The sigh of relief was almost audible on the evening of Aug. 9, when the final out was recorded at the two-week Dixie Youth World Series that was held at the Raymond B. Pennington Athletic Complex.
The high-profile event, which brought about 1,700 people to the city and Robeson County — players, parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, friends, coaches and officials — had finished on time despite intermittent but heavy rain, and if there had been a complaint uttered, it didn’t resonate long or far.
We certainly didn’t hear one related to the actual event, and complaints have a knack for finding us.
Now that the visitors have returned home, we can say it: This newspaper joined a lot of other folks in our worry that there would be an event, a single episode, that could overshadow all the positives that were happening in the city and the county, and send our new friends back home to 11 states with a remembrance that wasn’t fond. Our guess is there was trepidation as well with our visitors, who probably Googled our city and county and didn’t like all that they read, and perhaps wondered why Dixie Youth officials would pick us.
They now know.
Lumberton Police Chief Michael McNeill said he is aware of a lone incident of crime affecting any of the visitors — a vehicle that was broken into at a restaurant. While not good, we would have happily taken that in advance of the tournament.
McNeill, his officers and city officials deserve a shoutout on that accomplishment as the police presence at the ballpark, along Interstate 95 and at the hotels was stepped up, visible, and perhaps a deterrent.
There are a lot of folks to thank, and before we begin, we will apologize to those we miss.
One who has not been mentioned is Bobby Sessoms, the former director of the Lumberton Recreation Department, who decades ago urged the purchase of the land where the Pennington park now sits. The longtime leader in recreation in the city had to take pride in watching the vision he had long ago materialize.
Additionally there were city officials who didn’t end their pursuit of what was first known as Northeast Park, plowing ahead with a piecemeal approach to its construction when voters said no to the sale of bonds that would have allowed for a Big Bang construction. There are few communities, large, small or in-between, that can boast an athletic complex such as the one Lumberton has — and it is only getting better. Without it, there would have been no Dixie Youth World Series.
Then there are the LYBA and Recreation Department officials who ignored the naysayers, those who insisted Dixie Youth would never bring such a major event here, and not only lobbied for the event, but systematically kicked aside any obstacles that arose, to include the recent addition of another field at a cost of $500,000, money provided from the Lumberton Visitors Bureau.
There are many more, including the local retail industry, which benefited from dollars spent, but also had to prepare for the additional business. We saw visitors around the town and when asked, they read from a similar script, that the city and county were exceeding their expectations, the facility was outstanding, and that the hospitality was living up to the Southern standard.
But the biggest hand goes to the entire community for coming together, putting out the welcome mat and then staying on our best behavior. We should do that last part more often.
City and LYBA officials say they hope to bring the event back, and believe they have learned a few things that could make the event even better, such as providing more shade from the summer sun. The comments from Dixie Youth officials suggest they would look favorably on the request should it come.
As Ernie Banks famously said, “Let’s play two.”