This past Saturday, more than 300 youth gathered with their family and friends at Dalton Threadgill Little League Park to celebrate opening day of the Destin Little League Association.

But who was Dalton Threadgill, the man behind the namesake of the ball park?

He was small in stature, 5-foot-9, loved sports and loved the youth.

“He had a big heart for the kids,” said Bill Shirah, who coached alongside Threadgill in the 1970s. “He was ... old school country. He was slow talking and he wasn’t going to get in a hurry.”

Dalton and Peggy Threadgill had two sons, Phillip and Ron. The couple was married for 35 years before he passed away in 1988.

On April 8, 1989, the Little League Park was named the Dalton G. Threadgill Little League Park. There was also a plaque that stated, “This park dedicated in memory of Dalton G. Threadgill who served this community for over 25 years. Without his efforts, our little league program would not have been possible.”

The Threadgills moved to Destin in 1963 from Scottsboro, Alabama, where he coached high school football. He was lured to Destin to teach math and science at Destin Elementary School and to try and get some athletic programs off the ground.

And that he did.

In 1972, Threadgill, who was coach at Destin Elementary at the time, led the way for Destin Little League to become part of the National Little League Baseball.

Threadgill formed the first Destin little league football team, the Destin Dolphins.

In 1977, Threadgill was instrumental in the the Destin Dolphins joining the Playground Football Conference.

“He was the guiding force (for athletics in Destin) ... he was pushing for it,” Shirah said. “He was gruff and stuff, but he was a believer for sports for the youth.”

Frank Davis, who played for Coach Threadgill in the 1960s, has fond memories of coach.

“I loved Coach Threadgill ... Destin wouldn’t be Destin if he hadn’t lived here,” Davis said.

When Davis played baseball back in the day, he said Destin only had one team and they played against teams in Niceville.

And Threadgill wasn’t just their coach, he was the bus driver to the games, the man who ordered the uniforms ... he did it all.

“Everything you see down there, he had something to do with it,” Davis said. “He put a lot of time and effort into the kids ... and he didn’t have to. He affected every kid that came through here.

“And he didn’t put up with any of our crap,” Davis said.

And now as an adult, Davis said he realizes “(Threadgill) had a lot of love for us ... he was a good fella.”

Cliff Cox, captain of the party boat of the Sweet Jody, also played for Threadgill in the 1960s.

“He was totally all about the kids and helping the kids,” Cox said.

When they first started playing, Threadgill managed to get them a backstop but they didn’t have any fences on the field, Cox explained.

“When you’d hit a home run, he’d walk out there and see where the ball landed and he decided if it was a home run or not,” Cox said with a laugh. “We just had poles and he’d line it up and see if it was a home run or not.

“He was a great guy,” Cox said. “He kept us all in line. I don’t think there’s very many people that didn’t get licks from him at one time or the other. He was left handed and could swing a mean paddle.”

Nevertheless, Cox said “he was a great guy and had a lot of influence on my peer group ... he was a great mentor.”

“If it wasn’t for him, I’m not sure that ball field would have gotten to be what it was,” Cox said. “I think that was his dream for Destin kids ... to have a decent ball field to play on.”

Cox said when he goes up to the ball field now to watch his grandchildren play, he wishes he had the field back then that the Destin youth now play on.

"When we played in the outfield it was all stickers,“ he said. ”You didn’t let the ball hit the ground because there was going to be stickers in it. It was good times back then.

“If it hadn’t been for him we’d never had any kind of organized ball to participate in,” Cox added. “He saw the immediate need when he got here ... saw there was nothing for us to do ... and said we got to change that. He was a great guy. I liked him a lot ... really admired him.”

Dennis Lawson, who was a coach and very involved with the Destin Little League for than two decades, remembers when Threadgill was the player agent for the Destin Little League.

“When we would hold tryouts, every players got a score from him and he would tell you everything about why you should draft him or her,” Lawson said. “He made every kid a superstar. He would pull his hat up and rub his head and say ’You can’t find a better player.’”

Lawson said with Threadgill being the PE teacher at the elementary school, he knew every kid inside and out.

“He would even call you off on the side and tell you what kids needed a father figure and explain why you needed to draft him. I’ve never been around anyone that cared as much for the kids (as) him,” Lawson said.

In addition to coaching, Threadgill was a teacher at Destin Elementary.

Kathy Marler-Blue, executive director of the Destin History and Fishing Museum, recalled having him as a teacher in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

“When I started to teach at Destin Elementary in 1974 he was the PE teacher. I always respected him,” Marler-Blue said. “Everything he said was very thought-out. He spoke in a slow, southern style.

“I remember one thing he always told us as students, 'Put your mind in gear before your mouth or self in motion,’” she said. “When I became a teacher I remember using that quote. As a teacher and a colleague, he always pushed you to be the best you could be.”