Opening Day at City Pond Park begins Saturday for the Newton County Recreation Commission staff, players, coaches and families.
For those who haven't been to the complex since last season, many will notice several improvements, such as newly resurfaced decorative sidewalks and a resurfaced main parking lot.
In part, the improvements to the park are because of the Dixie Boys 14 Year Old World Series, which will be held at City Pond this summer.
"The fields are in the best shape they have been in for a while," says Ricky Vaughn, Newton County Recreation Athletic Director.
The Newton County Recreation Baseball Program has shown an increase from last year of about 10 percent. This is a good sign because of the national trend of recreation baseball leagues losing players to the increasingly popular travel baseball leagues.
Vaughn says that travel baseball has not affected the recreation youth baseball program in Newton County, even though there are some local travel baseball teams.
"We run the same program we have always run," says Vaughn. "The numbers are up and we will continue to run what we feel is the best recreation baseball program in the state."
This year there are 860 baseball players from ages 4 to 14 in six different leagues. Wee Ball (4 years old) has nine teams with 120 players. Training League, which is coach pitch ages 5 & 6, has 21 teams with 254 players. Pee Wee (kid pitch. ages 7 & 8) has 18 teams with 186 players. Minor (ages 9 & 10) has 16 teams with 192 players, while Major (ages 11 & 12) has 13 teams with 166 players. Dixie Boys (13 & 14 years old) has nine teams with 108 players.
One of the strengths of a good recreation baseball program is the success of the All-Star teams, and Newton County certainly has a strong history of winning at that particular level.
The Training League has won the district championship five of the last six years. The Pee Wee League has won five straight District Championships, finishing in third place once and second place once in the state.
The Minor League teams have won the District Tournament 12 years in a row. They have won two state championships, along with two second-place finishes and two third-place finishes at state. They were also the World Series Champions in 1998.
The Major League has won District 10 out of the last 11 years. It has won state once with one second and one third place finish.
The 13 year old Dixie Boys Division has won one state title, while the 14 year old Dixie Boys has won two state championships, including one second-place finish in the World Series.
"(This) is a team effort from the coaches, parents and staff," says Vaughn regarding the biggest reason for the success of the All-Star teams. "Without everyone on the same page, this would not be possible."
According to Vaughn, the goal of the youth baseball program at Newton County Recreation Commission is to provide a program that allows as many children in Newton County to participate as possible.
"We try to make sure that these same participants have fun and learn the sport in an environment that is safe and that instructs in fundamentals," says Vaughn, who has been part of the Newton program for 37 years. "We must continue to remember that the program is for all children, not just the above average players. We must always remember this is a recreation program and all children must be coached."
The Recreation Department has to face many challenges as it grows other than the maintaining and improvements made at City Pond Complex and its practice fields. The greatest challenge for Vaughn is to make sure that his participants' needs are met. In addition, to make sure they have coaches and staff who will make certain the kids have fun and get the proper training.
"Our program is different from others in that we have staff and volunteers who truly care about the children, as well as the parents," says Vaughn. "Our staff takes great pride in the fact that we try to make a difference in these children's lives. Any recreation programs that we run, we take great interest in our children's lives on and off the field."
The athletic staff at the Newton County Recreation Commission includes Jud Hall, Sherman Graves, Barry Johnson, Horace Stroud, James Brown, Arthur Lawrence and Equnoise Martin.
On Saturday, people are encouraged to come see Newton County's finest at the City Pond Complex during the Opening Day festivities. They should experience a real family atmosphere, not to mention some of the best French fries in the area.