A legacy that began several decades ago in the Barbourville Little Leagues was honored this week with the Barbourville High School Tigers dedicating their field to Lawrence ‘Gerty’ Stewart, who will forever be remembered as one of the founding fathers of the Tigers’ baseball program.
A ceremony was held to announce the field as Lawrence ‘Gerty’ Stewart Field, Home of the Tigers with dozens of former players in attendance along with several dozen more fans. Barbourville Independent School Superintendent Kay Dixon conducted the ceremony, and speakers included former players Brian Carey and Dennis Messer, along with Gerty’s son, Greg.
A plaque that will welcome visitors to Lawrence ‘Gerty’ Stewart Field was unveiled during the ceremony, along with flags flying above the playing field that say the same.
Gerty was a life-long contributor to Knox County athletes who worked his way back from a crippling illness to become a local coaching legend.
Destined for greatness at a young age as a standout athlete at Barbourville High, Gerty was struck down with polio as a 15-year-old and was only hours away from being placed into an ‘iron lung’ when his fortunes began to change.
While unable to walk, he made it back in time to watch his beloved Tigers play their last football game of the season against cross-town rival Knox Central.
While still staying involved in sports as much as he could, Gerty excelled in other aspects of life, like singing. Gerty was recognized far and wide as one of the top vocal talents around and was offered a music scholarship to the University of Kentucky.
But of all the things he was, Gerty was not a baseball player. Nor was he a baseball fan. Football was his love. So when he was asked to coach a youth baseball team in Barbourville at the Pony League level, Gerty had to go to the library to get material that would teach himself the fundamentals of the sport so he could pass it on to his players.
After several successful years in the Pony League and Little League levels, Gerty coached a local Big League team to several championships and a trip to the Big League World Series in Orlando Florida in 1984.
Gerty became the ‘official’ unofficial coach of he Barbourville Tigers’ baseball team in 1980 and remained in the position until 1993. He could never officially be called the head coach due to not being a certified teacher at the school.
During his years running the program, Barbourville won many big games and championships, and was a force within the region.
While he stepped away from the program in 1993, Gerty never got coaching out of his system. He remained a familiar face in gyms and on sidelines, and no matter if you played for Barbourville or the opponent, if you needed help, Gerty was helping.
Married for 44 years, Gerty and his wife, Holly, ran a successful florist in Barbourville until her passing in 1999. He continued to operate the business long after.
Despite many ailments that included having open heart surgery, among others, Gerty would not stay away from the fields.
“He never stopped coaching,” commented Gerty’s daughter, Angie. “He was at a ball game the day before he left for the hospital and never came home.”
Gerty passed in July 2009 leaving behind a legacy that is still growing. His daughter, Angie, said the attention being given to her father so many years after his passing is overwhelming, but well-deserved.
“My dad was a remarkable man,” she said. “He’s not a President of the United States, but I’m telling you, he was the strongest man walking. Daddy was a strong-willed, God-fearing man.”