He was one of top pitchers in game and inducted into International Softball Congress Hall of Fame
Taft has lost another of its homegrown sports legends.
Milt Stark, a graduate of both Taft High and Taft College who became an icon in the world of fast pitch softball, died last Thursday at his home in Anaheim Hills. He was 82.
His wife, Diana, said his health had declined since his 80th birthday. Thursday was their 34th anniversary.
Stark played football and baseball at Taft High and Taft College and became an all-conference catcher and team captain of the Whittier College baseball team.
After earning bachelor and master’s degrees he worked at Los Altos High School for 30 years as a teacher, coach and administrator.
It was those years at Los Altos that he became an elite fast-pitch softball player for teams like the Downey Impalas and the famous Long Beach Nitehawks.
“I played in 11 International Softball Congress World Championship Tournaments,” he wrote in the Taft High Hall of Fame booklet when he was inducted last year. Nine were with the Nitehawks.
Stark retired as a player and manager in 1981 to become executive director of the ISC, a job he held for 20 years. He is credited with reviving enthusiasm for fast-pitch softball – a sport that once was king in Taft – and spreading interest in the sport into Canada, New Zealand, Guatemala and South America.
He also is a member the ISC Hall of Fame and the Long Beach Baseball and Softball Hall of Fame.
Stark got hooked on fast-pitch watching local teams and, in particular, legendary pitcher Les “The Arm” Haney. He later had the privilege of catching Haney.
Stark’s interest in softball led him to sports writing where he was a scribe for the Whittier Daily News for 10 years. He also wrote for a variety of softball publications and edited Bob Otto’s book on softball (“We Play It Fast”) in 2011.
He was born on a Richfield Oil Company lease near Fellows before the family moved to Ford City nine years later when the company camp closed.
In the TUHS Hall of Fame booklet he recalled trying out for football and baseball in his freshman and sophomore years but being ignored. But in his junior year he was “recruited” by Monty Reedy for baseball and Dean Johnson for football. Reedy needed a catcher and Johnson a center.
Stark almost didn’t become a catcher.
He wore glasses and the catcher’s mask wouldn’t fit over them, so his dad took him to the local hardware story and bought him a softball catcher’s mask. It worked – and the rest is history.
Although Stark never lived in Taft after leaving for Whittier College he returned often for visits and especially to take in Wildcat football games.
Diana referred to the community as “his beloved Taft.”
He’ll be buried here Thursday following graveside services at Westside Cemetery.