When asked to describe outgoing Four Leaf Clover president Jeff Ennis, who is stepping down after almost four decades of being involved with the league, in three words, it wasn’t hard to come up them.
“Hard. To. Follow,” said new league president Travis McDowell.
“If I had to describe Jeff in three words they would be loving, passionate, loyal,” said Tom Lannen, who coached at Lanse and is now an assistant for the West Branch varsity team. “If you ever needed him, you got him. Wholeheartedly.”
Ennis stepped down from his position and recently posted on Facebook, “My heart is full and overflowing with love in all my memories of the beautiful people that have touched my life. If I were called to eternal rest right now, I would have the biggest and broadest smile on my face knowing that my involvement over all those years in Four Leaf Clover was so much a blessing.”
“It’s hard to put into words what Jeff has done for the league,” said McDowell. “His years of experience and dedication will be sorely missed. Jeff definitely left big shoes to fill.”
Ennis spent most of his adult life involved with the league, whether through coaching, serving as an officer, volunteer or just a cheerleader when kids needed it. He estimated that he coached over 700 kids between Morrisdale, Allport and Lanse.
He coached two sons through the league, oldest son Tim at Morrisdale-Hawk Run and his youngest, the late Bryan, who played at Lanse.
But Ennis was more than just a parent with kids in the league. He coached for several years and could be seen in various capacities right up until last year.
“I first met Jeff when I played little league from 1983 through 1986,” said Lannen. “Jeff coached Morrisdale-Hawk Run and I played at Lanse. We went on to coaching together in the minor league (6-10 year olds) and when I coached at Lanse, I always knew he was one of my biggest fans. He coached both of my older sons, Josh and Ayden in high school.”
In addition to participating in Little League, Ennis also helped best friend Butch Emigh coach West Branch. Ennis was the longtime postmaster in Houtzdale, before retiring several years ago.
He still drives a van to help transport students as well.
But there is no doubt that baseball was what Ennis dedicated his life to, and the league was much richer for it.
Four Leaf Clover’s Little League boundaries reach a wide area that encompasses three school districts — Clearfield, Philipsburg-Osceola and West Branch.
A handful of teams have folded since the 1980s, including Munson, Quehanna and, most recently, West Decatur-Wallaceton.
“Our area has a rich history in little league,” Lannen said. “In my memory there were 11 teams. We lost the Munson team in the early 1980s, Quehanna folded in 2015, and West Decatur-Wallaceton followed in 2018.
“This season has us faced with lower numbers but we are still fielding eight teams. There are so many stories to tell in generations of players at the different teams. Personally, my three boys are the fourth generation of Lannens to play at Lanse. “A total of 11 players at four years each equals 44 years of Lannens in 70 years of baseball at Martha’s Park when Hansen is done after next season.”
And a lot of the credit to keeping the league thriving is owed to Ennis, and one of the reasons he was elected president over a decade ago.
“When I was coaching at Lanse in around 2007 or so our coaches meetings were a mess,” Lannen said. “We couldn’t get anything done. There was lots of screaming and yelling, but nothing getting accomplished. We voted to have only team managers attend meetings and it still was unproductive.
“We called a meeting to reorganize and restructure things and Jeff took the reigns in a guidance capacity and ended up steering us in the right direction for more than a decade. Jeff has been the guiding light for FLC and settled things into a tradition that will help keep things in order for the foreseeable future.”
“Jeff was the obvious choice when the league needed a strong leader,” he said. “Jeff’s volunteer work in the community spoke for itself. Combine that with his love for baseball, it was a no-brainer. Jeff made it about the KIDS, and he was great at showing everyone the big picture. And reminding us what it was like to play in the league. Kids just want to play ball, and Jeff did everything with that in mind.”
With many small towns dying out in rural leagues, Four Leaf Clover is one opportunity that kids have had in the area consistently since its inception.
“Our league does what very few can, in that we do not charge kids to play,” McDowell said. “Jeff had a big part in that, ensuring that fundraising was implemented and gaining support from the community. The whole area is involved, it’s not just the parents who have kids in the league. A lot of that is because Jeff coached us all at some point and everyone around knows his character.”
McDowell said Ennis was there if you needed him, regardless of the time or day.
“Jeff dedicated a lot of time to this league,” he said. “He spent countless hours in meetings, plus hours of his free time making contacts and building the strong league that we have today. Probably the biggest thing is to make sure that the league was left in good hands. Having Jeff’s approval meant the world to me.”
Lannen said Ennis was always the biggest cheerleader –regardless of the team and even if it was against his own.
“Jeff has made a positive impact for our league and also our community for my family and so many others over the years,” he said. “Probably more so than anyone else that I can think of. He is a role model and an invaluable resource for many coaches like myself learning the ropes moving through the coaching ranks. I was blessed to then coach along side him for my first three years of coaching high school ball at West Branch.”
Ennis said the time was right for him, “to step down and let a new generation pick up the bats and balls and move forward.”
Lannen said all of the things Ennis put in place will ensure there are many more kids who can enjoy playing Little League baseball in Four Leaf Clover for years to come.
“As a league we need to carry on some of the values that Jeff left us with,” he said. “We need to make time to listen to all of the issues at hand and not rush to judgement on anything.
“Jeff always was an ear to talk to even if he didn’t agree with a conversation. He was respectful and found a way to mediate even the most volatile of situations. He always put the kids first. No matter what.”
McDowell said if the league continues to operate the way Ennis did, his legacy will continue forever.
“We just need to stay the course, and remember that it won’t be easy,” he said. “As long as we continue to ask ourselves, “What’s best for the kids?” we can’t go wrong.”
It’s what Ennis would do. And for someone who has dedicated his life to baseball, there would be no bigger gift.