The H.A.A.T.B. Panthers were once the “upstart” travel baseball organization in Hilliard. Having formed in 1997, the Panthers are still the new kids on the block when compared to their Hilliard counterpart – the HBA Hilliard Colts, which formed in 1969. However, with the Panthers getting ready to embark on their 22nd season; friend and foe alike have come to easily recognize the distinctive marks in the local baseball community made by the Panthers.
In 1997 Hilliard was a growing and thriving community. However, there was one travel baseball team for each age group. You could not drive for five minutes without seeing new residential construction. At the time our Mayor was Roger Reynolds. Our Parks and Recreation Director was Phyllis Ernst. Roger and Phyllis are in the various Hilliard Halls of Fame and have landmarks named after them for their guidance of the City through the time of growth. It was that tremendous growth that resulted in what we now call “Panther Baseball”.
The idea of the Panthers came about due to the need for additional opportunities for those boys that wanted to play at a higher level of play than what was offered by the recreational league. With the rapid population exploding in Hilliard, it was easy for some to see that more opportunities were needed in the community. That is when a core group of coaches came together and formed what would be the Panther Leadership for several years to come. Dave Delande; Pat Casbarao; Brad Hunter, Mike Sigillio and Chris Lardiere formed the original coaches and the Board for the Panthers. Although it sounded good – more chances for kids to play baseball; providing the Panthers with fields was not an easy “sell” to the community.
Due to what was perceived as limited facilities at the time, the Panthers were not exactly welcomed with open arms. When asking to use City fields for Hilliard school district kids, the Panthers were denied on more than one occasion. The Panthers were asked to appear before City Council to state their requests, only to be denied access to Hilliard ball fields due to the perception that there was just not enough room. For a while it looked like the Panthers were going to be all dressed up, with no place to play. That is when the Panthers were saved by three unrelated but caring people/organizations.
First, the Panthers met with Pastor David Reimann of St. John Lutheran Church of Dublin. The Panthers were in luck. Pastor Reimann loved baseball and, the Church had a ball field that needed some love. That was when a bond was formed with the Panthers and St. John which lasts until this day. If not for Pastor Reimann and the folks at St. John, the Panthers may never have existed.
Second to the rescue of the Panthers was the Hilliard Girls Softball Association. At the time the girls were not using all of their field allocations at the Hilliard Municipal ball fields. In exchange for a yearly donation which they used as a fundraiser, the hGsa provided additional fields to the Panthers that would be critical to the Panthers if they were going to be able to grow.
Finally, Coach Jim Dougherty of Hilliard Davidson stepped in. Coach Dougherty allowed the Panthers to use the freshman field on Davidson road. At the time, the field was in a poor state of repair. Coach Dougherty is known for keeping his fields in impeccable shape. He knew good earth movers when he saw them. Now the Panthers had fields to play; practice, and most importantly, grow with the community.