LUMBERTON — Except for the rainy weather, the recent Dixie Youth World Series enjoyed a chamber of commerce like reception — and the tournament ended on time despite the frequent interruptions from Mother Nature.
The two-week event at the Raymond B. Pennington Athletic Complex, which ended Aug. 9, is being hailed as everything local sports enthusiasts, and civic and business leaders hoped it would be — and is being praised by visitors from across the South.
Bruce Mullis, Lumberton Youth Baseball Association treasurer and a key player in getting the event to Lumberton, said it “far exceeded our expectations. It was great for the LYBA community.”
He hopes that the event will return to Lumberton in the future.
“Dixie Youth told us to be sure to bid again,” Mayor Bruce Davis said. “They said it was the best facility they’d played in.”
It appears such a bid would be welcomed.
“It was one of the best organized series we’ve ever had,” said Ken Bruxvoort, president of Dixie Youth Baseball. “We’d be happy to come back if they wanted us. There were no complaints from anyone. I can’t say enough about how well it went.”
The event allowed Lumberton and Robeson County to shine.
“Overall it went very well,” said Angela Sumner, Lumberton Visitors Bureau executive director. “Most families were appreciative. It was a boost to the area, a showcase to people from 11 states. Kudos to the city.”
“Our players, parents and fans had a great time,” said Hunter Smith, coach of the coach-pitch team from Ruxton, La. “The park was very nice, concessions were good and the hotel service at the Holiday Inn in Lumberton was top-notch as they took care of our group of over 50 people.”
Organizers say the series’ average daily attendance was 1,000, with greater attendance during weekend games. The attendance dropped as the series progressed, teams were eliminated and players, coaches and family members went home.
“I sat with a family with an 8-year-old playing from East Texas at the opening ceremonies,” said Arnold West, chairman of the Lumberton Tourism Development Authority and the owner of two restaurants. “They brought eight members of the family to watch him play. This was good for the economy, good money coming in.”
The rain, which was intermittent but heavy when it arrived, presented challenges beyond getting the games in.
“The grounds crew worked very hard to get fields back and running as fast as they could,” Smith said, “and we couldn’t have been happier with their attitudes and effort as they volunteered their time all weekend to make sure we had a nice and safe surface to play on.”
There was a collective worry about crime, because Lumberton and Robeson rank high, but Lumberton police had a high profile not only at the ballpark, but at hotels and along the Interstate 95 corridor.
“We put in a lot of extra man-hours,” Chief Michael McNeill said. “It was hot, but we had no complaints. We beefed up the patrols. We always take care of our visitors. We were glad to have them. We try to do our best, and give our best Southern hospitality.”
He said he was aware of a single incident involving a visitor whose car was broken into at a restaurant.
“There were no robberies or physical assaults,” McNeill said. “I thank God for that. It’s a positive spin on the community. There’s so much negative going on. This was great for us.”
Now those who brought the event to Lumberton, primarily the Lumberton Youth Baseball Association and city government, have their sights on a doubleheader.
“We plan to bring it back,” Mullis said. “We would like to bring in some facility upgrades, some shelters for shade in the fences.”
The earliest another bid can be submitted would be for 2021.
Typically four or five cities make bids for a Dixie Youth World Series, Mullis said. They must pay a fee to the organization to be the host community.
“We paid $30,000 to the organization for the event, which covers various expenses such as trophies, per-diems, shirts, hats and other items,” Mullis said.
The money was paid using a grant from the Lumberton Visitors Bureau. But Mullis said it was a wise investment because of dollars that visitors left behind.
The impact on the economy is still being measured, but West said that hotels and restaurants were full, and some people were staying in Fayetteville, Pembroke and Laurinburg. There are 1,500 rooms available in Lumberton.
Barry O’Brien, dean of the School of Business at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, estimated the economic benefit locally to be as much as $3 million.
“Chick-fil-A had an hour waiting line. Everything was packed. It was great for the city,” Mayor Davis said.
“The Walmart manager felt very good about the first week,” Angela Sumner said. “He reported a 6 to 10 percent increase in sales.”
West noticed more folks in the buffet line at his restaurants.
“I would guess that we had an 8 to 12 percent increase compared to last year at the same time,” West said.
Mullis commended the community for chipping in, attending the games, and putting out a welcome mat.
“We had a hospitality tent for the coaches,” Mullis said. “With all the rain, the ground was getting muddy, so a local builder helped us out and built plywood floors for us. He was up until 1 a.m. doing that for us.”
“I heard ‘great job’ from people from other states,” Sumner said. “They complimented the sports complex, and said it was well run.”
“When a town does a great job, we want to come back,” Ken Bruxvoort said. “Even on the last day in Lumberton, people were friendly. It was great, and we want to do it again.”
Mullis said the event will also be a boost to the local LYBA.
“We’ve gone to the top,” he said. “We were the host of the World Series. We will continue to promote baseball like we have since 1995. Ultimately we’d like to see children play, get skill sets, and be better equipped for high school and beyond.”