Dixie Youth World Series brings major economic impact

·6 min read

Sep. 22—LUMBERTON — About six weeks removed from the Dixie Youth World Series, held in Lumberton from Aug. 5-11, the impact of the event on the community is beginning to become more clear.

More than 1,500 out-of-town visitors came to Lumberton to attend, contributing more than $800,000 to the Lumberton and Robeson County economy during the tournament, the Lumberton Visitors Bureau said.

"I think it was a very good impact to Lumberton, and I think the city saw that impact," said Tim Locklear, president of the Lumberton Youth Baseball Association. "Hopefully we can have similar-type events in the future so that we can put Lumberton back on the map again. I think we have from a baseball standpoint; I think Dixie Youth and the baseball world knows who we are."

The city hosted its third World Series, after the Division-I tournament was held in Lumberton in 2018 and the Division-II event in 2019. This year's Division-I World Series, like the previous two, was played at the Dr. Raymond B. Pennington Athletic Complex on Linkhaw Road in northeastern Lumberton.

The Lumberton Visitors Bureau worked with area merchants and organizations to provide over 400 "Welcome to Lumberton" bags that were distributed at the coaches meeting, held at Lumberton High School. Teams from 11 states around the Southeast participated in the event. The Bureau verified with Lumberton-area hotels that over 1,600 hotel rooms were used for the event.

The North Carolina Sports Association estimates that each person visiting Lumberton for the event spent $150 per day of their visit, including accommodations, dining, shopping, activities, shopping, transportation, etc.

"Sports tourism is a growing segment of the travel industry, and we are excited to work with LYBA, the City of Lumberton and other sports entities in our area to develop and draw more events like the Dixie Youth World Series to our community," said Arnold West, chair of the Lumberton Tourism Development Authority Board, which oversees the Lumberton Visitors Bureau.

Numerous volunteers helped make the event a success; this includes host families. Each team had a local family to serve as their "host" and help them find their way around the community and answered questions about their stay.

"I had state directors reaching back out, trying to get in contact with those host families so they could send thank yous and gifts, and to me that's what made the difference," Locklear said. "We have a nice park — but it's not all about the facility, it's about the community coming together and showing our hospitality, and that made an impact."

After hosting three World Series since 2018, its clear Dixie Youth Baseball is comfortable holding its tournaments in Lumberton. And league officials and city officials alike were pleased with how this year's tournament went off.

"I thought we put on a really good show," said Bruce Mullis, treasurer of the LYBA. "We kept getting asked, when are we going to do it again, are we going to bid in a couple of years, so that speaks volumes to the City of Lumberton and the LYBA, and all the things that we did to try to make the experience to be a great experience for the kids, which was the main reason for bringing the World Series here, and also supporting the community. And the community supported us in a big way."

That future is, at this point, unclear. What is certain is that the city won't host the World Series in 2023 or 2024, as the tournament is bid two years out; bids for the 2024 World Series were heard during the Dixie Youth board meetings which took place at Robeson Community College during this year's tournament.

"This was our third; it's a lot of work and a lot of volunteers," Locklear said. "If it's something that we want to do for 2025 or 2026 we'd have to sit down with the city."

In addition to possibly wanting to "take a break" after recently hosting three World Series, there are question marks about how the Pennington Complex holds up compared to other facilities being built or expanding around the Southeast.

"I'm not sure we're going to bring another Dixie Youth World Series here, only because there's a lot of other communities who their facilities are — they're building $30 million facilities in some of these communities around the Southeast at different places, that they can do multiple things with," Mullis said.

Dixie Youth's blueprint for its tournaments, when holding the World Series for three age divisions as it did in Lumberton, is for six fields; the Pennington Complex has a sixth field away from its pinwheel, but has used only the five-field pinwheel for the World Series it has hosted. Mullis believes Dixie Youth Baseball is looking to further consolidate its World Series events — between the four age divisions in Division I and Division II, there are eight — to be held in the same place as often as possible.

Future plans for the Pennington Complex, approved in April 2021 by Lumberton City Council, include softball and soccer fields and disc golf course, in addition to other non-sports amenities including a splash pad, dog park, concert lawn and expanded walking trails.

"I don't know that they would award Lumberton, even though from an organizational standpoint, a hospitality standpoint, all those details they love us; but I think our facility would have to grow," Mullis said. "Until we get the other four fields built, and I don't know how long that would be — it will be up to the mayor and City Council, and the citizens to step up and say we're going to build out the rest of this."

While Mullis said the LYBA's relationship with Dixie Youth Baseball has never been stronger, he anticipates the organization to shift to hosting state- and district-level tournaments for the time being, while also making sure the Lumberton Softball Association has "equitable" use of the Pennington Complex and leaving the door open for it to potentially host future similar events.

But whether or not Lumberton ever hosts the Dixie Youth World Series again in the future, leaders are pleased with the outcome, organizationally, of the tournaments that have been hosted in the city.

"To my knowledge, everyone has gone away with a great feeling about Lumberton," Mullis said. "Our hospitality has been second to none in all three World Series that we hosted; that was one of the big takeaways we got from the Dixie officials this time and the past two World Series, and our community stepped up in a big way."

Chris Stiles can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at cstiles@robesonian.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @StilesOnSports.