buying the business from him.
Sears refereed five state basketball tournaments and was inducted into the Iowa High School Athletic Official’s Hall of Fame in 1982. Scurlock and their children attended the state tournament to receive the honor.
Sears’s funeral was a testament to how he lived his life. Scurlock said six of the older ball players on Sears’s team were the pall bearers, and the Boy Scouts carried in the flags. The funeral was held at the Christian Church where it used to be on Montgomery Street. They blocked off the entire street, and the whole basement, upstairs and balcony were all full.
“Coaches brought whole teams to the funeral,” Scurlock said.
Scurlock received more than 500 sympathy cards, so many the post office had to bring them to her in boxes.
The baseball fields on East Clark Street still bear his name, but Scurlock says few of the young people in town know who he was. His players still remember.