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Dugout Doings: A Bittersweet Mother's Day

For Stacy Hanley, the first woman to serve on the executive committee of the NYO board, this Mother's Day will be filled with mixed emotions. But more on that, later. First, you need to meet Stacy: Wife, Mom, attorney,  10-year  NYO volunteer and a loving daughter. Although it's been two years since her oldest, Colin, played Bronco baseball, it takes Stacy 30 minutes to make her way past the Jane Wilkins Field, where Bronco games are played, after she leaves an NYO meeting in the nearby Dowis building. 
'I haven't been at the field in two years,' Stacy says. 'But I knew two-thirds of the people there.' Friendship is what makes NYO special for her. In response to a question about how NYO could improve, Stacy answers: 'I'm not sure we need to make it better. Maybe a tweak, here or there. But it's the greatest volunteer organization, and it's remarkable that we pull all of this off with volunteers.' And friendship with those volunteers is at the core of NYO. 'For me, it's a way to feel connected and to feel) purposeful. I like being connected to people.' Mothers like Stacy are the unsung heroes of NYO, which is why we have saluted Jane Wilkins, Pam Miller and Paige Fielden on other Mother's Days. (To read more, please click the headline)

Dugout Doings: Lessons of a 17-year-old

Strikeouts sting, especially when you're 10-years-old, go down looking and make the third out. Yet, assistant coach Sloan Wyatt, who watches from the dugout, shows no reaction as the player returns to the bench. Sloan, 17, helps coach the Blue Bombers of the NYO Minors fastpitch softball league. As one who has played the game since she was 6, Sloan knows there are no words to console the little girl. And she knows the worst thing is to express her disappointment in words or body language.
Sloan also knows things have a way of evening out, sometimes very quickly. The little girl goes to shortstop and promptly records the first two outs with snazzy plays that showcase her defensive skills. Sloan is the first to greet her with a gentle hug --- nothing more, nothing less --- as the inning ends. It's how little ones should be coached. Sloan, a rising senior at Pace Academy where she plays varsity fastpitch as well as lacrosse, represents the cadre of NYO alums willing to return to the Chastain fields to give of themselves. (To read more, please click on the headline)

Dugout Doings: 'The day the park wakes up'

Debbie Bennett stands beneath an arch of red, white and blue balloons at the Garr Field and greets each little one being dropped off by an anxious parent. 'We have runners right here to take (your child) in,' Debbie reassures each new arrival. The sign at the entrance to the Garr outfield reads: 'Players, Coaches and Team Moms Only on the Field.' It's NYO Opening Day, the big parade and, for many, a rite of passage. 'Hi, I'm Shannon, what's your name?' says one adult volunteer sporting an 'Ask Me! NYO Opening Day' volunteer badge. The little girl in her tiny baseball uniform takes Shannon's hand and they march to the field. Brayden Bassett, 11, of the Major league Rangers, greets Walker Hanlon, 7, and his brother, Graham, 5. They play for the Red Sox in the Rookie and Shetland Blue leagues, respectively.

The sky is a leaden gray and the thermometer hangs in the mid-50s. A drop or two is felt, but one adult boasts, 'It doesn't rain on Opening Day. It's not allowed.' It rained earlier and the grass is wet. Dozens of Moms working as volunteers seem to have gotten the same memo. They're all wearing rain boots. But the children, especially the boys, race around the Garr outfield. It sounds like a school yard at recess. 'This is the day the park wakes up,' says long-time NYO coach and volunteer Billy Small, who arranges the music playing over the loudspeaker system. (To read more, please click on the headline)

Dugout Doings: A lesson in never giving up

It's become a part of the Opening Day ritual. High school baseball and fastpitch softball seniors return to NYO, the place where they learned to play. School games get in the way, so not everyone can make it. This year, 32 baseball and six fastpitch players were recognized. But one was extra special: Andee Poulos.

