Saturday, 06 February 2016 12:53

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: 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.

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Saturday, 30 January 2016 15:49

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.

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Saturday, 30 January 2016 14:42

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.'

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Tuesday, 19 January 2016 10:23

You learn a lot by visiting someone where he works. Rain pours and it’s still dark outside  as a Holy Innocents’ senior performs her early-morning basketball drills alone in the high school’s gym.  Sydney Long halts her work and beams at the mention of Tony Watkins’ name. ‘He’s my coach,’ she says.

Sydney is heading to Furman to study and to play basketball, but this year she is limited to drills as she recovers from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Coach Tony Watkins appears and encourages her  --- ‘We really miss her shooting,’ he says. Later, at the  assistant athletic director’s office he occupies, colleagues pretend to be indignant when he  introduces the guest from NYO. In fact, they are proud of their guy.

At the end of this school year, he, too, will leave Holy Innocents’. He has taught sixth-grade geography and coached girls’ varsity basketball there since 2008. From a talented pool of more than 300 applicants, Tony has emerged to succeed Jane Wilkins, NYO’s executive director of 35 years. The NYO board took care in a letter announcing the change to say ‘there is no replacing Jane . . . the heart and soul of NYO.’

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Friday, 23 October 2015 13:08

NYO families, coaches and volunteers come and go. Someone important to one generation of NYO may be unknown to the next. Sid Fortson was such an individual. At 2 p.m. Sunday, October 25, a graveside memorial service will be held to celebrate the life of Milton Sidney Fortson Jr. at the Doves Creek Baptist Church in Elberton, Georgia. Mr. Fortson died on October 16 at his home. The NYO of today is due, in no small part, to Sid Fortson.

'From my viewpoint, there was no one who loved NYO more than he did,' recalls Jane Wilkins, our executive director. 'He was the treasurer for many years (15, I think). He wrote the history of NYO.' Brad Glenn, an NYO parent, coach and volunteer today, recalls Sid Fortson from the days when 'I played there and for years afterwards. He was the kind of person a program needs to be successful, someone willing to put in the time, energy and passion for the greater good.'

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Monday, 10 August 2015 16:36

For four years, on or about September 11, hundreds of runners and walkers have lined up on a Sunday afternoon in Chastain Park to remember those whose lives were lost, directly or indirectly, because of that awful day in 2001. Their shoes pound the park’s pavement for 3.1 miles, as if each stride is in honor of someone who has fallen.

At 2 p.m. Sunday, September 13, the fifth-annual RPM 911 5K event will kick off at thePowers Ferry Road entrance to the Ryan P. Means American Legion Hall at the southern end of the park. Last year, 650 runners and walkers and 100 volunteers raised $42,000. This year’s targets: A thousand participants and $50,000. Proceeds go to a 12-week program at the Shepherd Center to serve military veterans who have sustained mild traumatic brain injury and/or PTSD in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since its inception in 2008, the SHARE (Shaping Hope and Recovery Excellence) program has treated more than 300 vets at no cost to them and their families. To register, go to the event’s website, The cost for adults 19 and over as of September 13 is $25. It’s $15 for those younger.

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Wednesday, 08 July 2015 11:37

Older brothers are special. They open doors you'd never dream of entering. If you're lucky, they invite you to pass through with them. Chesny Young, an infielder for the Myrtle Beach, SC, Pelicans, a Chicago Cubs Class A-Advanced team, and an NYO alum, played older brother to the dozen members of his former 12-and-under squad, the Titans. In Myrtle Beach for the Youth Baseball Nationals tournament, the NYO Titans crossed paths with one of their own, someone who wore their uniform and played for their manager, Randy Rhino, a decade ago.  

The Titans joined the Pelican players at their respective positions on the field for the National Anthem prior to the July 1 game with the Salem Red Sox of the Carolina League.  The next morning, Chesny would be with them in their dugout as they beat a team from Illinois, 6-0, on their way to the championship game. 'It was like Chesny was their host,' recalls NYO's executive director Jane Wilkins. 'He was high-fiving the boys. He's 6'2", but he has the heart of a little boy. I told him later, 'It was like watching you when you were 8 (and playing at NYO).''

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Tuesday, 23 June 2015 00:00

Jane Wilkins is rounding third and heading for home. Forty-three years after she signed up as team mom for 7-year-old son Scott's Peewee Eagles football team ('I didn't know what a team mother was, and they told me, 'If you don't get involved he --- Scott --- won't get to play'') and after 35 years as NYO's executive director, Miss Jane has decided it's time to retire.  

Although her retirement isn't official until year end, Jane notified the NYO board at its June 1 meeting to allow time to find a successor. While a successor will be found, there can be no replacement. It was an emotional affair. Someone else had to read Jane's letter to the board and the accolades flowed. So, too, apparently did Jane's tears. 'And I thought I was a pretty tough broad,' she says.

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Tuesday, 26 May 2015 14:27

Mike Matheny manages the St. Louis Cardinals, but when his professional playing career ended he briefly managed a recreational youth baseball team. Before the season, he wrote a letter to the parents of his young players. It was not terribly different from pre-season messages NYO managers send every year.  Matheny has received almost as much attention for his views on youth sports as he has for his considerable success with the Cardinals.  Recently, a friend sent a link to an NPR Fresh Air interview with Matheny. 

