LUMBERTON — Teams from eleven different states had their chances to be in the spotlight at the opening ceremony for the AA Dixie Youth World Series on Friday night.
Several of those teams were far away from home when they marched across Lumberton High School’s football field as part of the festivities, but they all felt at home with friends and family packing the grandstands and special music being played as each group made its entrance.
“The Devil Went Down to Georgia” blared through the speakers as Georgia’s Coach Pitch and Machine Pitch teams made their way into the stadium. “If you’re Gonna Play in Texas” greeted the Lone Star State’s teams made their first appearance.
A fireworks display put an end to the ceremony and capped off an opening day that Lumberton Youth Baseball Association President Tim Locklear said was a success.
“It went well,” Locklear said. “Everything fell in line and went right on time. It went better than we could have imagined.”
The LYBA is hosting the Dixie Youth World Series alongside the City of Lumberton.
The day started with a skills competition at the event’s host facility, the Ray Pennington Athletic Complex.
The 22 teams then transitioned over to the high school, where each athlete was greeted by Locklear as they entered the stadium to a round of applause.
“They were all smiling and having fun, and that’s what this is about,” Locklear said.
Dan Kenney, who worked in higher education for 43 years, including 30 at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, served as the ceremony’s keynote speaker.
Having worked in a variety of positions in collegiate athletics and administration, the most recent being a stint as the Chief of Staff for UNCP Chancellor Robin Cummings, Kenney shared tales with the players and families in attendance and encouraged them to identify and think abut the morals of those stories.
He concluded the speech by issuing a challenge to the World Series participants.
“Make a difference with your gratitude, make a difference with your hustle, and most importantly make a difference with your commitment to a higher power,” Kenney said.
He also spoke about Pennington, a former mayor of Lumberton and heralded coach in the region. Kenney led the crowd in chants of Pennington’s nickname, Ray-Bo, as a sign of support for the athletic complex’s namesake as he continues to deal with health issues.
He was preceded by Bruce Davis, Lumberton’s mayor, who expressed gratitude for the work of the city’s employees in preparing for the World Series. Those preparations have been underway for almost three years and were almost fatally stalled by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.
It was what Lumberton Machine Pitch coach Sammy Shackelford referred to as a fitting end to the first day of the World Series.
“We had a good day,” Shackelford said. “We had the skills competition and did really good. I’m looking forward to getting the games going tomorrow.”
Pool play for the AA World Series begins on Saturday morning at 9 a.m. A separate opening ceremony will be held next Friday for the Dixie Youth Baseball World Series, which will include competitors from from the “O” zone, Majors and AAA divisions.
Reach Brandon Tester at 910-816-1989 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @BrandonTester.