Dixie Youth tradition carries on

Published 12:17 pm Friday, May 6, 2016

The baseball diamond holds a special allure to the people of Charlotte County during Dixie Youth season.

From the end of April through the beginning of August, locals flock to the Charlotte Court House, Phenix and Wylliesburg fields to watch young players face off and develop their skills.

“We have a big fan base,” Charlotte County Dixie Youth Commissioner Bryan Tuck said. “I guess soccer hasn’t taken over our area yet, so baseball is still the one sport when it comes to spring and summer.”

(Photo by Italia Gregory) Coach Damien Coleman, right, and his son, Damien Jr., prepare for the first game of the day at Saturday’s Opening Ceremonies.

(Photo by Italia Gregory)
Coach Damien Coleman, right, and his son, Damien Jr., prepare for the first game of the day at Saturday’s Opening Ceremonies.

Gary Walker, who has coached Dixie Youth baseball for 44 years, said Charlotte County Dixie Youth got its start in 1958.

Tuck noted some men who helped get it going in the early days, including Carl Vassar for Charlotte Court House, Jimmy Taylor for Phenix, Mack Card for Wylliesburg and Bill Boliek for Drakes Branch.

Highlighting more early heroes for Charlotte County Dixie Youth, Walker cited Creighton Riepe, Vernie Long, Mac McKenzie, Charles Harding, Dewey Fallen, Garland Clark, Horseley Jones and Reginald Pillow. These men created a platform for the future success of young players, including the approximately 126 baseball players involved this year.

Walker recalled he and other coaches always wanting to take their players to the Dixie Youth World Series, and they managed to lead four teams there from 2008-11.

In 2008, Tuck led a Minors team, which features 9- and 10-year-olds, and then Walker led a Majors team — 11- and 12-year-olds — to the World Series the next three years.

Before the teams traveled to compete in the World Series, there was about a week-and-a-half to two weeks to raise money to pay for expenses related to the trip. Tuck said that each year, the community raised $17,000-$18,000 for the team during that time.

“The people in the county, they went well above to make sure that all the children were taken care of on their transportation and travel and hotel rooms,” he said. “They really do look out for the program — no doubt about that.”

“Even if we don’t do well, they’re still behind our program, so we’re very fortunate in that aspect of things,” he added.

And just because someone is in the stands, it does not mean they have a child or grandchild playing.

“Some people just come down there and have supper and watch a game and head on back,” Tuck said. “It’s a get-together time for some people in the county there.”

The ability to connect with other people is a big draw, and for many, those connections are built-in because either they or a family member played Dixie Youth baseball in the county.

Both Tuck and Walker experienced Dixie Youth as players before they became coaches.

“It pulls on the heartstrings of people,” Walker said of the program. “There are a lot of good memories from playing.”

Through the years of his involvement, he said he has met so many grandparents, parents and children, and “it’s people that you probably wouldn’t have met if you weren’t in the program.”

Ensuring the young players have a place to play has been a key part of the experience for Walker and the county.

“Building a ballpark brings people together,” he said. “It takes a community to raise the money to build a ball field.”

And an important part of the local Dixie Youth tradition has also been giving young players the tools to become successful later in life.

“I’m not the best coach in the world, but I try to teach the boys if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right,” Walker said, emphasizing the importance of hard work.

He noted that Randolph-Henry High School is known for its successful baseball program, and many Statesmen players have Dixie Youth in their background.

“They’ve got 14 guys on the high school team, and 13 of them played for me,” Walker said. “All 14 of them played Dixie Youth ball.”