Another spring baseball/fastpitch softball season has ended, but Matheny's message resonates, regardless of the time of year. Curious, I read the original letter, dubbed by some 'The Matheny Manifesto,' and had but one regret: That I hadn't written something as good when I managed NYO youngsters. It's a long letter, but I hope you will take the time to read it. Keep it, share it, but, most especially, live by it. Your children will be glad you did.   Jay Smith

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Saturday, 23 May 2015 12:16

If there are any baseball awards left for NYO and Marist alum Blake Stevens to win as a pitcher for Birmingham-Southern College, someone better identify them quickly. On Monday, Blake, a senior right-hander, was named South Region Pitcher of the Year by On Wednesday, D3baseball raised the stakes by naming him Division III national pitcher of the year, as well as First Team All-America. But that's not all.

The American Baseball Coaches Assn. named him its South Region Pitcher of the Year, and the Southern Athletic Assn., of which Birmingham-Southern is a member, named Blake pitcher of the year for the second consecutive season.  And Birmingham-Southern has named Blake its male athlete of the year. 

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Thursday, 14 May 2015 09:28

She came to the plate with two outs, her team trailing by a run and with runners on second and third. It was the bottom of the last inning in a post-season tournament game her team needed to win to continue its season. Ten-year-old Maggie Sutton struck out, according to her coach, Brian Raley, now commissioner of NYO's fastpitch softball program.  'At 10 that could crush a kid,' Brian recalls today. But she handled it, moved right past it.'

Now 16 and a 10th-grader at Woodward Academy, Maggie led her Senior-league Tridents to a regular-season championship with an 11-1 record. Brian Raley believes she caught every inning of every game. On a team with some players two to three years younger, 'you'd never know she's older,' Brian says. 'Maggie treats evereyone like a friend.' It's that sentiment, as much as for her abundant talents on the ball field, that Maggie was named the first-ever recipient of the Chris Deisley award.  In memory of the long-time Fastpitch coach and league leader, the Chris Deisley award goes to the young lady who best exemplifies sportsmanship, leadership and character. 

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Saturday, 09 May 2015 15:32

He arrived as the 'third assistant' coach to an NYO Majors team in 1996 or 1997. Fresh out of Emory, Ben Levenbaum was a long way from Long Island, where he grew up. 'NYO became home,' he says. But now it's time to go home, back to Long Island, back to family. In the two decades since starting as a 'third assistant' Ben has married, become a father --- twice, grown a successful business  and coached hundreds of NYO youngsters on more championship teams than any coach in recent memory.

As a way of saying 'thank you' and recognizing Ben's many years of service, NYO has named Ben this year's winner of the Suzanne Caswell Volunteer of the Year Award. 

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Saturday, 09 May 2015 14:48

From third base to first base, they form an arc around the infield of the Jane Wilkins Bronco Field. It's a semi-circle, but for 85 12-year-olds, the ceremony means they have come full-circle in their NYO careers. 'You have made it from the tee-ball field to here,' Baseball Commissioner Cliff Barshay tells the young players and their camera-toting parents. In fact, the ballplayers stand precisely where many of them lined up on another Saturday morning five, six, seven years ago when they filed into the Wilkins Field as little ones for the annual Opening Day parade.

It's NYO's answer to graduation day. One-by-one Cliff calls the names of 85 NYO players who are concluding this phase of their baseball careers.  Next up: Pony League, middle and high-school teams or, perhaps, the pursuit of another sport, another interest. 'I've had the privilege of watching you from age 5 to age 12,' Cliff says, calling this one of NYO's 'strongest classes' and certainly 'one of the most social,' as he tries to hush the exuberant ballplayers. Forty-four of the 85 began NYO as five-year-olds, according to Cliff, the most ever of any 12-year-old group.    

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Saturday, 09 May 2015 14:10

When a rival manager wishes you were on his team, that is the highest compliment of all. 'We need one (like him),' said an NYO Bronco manager who helped select Drew Holmes as the 2015 recipient of the Kyle Burnat award, given to the 12-year-old who 'most embodies the NYO experience.' The manager recounted an occasion when Drew struck out on a tough pitch. He didn't sulk, he didn't gripe. He hustled back to his Braves teammates in the dugout to tell them what the pitcher was throwing and to say, 'Don't worry, you'll hit him.'

Baseball Commissioner Cliff Barshay told the story as he introduced Drew, who trotted to the mound of the Jane Wilkins Bronco Field to receive his plaque. His fellow Bronco players cheered when Cliff called Drew's name. The plaque hangs on the wall facing the front door of the Dowis administrative building, signifying its importance.

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Friday, 08 May 2015 15:13

Brian Fielden is no slouch when it comes to NYO work. He coaches son Blake's 9-year-old AA team, serves as director for the Single-A league and sits on NYO's baseball committee.  But his voice swells with pride as he describes his wife, Paige, co-president of the baseball Volunteer Auxiliary. 'It's an honor for me to walk around NYO and introduce myself as Paige's husband,' Brian says. 'People don't know me, but they know her.'

Paige Fielden, it seems, is everywhere. Before the baseball season begins, Paige and co-president Kim Shoup organize and run meetings for team parents, plan the elaborate Opening Day festivities and parade and tend to the dozens of other behind-the-scenes details that spell success --- or failure --- for a dawning NYO season.  She also sits on the NYO governing board. 'Paige is driving the train,' says baseball commissioner Cliff Barshay. 'I just stay out of the way.' Pam Miller, Paige's NYO predecessor, calls Paige's operation a 'well-oiled machine.' The program's executive director Jane Wilkins, who says Paige and the women she recruits 'make Cliff look good,' offers a softer appraisal: 'She's a pure Southern belle.' This Mother's Day weekend it's appropriate to honor Paige and all the Moms who make NYO what it is.

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