'This is one of the proudest moments I've ever had,' said Brian Raley, fastpitch softball commissioner, as he called out Andee's name. Brian was Andee's first coach at NYO when she was 8-years-old. '(Hers) is a great lesson of what happens when you don't give up.' Andee, who will graduate from Holy Innocents' Episcopal School in June then will go on to one of the many universities that have already accepted for this fall, stood and listened. Six years ago, we feared and prayed for Andee's life. (To read more, please click on the headline)

Dugout Doings: From Amarillo, Texas, to NYO

It's 1,106 miles from Amarillo, Texas, to Atlanta --- a 16-hour drive --- but that didn't keep Ray Link, 77, from seeing his 5-year-old great-grandson, Knox Koppelman, play at NYO. In town for a visit, Ray wasn't going to miss watching Knox for the first time.  Knox, who plays for the Shetland Blue Braves, is one of 26 great-grandchildren Ray Link said he has.

And what did Mr. Link think of his first visit to NYO? 'I've never been to anything like this. It's got more fields, it's got everything.' And granddaughter RheAnne Koppelman, Knox's mom, said Ray's visit and the Opening Day ceremony and game would be a 'memory (that will last) forever.'
(Jay Smith, who writes Dugout Doings, thanks Tom McClure for this story and the photo that accompanies it)  

Dugout Doings: An NYO Opening Day honor

Even as a hard rain fell, David Bickers and his Southern Exposures landscape crew were hard at work preparing the NYO fields for Opening Day ceremonies. Baselines and batters boxes needed to be chalked, infields smoothed and treated with a drying agent to absorb the moisture. Rare is the day that a mere shower cancels NYO games. It's a routine David and his guys follow seven days a week from mid-March to late May when baseball and softball return to the Chastain fields. On Saturdays and Sundays, when games begin early, field preparation can start before sun-up.

But this day would be special. One of the highest honors NYO bestows is to ask someone special to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day. This year, David and six members of his crew were afforded that honor. As they lined up at the mound of the Jane Wilkins Bronco field, the seven men eyed the young catchers to whom they would throw. For David Bickers, who grew up playing NYO baseball and whose sons have followed his lead, it marked the first time he had pitched on the field since 1982. He threw a strike. With that, Opening Day ceremonies concluded. And David and his crew headed back to their equipment to insure NYO's fields remained among the very best of any youth recreational program in the country.
(Jay Smith, who writes Dugout Doings, can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..     Note, there is no 'i' in the email address.)

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)

Dugout Doings: Chesny and Kyle

Chesny Young is a regular in these Dugout Doings columns. From his days leading Marist High School to two state championships through three record-setting years with the Mercer University Bears to his rise in the  Chicago Cubs baseball organization, I have written about him often and will, again, today. Too seldom, however, have I written about Kyle Farmer. Kyle, like Chesny, is an NYO and Marist alum, who starred at shortstop for the University of Georgia. Now a catcher, Kyle is on the Los Angeles Dodgers' 40-man roster and has been rated among the team's top-25 prospects by truebluela.com. Chesny is rated #23 among rising Chicago stars by cubsinsider.com and was a non-roster invitee to spring training.

Google either of their names and you'll find high praise for each. 'Farmer very well could be the next man up . . . as the third catcher on the 40-man (roster), but it seems likely he'll spend quite a bit of time in Triple-A Oklahoma City, where he ended last year in the Pacific Coast League playoffs,' according to truebluela.com. Here's what cubsinsider has to say about Chesny: 'Now at Triple-A Iowa, Young can almost sniff Chicago. (This) should be his best year, as he will be in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. Young hit .303 at Double-A Tennessee in 2016 and might be able to come up and stick with Chicago later in this year.' (To read more, please click on headline)

Dugout Doings: 'Make it fun'

Courtney Moreno arrived early and read as she awaited Dr. Jack Llewellyn's presentation in the NYO gym on Sunday.  Her son, Ricky, is 5 and played Small Ball last spring. 'Some days, he mostly enjoyed playing in the dirt,' Courtney recalls. But when mom and dad asked Ricky if he wanted to play in the fall, then again this spring, he responded enthusiastically. 'We try to be encouraging, to remain positive and we want for him to have fun.'
With those few words, Courtney Moreno could have delivered Jack Llewellyn's speech for him. But Dr. Jack's hour-long talk to NYO coaches and parents contained the color and perspective gained when you've lived 72 years and spent most of them as an athlete, a coach or a counselor to the elite (and not-so-elite) of sport.  On this occasion, part of NYO's Positive Coaching program, he focused on youngsters, their parents and the men and women who coach them.
(To read more, please click the headline)

