Written by James Weber for the Enquirer on July 28, 2017. Click here to see the original story.
Dennis Taney started the Kentucky Colonels baseball program to give one team of 13-year-old baseball players an opportunity for summer baseball, and he watched that group grow up in the program for several years.
Twenty-four years later, Taney is prioritizing another group of youths he wants to help grow up: his own grandchildren.
Taney, the founder and head coach for the Kentucky Colonels, has shut down the program after 24 years. The team played their last game July 16 in Nashville during the Sandlot World Series.
Already retired from his regular career, Taney, 69, will get to spend more time with his family. Taney, of Florence, will also coach part-time with Holy Cross.
“I’ll definitely miss it,” he said. “I truly loved it. I made so many friends. These kids have been so great, Their parents have been so great. I’ve met a lot of great people.
The program started with a small group of 13-year-old boys in 1994. Over the course of its existence, the program hosted 180 boys, of which more than 130 went on to play college baseball and 13 players went on to play some level of pro baseball.
“This team has been my dad’s life work and he has put so much energy into the love of the game and helping to teach young men the same,” said his daughter, Kimberly Fletcher
The program, which fielded U18 and U16 teams in recent years, attracted many of the top players in Northern Kentucky on a regular basis. They played home games at St. Henry District High School. The head coach for most of that time was Walt Terrell, a former major league pitcher, who started the program with Taney. Terrell stepped down a few years ago to spend more time with his grandchildren.
“I had a 13-year-old team and we decided to keep them together and join the Southwest Ohio League,” Taney said. “We moved up each year from 14 to 18. Then, they go on to play college ball or go to college. After that was over, then it became what do we do now, and Walt said let’s stick around a few more years. We did that for about four years and then we decided not to ask each other anymore and we kept doing it.”
Terrell’s experience was a big key.
“Playing for a coach like Walt, he brings big-league knowledge and skill,” said Tom Eckerle, a coach with both the Colonels and Covington Catholic Colonels. His son, Ryan Eckerle, played for both teams and graduated this spring. “He can translate that as a coach. He brings a great deal of knowledge, not just the physical part of the game, but the mental part of the game. The stories of how he mentally prepared these kids – he was able to instill that mental toughness that’s required to play that game. (And) the contacts he has with colleges. You put Walt’s name down, it was a big help.”
Brad Arlinghaus, a Conner graduate and current head coach of the baseball program there, played for the Colonels and has been a coach for them for 13 years.
““It breaks my heart,” he said. “He’s put in a lot of time and effort and money. He deserves a break. That program has impacted a lot of young men in Northern Kentucky. When I think of my summers growing up, those were the things I thought of the most.”
Nearly every season, the team competed in various national championships including AAU, NABF, NSA, Sandlot, Mid-America and the Premier World Series. In 1999, the Colonels sent their first group of players into the collegiate ranks and remained an 18-U team until 2009 when they added a 16-U squad to the organization. Both teams are members of the SWOL.
Recent alums included Luke Maile, a Covington Catholic grad and current backup catcher for the Toronto Blue Jays currently on the disabled list. Also, Chris Curley, a Beechwood graduate who played eight years of professional baseball before recently retiring.
“They coached a few major league players to people who didn’t play college baseball at all to people who played Division I, II or III,” Arlinghaus said. “They left a big legacy in Northern Kentucky. They helped me become a better coach. They helped us go from boys to men. They were good examples on how to be fathers and husbands. I take that into account now that I’m 36 years old and a father.”
Taney and Terrell always emphasized college scholarships over pro success. Taney said the success of the program soared after they decided to stay within nearby states during the season, which made it easier to foster relationships with college coaches. The Colonels’ annual home tournament at St. Henry regularly drew dozens of college coaches.
“We had a lot of fun with it,” Taney said. “A lot of nice ball players and coaches, at least 25 different coaches. Our primary objective was always to get guys in college. We learned some lessons over the years. In the early years, we would play in Florida and Iowa in AAU things, but it wasn’t helping the players get into the colleges they were most likely to go.”
The Colonels also fostered a bond among players from opposing high schools.
“When I was playing, those guys were like brothers,” Arlinghaus said. “We hung out seven days a week. We would play Tuesday through Sunday, with doubleheaders Saturday and Sunday. Monday was our day off. That day, a big group of us would something together, We didn’t have the distractions of phones and Snapchat they have today.”