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Dugout Doings:  'A slice of American pie'
Margaret Bryant, left, Merideth Houseman and their children, Ava and RileyJane, with Hope and Will at NYO Opening Day 2016
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Dugout Doings: 'A slice of American pie'

Eighteen-hundred helium-filled balloons get tied to fences starting at 7 a.m. Saturday. On Friday, 300 bows of red, white and blue bunting will have been draped on the fences. School cheerleaders and mascots were lined up months ago. In the Dowis building, 60 plastic grocery bags --- one for each team of 4-to-8-year-old boys and girls --- contain tiny American flags and sparkling beaded necklaces. On Saturday, 700-plus children will march in NYO's annual Opening Day Parade. The parade and ceremony last barely an hour, but they're months in the making, ending in a mad dash by some of the most-dedicated and hardest-working volunteers NYO has.

'You get out of your car (on Saturday morning) and it's still dark,' parade co-chair Margaret Bryant says.'The sun comes up and before long the massive wave of children being dropped off hits. It's one of the neatest mornings of the year. Like Christmas.' Merideth Houseman, Margaret's co-chair and kindred spirit, puts it this way: 'It has that small-town feeling --- flags, bands and baseball. It's a slice of American pie.' (To read more, please click on the headline)


This is the fourth year Merideth and Margaret have chaired the parade. 'If you're not sitting in the Dowis building this week, you have no idea how much work goes into it,' says NYO executive director Tony Watkins. The two women have worked together on school and civic causes, which may explain why each seemingly can finish the other's sentence. They're quick to share credit with the dozens of volunteers --- nearly all women --- who make the day possible. Merideth cites Alicia McCabe, who builds an arch of balloons under which each child passes enroute to join a team on the outfield grass of the Garr Field. Margaret credits Debbie Bennet with performing the challenging task of convincing parents that their child will be safe in the hands of volunteers. The NYO lot is closed to parking and parents are discouraged from joining their child on the field after they have dropped them off.
It's a daunting responsibility and an act-of-faith not lost upon Margaret. 'Hundreds of people are leaving their (4-8-year-old) children with us at one field, then we walk (with them) a half-mile (the parade route) to another field where the parents pick up their children (an hour later).  Merideth credits NYO Auxiliary Chair Paige Fielden with honing the process. But it's the volunteers who make it work.  'A lot of the same people show up every year,' Margaret adds. 'We have 25-30 parents who have a spot on the parade route, and we have 50-60 who give an hour, or more, during the week. The more you have, the better it works.'
But a parade needs a band, mascots and cheerleaders to make it complete. Merideth began the recruiting process last fall. Whitfield Academy is sending its band, led by director Stacey Quiros, and drum major. Mascots and cheerleaders will come from area high schools such as Lovett, Riverwood, Mt. Vernon Presbyterian, Holy Innocents', Galloway and Marist, as well as Sutton Middle School. Hope and Will, the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta mascots, will be returning, too. 
There are shuttle buses to be arranged to run between the Sutton and Galloway parking lots and NYO. Billy Small will be counted on again to bring his library of great music to fill the air. And Larry Bennett (Debbie's husband) will, no doubt, busy himself with last-minute touches to the fields he so carefully grooms.  At some point, he and Debbie will take their traditional seats in the little pavilion on Wieuca that overlooks the Jane Wilkins Bronco Field.
At 9:30, barely a half hour before children begin arriving, Margaret and Merideth will call one final meeting of their volunteers. At 10:55, the parade begins. Christopher League participants line up behind the band and lead the little ones out of the Garr Field, down behind the Dowis building, then back up again to the Wilkins Field. Margaret Bryant will be at the Dowis Building/Wilkins Field entry point to prevent any delays.
Children and their coaches form an arc around the Wilkins infield. When the last one is seated, Margaret and Merideth will high-five each other, according to Margaret. 'By noon, we feel like it's six o'clock,' she says. 'Then we go to lunch, drink a margarita and get ready to return to watch (their sons) play their games.'
On Monday, the women will have lunch and critique the effort, all to make it better for next year for, as Merideth puts it, 'The little kids. All you have to do is (to) look in their eyes.'
(Jay Smith, who writes Dugout Doings, agrees with Tony Watkins when Tony says, 'We'd be in trouble if we had to depend upon guys for the administration of this organization.)     
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