Dugout Doings: Parents (and coaches), this is for you

Jack Llewellyn, PhD, has spent a lifetime counseling elite athletes and writing books on greatness, but he would like a few minutes with NYO's coaches and parents, especially the parents.  That's why he's coming to our gymnasium at 6 p.m. Sunday, February 26, for a conversation sponsored by the Positive Coaching Alliance. 'I try to emphasize it's so critical that when kids first start (playing sports) it has to be fun,' Llewellyn says. 'Those initial years should be spent learning basic skills and being rewarded.'
NYO has embraced Jack Llewellyn's message, but each year brings a fresh batch of kids and parents, as well as an opportunity for all of us to get a refresher. And Dr. Jack frets that young female athletes increasingly feel the pressures their brothers have long faced. 'We pay too much attention to the physical and not to the emotional,' he says, 'and now we're doing it to girls.' 
(To read more, please click on the headline.)

Dugout Doings: Words matter

There's no picture to go with this column because it's about words.  Words, especially in the presence of children, matter. And beginning with this weekend's baseball and fastpitch softball evaluations, we'll spend the next four months (two to three hours a day, four days a week) in the company of a lot of kids.  
In year's past, I've written about the reunion-like feeling of coaches bundled up against late-January cold as they spend an entire weekend evaluating aspiring young players. Everyone who's registered makes a team, of course, but there's something special about this ritual. May it always be so. This year feels a bit different. I hope I am wrong, but thick skins have grown thin. And words too often tear at that skin.
(To continue reading, please click on the headline)

Dugout Doings: Fastpitch fervor stars

It was baseball instruction at its best. Dozens of coaches rose from their grandstand seats at the Austin Armstrong Field of Dreams on a warm January Saturday afternoon and took imaginary swings with imaginary bats. But they weren't swinging at pretend baseballs. They aimed, instead, at an invisible rising yellow fastpitch softball. On the field below, surrounded by some of NYO's finest young fastpitch players, John Tschida held court.  Read More - Click image or headline

Park's support makes a difference for NYO

For many, NYO IS Chastain Park. Yet, our youth sports program is but a part of a 268-acre park that attracts an estimated two-million visitors a year.

There is another organization, the Chastain Park Conservancy, that works to keep the entire park clean, safe and green. Now 12-years-old, they are the folks who built the new playground across from our ballfields. They widened the one-mile stretch of the running and walking trail on Powers Ferry Road. They are the ones who recycle and provide 75,000 doggie bags each year. Their volunteers work 10,000 hours annually.

Not too long ago, the Conservancy got a $450,000 grant to make the park’s buildings more energy efficient, cutting utility costs for organizations such as ours. The Chastain gym was the biggest beneficiary. The Dowis building got help, too.

On Saturday, October 15, the Conservancy will hold its one big annual fundraiser, a concert in the Chastain Amphitheatre. This is the third year for ‘Rock Chastain’ and it will feature the legendary Drivin’ N’ Cryin, Ed Roland (a Chastain resident) & The Sweet Tea Project, The Whiskey Gentry and Brian Collins.

Tickets for the 7-11 p.m. concert start at $50 and are available at Ticketmaster.com.
Because the Conservancy is a 501c3 non-profit, the cost of the tickets is tax-deductible. You can also purchase tickets in-person at the Conservancy’s office, 4001 Powers Ferry Road.

The concert is on its way to topping the first two. This is a great opportunity for NYO families to have a fun-filled Saturday night, support a valuable ally and insure an everbetter Chastain Park.

Dugout Doings: At Home on Any Field of Play!

As a kid, Henry Anderson thought his sports future would happen on a baseball field. He recalls his NYO days this way: ‘I was tall and scrawny, a pretty good pitcher, but not a good football player. I was too skinny.’ 
Barely a decade later, Henry, 25-years-old and six-feet, six-inches and 300 pounds, awaits his return this fall as a defensive end for the Indianapolis Colts of the the NFL. A third-round pick from Stanford University, Henry’s rookie season was cut short early last November. He suffered a tear of his right anterior cruciate ligament.  Surgery led to months of rehabilitation. ‘The knee feels really good,’ Henry says. ‘It won’t be too long (before he returns to play).’

