The journey for the young Dixie Youth Baseball players began back in July when some 5,000 teams began tournament play in all age divisions of Dixie Youth Baseball. For three divisions, it ended the week of August 4 - 10 at Choccolocco Park in Oxford, Alabama, where the AAA, Majors, and “O” Zone Dixie Youth World Series champions were crowned.
It is a World Series tradition to remove your state flag from the field when your team is eliminated from the tournament. Those were the last steps of the journey for all but three teams as they made the long walk to the center field fence to take down their state flag. The last flags remaining–denoting the age division World Series Champions–were flags from South Carolina, Florida, and Alabama.
The journey ended with a World Series Championship for the AAA (age 10 and under) team from Hartsville, South Carolina, the Majors (age 12 and under) team from South Sumter, Florida, and the “O” Zone (age 12 and under with 70-ft bases) team from Fairhope, Alabama. These three teams, three host teams from Oxford, and 33 others from eleven states traveled through league, district, sub-state, and state tournaments to advance to the World Series. They brought with them a caravan of parents, siblings, grandparents, state Dixie Youth officials, and other fans to the city and surrounding area. The spectator attendance for the tournament was estimated at 4,500.
The journey for Choccolocco Park itself began much earlier, as the home to Native Americans over 12,000 years ago. Only much more recently, however, was the park an idea in the minds of Oxford leaders, as they envisioned and built a world-class outdoor recreation facility. The park is home to youth, high school, and college sports, and boasts baseball, softball, soccer, track & field and football fields, walking tracks, playgrounds, and outdoor classrooms. It was selected as the National High School Baseball Park of the Year in 2016 by the National High School Baseball Coaches Association. Oxford officials recently learned that the park placed second by voters in a national magazine poll of “Ballparks Every Planner Must See.” With plans to add more amenities to the facility, Choccolocco Park’s journey continues.
Oxford’s journey to hosting the World Series began over two years ago, led by Oxford Fire Chief Gary Sparks, a former Dixie Youth Commissioner, who also served as Host Chairman. The City of Oxford bid on the World Series, and after being awarded the bid, began the process of raising funds, locating sponsors, finding host families, preparing the park’s fields to meet Dixie Youth specifications, and planning the six-day event. The committee included city officials, Parks and Recreation Department staff, Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce leaders, Calhoun County Commissioners, Choccolocco Park staff, and officials from Dixie Youth. Michelle Mayfield, Oxford’s Baseball for Youth Commissioner, termed this committee “the best team around.”
The journey for Dixie Youth Baseball began in 1956 when a group of southern leaders started a new youth baseball organization known as “Little Boys Baseball.” It started with 122 leagues and 537 teams comprised of approximately 8,000 boys. Following a name change to Dixie Youth Baseball in 1962, it has grown to over 13,000 teams in eleven states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. It now has five age divisions for boys 12 and under, three divisions for boys 13 through 18, and five divisions for girls 18 and under.
Dixie Youth Baseball, Inc. is an all-volunteer organization that promotes the love of God and country, respect for authority and rules, honesty, sportsmanship and a love of the game. A scholarship program was instituted in 1961, and the only requirement for application is that the applicant must have at one time played in a Dixie Youth Baseball league in any 12 and under age division. The program has grown to over 1,500 total scholarships given with an aggregate value of over $2.6 million. There were 80 scholarships awarded in 2017, with Oxford’s own Will Turley one of the scholarship winners. Will began his journey at the University of Alabama this fall.
Next year, the Dixie Youth journey will be to Lumberton, North Carolina, the hosts for the 2018 World Series. While a few of the players may be fortunate to return to the World Series, most will not. But this year’s journey won’t be forgotten. It will be remembered, for example, by the North Carolina team whose coach presented each of his players with a Bible, and each day they had a devotional. The Louisiana team will be remembered for bringing and sharing beads with the other teams, a la the New Orleans tradition. Many of the players brought state World Series pins and traded them with players from other states, providing a treasured memento of a memorable journey.
The 2017 Dixie Youth World Series journey is now a memory. Three teams ended the journey as World Series champs, but every player was a champion, without question. And each participant will have other memorable journeys. But I venture to guess that every player, coach, and fan will remember the journey to Choccolocco Park and the 2017 Dixie Youth World Series.