After The Chatham Colored All-Stars Came Taylor A.C. and the Kent Panthers
The history of the Chatham Coloured All-Stars has become well documented and discussed in recent years. The team left a lasting impact on the baseball landscape in 1934 winning the OBA championship, a first for an all-Black baseball team in Ontario.
When World War II started, some of Chatham’s stars served in the war, interrupting the play of many local teams.
In the mid 1940s however, after the end of World War II, some familiar faces from the All-Stars formed another team, known as Taylor A.C.
In 1946, a headline in the local newspaper stated the “Chatham Colored Stars Return Under New Name” referencing the formation of Taylor A.C.
The team was named after the Taylor Institute, which offered sports programs in Chatham’s East End, including boxing and wrestling. Playing out of the same Stirling Park where the All-Stars called home, Taylor A.C. was managed by Chatham Hall of Famer Wilfred “Boomer” Harding, who also played for the team. They also played in the familiar Kent County Baseball League, vying for an Intermediate A title.
Taylor A.C.’s roster featured several former All-Stars including Earl “Flat” Chase, Andrew Harding, Gouy Ladd, and King Terrell. Other team members included Peter Browning, Chuck Cooper, Clarence Crosby, Bill Henson, Ken Milburn, Orville Olbey, and Abie Scott.
Browning had played alongside Harding on a notable Basic No.12 Training Centre baseball team in Chatham during the war.
The 1947 Taylor A.C. roster returned with much hype and coverage in local papers. 1947 was historic for Black baseball players, as it was the year Jackie Robinson officially broke Major League Baseball’s colour barrier. He did so with the help of sportswriter Wendell Smith, whose father was born in Chatham-Kent.
In 1947, Taylor A.C. featured many of the same names, but also included newcomers including Johnny Mathews and Lorne Foster.
By the 1950s, the team took on the nickname “Panthers'” and soon dropped the Taylor ACs name to became the Kent Panthers. This team was managed by Alan Wright and now included some of the All-Stars’ children, including Earl Chase Jr, Horace Chase, and Lloyd Pryor (son of All-Stars coach Louis Pryor).
The 1957 and 1958 Kent Panthers won back-to-back Western Counties Baseball Association championships. The 1957 Panthers fell in the Ontario championships.
Even more than 20-years later, Wilfred “Boomer” Harding remained a stalwart on the Kent Panthers team. He was joined by the likes of Mel Cross, Earl Chase Jr, Horace Chase, Lloyd Pryor, Bob Wright, Chuck Cooper, Charlie Hurst, Bobby Provost, Dick Toward, Bob Gibson, Ray Reaume, Lorne Foster, Leroy Turner, Goerge Montague, Abie Scott, Carl Lachine, W. Lambkin, B. Selby, D. Baldwin, and K. Calvert, who all played for the Panthers in this era (some first names were not included in records with only initials provided).
The 1957 and 1958 Kent Panthers also represented a new era of baseball in Chatham-Kent, with times changing for the better. While predominantly comprised of Black baseball players, the teams now also featured white players, showcasing the integration of the era.
The Chatham Colored All-Stars will forever be remembered as groundbreakers, but the teams that followed, namely Taylor A.C. and the Kent Panther, deserve recognition as well, continuing the strong tradition of Black baseball teams and players in Chatham-Kent.
By Ian Kennedy