For 60 years tens-of-thousands of young men and women have grown up on the ball fields and basketball courts of NYO.  This is the first in an occasional series of stories about NYO alums.  A few, like Henry, have gone on to play collegiate or professional sports. Many have had successful business and civic careers. Even more --- and this may be the most important measure of all --- have become good citizens, loving spouses, parents and, in some cases, grandparents. If lessons learned at NYO shaped them, that’s the greatest reward our program could receive.

Dugout Doings: Getting Ready stars

Larry Bennett's been busy. More specifically, Larry and the legions of groundskeepers and volunteers who tend to NYO's fields and facilities have been working mightily to make this year's baseball and fastpitch softball experience better than ever. The biggest news: 109 additional parking spots next to the gym. But there's more: A new scoreboard for the Austin Armstrong Field of Dreams; a much-needed T-ball/Kit Kat field at the other end of Chastain Park, next to the American Legion Post; completion of the multi-use pavilion-pressbox-dugout for the softball fields, plus 'a couple of surprises to be unveiled Opening Day 2016,' according to Larry.

Much of the work is the result of the 2014-15 capital campaign. Larry, a long-time coach, NYO board member and chair and perpetual facilities tsar, oversees every detail, down to the mulch around newly planted trees and in flower beds. The mulch is recycled from trees that came down for expanded parking.

(To read more, please click on the headline) 

  

  

Dugout Doings: Vote for Ian Otten! stars

Ian Otten, one of our own, has just learned he will represent Georgia in a national contest to select a 'doodle' that will become the artwork for Google's search page for an entire day. Additionally, if Ian wins, he's in line for a college scholaship and rewards for his school, Marist, where he is a 7th-grader. Between now and February 22, anyone can vote as often as he or she wants. Go to: google.com/doodle4google/vote.html#d=3-1. The top vote-getter also will visit the Google campus to meet the online media giant's artists.

Ian, 13, grew up on the sports fields of NYO. In addition to football, he played baseball from the Shetland level to Bronco. He was a member of the 12U Titans and now plays for the 643 Tigers, a travel team. His 'doodle' reflects Ian's love of sports. Each letter of the word G-O-O-G-L-E is a picture of a sports object.

(To read more, please click on the headline)

 

Dugout Doings: This Can't be Tryout Weekend! stars

Everyone knows it's supposed to be 40 degrees with sideways rain on NYO Tryout Weekend. Not this year. Coaches, parents and players, some in shirtsleeves and shorts, soaked up the sun as late-January temperatures nudged above 60 degrees. A purist would say new coaches have not earned their first stripes until they live through a 'true' Tryout Weekend. But no one was complaining this year.

In the gym at Warren T. Jackson Elementary (little ones are spared the outdoor tryout), six-year-old William Mastella, a pre-schooler at Christ the King, stepped into the batter's box with the confidence of his favorite player, Boston Red Sox star David (Big Papi) Ortiz. William, his brother, Thomas, and parents attended a Red Sox game at Fenway Park where William and his dad, Peter, caught a foul ball. Although William's mom, Julia McConnell, said William had fretted earlier, 'Mom, what if I don't make a team?' William said he was not nervous. 'It's fun,' he said. 'You can hit, throw and run.' Even if every child were not guaranteed a position on a team, William had nothing to worry about. He drove a hard line-drive up the middle, caught two pop-ups and fielded cleanly the grounders that were hit his way.

(To read more, please click on the headline)     

Dugout Doings: A One-Man Tryout Machine

You hear him before you see him. Stan Jones' voice booms across the NYO fastpitch softball fields as he single-handedly conducts tryouts for the 11, 12 and 13-year-old Majors players. To watch Stan on a brilliantly sunny Saturday morning in late January is to watch a ballet on a baseball field. It's a performance he has spent years developing. 

Stan squats behind a screen and whips underhand pitches to hitters, many of whom he has trained personally or coached. 'Who's up?' he bellows, followed by 'Quickly' or 'Move, move.' After each hitter takes her cuts, Stan shouts, 'Give me somebody else.'

(To read more, please click on the headline) 

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