Friday, 15 April 2016 09:34

For as long as most folks can remember, NYO has played baseball on the charming field behind St. John United Methodist Church on Mt. Paran Road. For the last two years, the Rev. John Purrington, who ministers to the St. John congregation as its senior pastor, has managed an International league team that plays most of its games on that field. His players know him as Coach John.

His love of baseball and God, not necessarily in that order, live in his words and deeds. A sign in front of the church announces a sermon series entitled, 'It Ain't Over Till It's Over.' From April 10 to June 26, Rev. Purrington will preach 12 sermons that take 'some of the best Yogiisms to bat with Scripture in the grand game of discipleship,' according to a promotional piece in the church's foyer. 'Yogi Berra was well known for his malapropisms and uncommon wisdom.'  There's also a card inviting church members to come root for Rev. John's International A's, who play 11 of their 13 regular-season games on the St. John field. 

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Tuesday, 12 April 2016 13:59

How many young men and women grew up on the ball fields and basketball courts of NYO?  How many parents coached, served as team moms or volunteered for other tasks?  The answer: No one knows for sure, but it’s in the thousands --- several thousands.

For the overwhelming majority NYO is a warm memory ---a first hit, a great catch, a hard tackle, a clutch basket. For too many, that’s all NYO is. Some return to coach or help out, but most have lost touch. On Saturday afternoon, May 21, NYO will take a tentative step toward reconnecting with ‘alumni.’ Led by a longtime coach and a handful of 20-something former athletes, NYO will stage its first-ever alumni softball game.

Open to anyone over the age of 21 with an NYO connection to baseball, fastpitch softball, football or basketball, players will take the Jane Wilkins Bronco Field starting at 3 p.m. for fast-moving two or three-inning games.  So far, 179 alums have expressed an interest. Details, including team rosters and registration fees, are being worked out. To learn more or to add your name to the list, email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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Thursday, 31 March 2016 18:37

Six years ago I managed my last game at NYO. Since then, I've had a rotator cuff repaired, a hip replaced (small prices to pay for a lifetime of fun) and I've chronicled the stories of the men, women and children of NYO in these Dugout Doings essays. Two weeks ago an email arrived that reminded me of why I spent two decades coaching.

It came from an old friend who is now --- like me --- a grandfather. He once was a college baseball player, and I greatly admired his skills when we played as 40-somethings in Atlanta's Men's Senior Baseball League. His 8-year-old grandson was struggling at the plate (three strikeouts in his last game and nothing close to a hit yet). Would I mind offering some suggestions? We set a time for after school that day. As I gathered the bag of wiffle balls and dusted off baseball-teaching gear, I felt like a doctor called in for an important consultation. 

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Wednesday, 30 March 2016 11:23

Fifteen years ago, Che Barbour took a walk around Chastain Park and spotted a sign for volunteer baseball coaches at NYO. He and a buddy, Jeff Woolverton, signed up and landed an International team of nine and ten-year-olds. 'We got our butts kicked,' Jeff remembers. 'We had no clue what we were doing,' Che echoes. That's how it started for two of NYO's leading coaches today. 'There's no better person out here,' Jeff says of his one-time roommate. 'It's his integrity. It's what he does for kids. He's not a yeller, but he's not a softy, either. He commands respect.'

Fifteen years later, at 43, Che Barbour is what NYO's growing cadre of 20 and 30-something coaches should aspire to be. Brad Glenn, another long-time and leading NYO coach, pays Che the highest compliment of all. He says he would be proud to have any of his children play on a team Che coaches. Fifteen years is a lot of time to spend doing anything, let alone with children who are not yours.

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Saturday, 19 March 2016 16:56

You could tell she was nervous when she stepped onto the field that bears her name. Even though she was surrounded by family and friends, Jane Wilkins stood alone in the spotlight of NYO Opening Day. For more than 40 years (the last 35 as executive director), Miss Jane has taken care of everyone else. Now, all who love her wanted to say thank you. At the end of this baseball/fastpitch softball season, Jane Wilkins will retire.

'She's not just our executive director,' Baseball Commissioner Cliff Barshay told the crowd. 'She's also one of our finest volunteers and now she's an emeritus board member.' Then, turning to Jane's family, Cliff added: 'We appreciate your letting us have her for 40 years.'

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Saturday, 19 March 2016 16:26

No one makes a bigger deal of Opening Day and no one enjoys it more than NYO Baseball Commissioner Cliff Barshay. Unless, that is, he becomes an unwanted center of attention. Hamstrung by a balky microphone, Opening Day emcee Cliff abandoned his familiar spot on the pitcher's mound of the Jane Wilkins Field and addressed everyone from behind home plate. 

Then Clete McGinty, NYO board chair, needed to say a few words. And that's when the fun started. 'One very special volunteer started here 20-plus years ago (26, to be exact) and he morphed into our baseball commissioner,' Clete began. 'This individual has recruited at least half of our 300 coaches.' As the accolades went on, Cliff melted further and further toward the backstop, tucked in between the Whitefield High School mascot and Will, the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta character.

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Saturday, 19 March 2016 15:37

It's equal parts carnival, family reunion and tailgate party, but it's 100% NYO Opening Day. Grown-ups hug and little boys and girls in baseball uniforms find their places on the outfield grass of the Garr Pony Field. The 4-year-olds seem overwhelmed. 'My team leads the league in crying,' says the coach of one Small Ball team as a tiny player grips his hand. By the time they're 5, 6 or 7-years-old, they're veterans. They high-five the high school mascots and cannot leave Hope and Will, the Smurf-like Children's Healthcare of Atlanta characters, alone.

An alley of parents and grandparents forms between the Garr and Jane Wilkins Bronco fields and the Whitefield High School marching band plays 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame,' as a river of players and coaches follows. The kids march behind team banners that carry the name of their team and include each player's name. They decorate their uniforms and themselves with beads and tiny American flags. Bennett Harper, 8, the 'star pitcher' of the Christopher League, according to Leo Rose who runs the program, wears sunglasses and has two tiny versions of Old Glory sticking from his cap.

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Friday, 11 March 2016 11:32

They filter into the still dewy outfield of the Garr Pony field an hour before the parade is to begin. Team banners tell them where to stand, but good luck with that. In tiny uniforms, with their faces painted and wearing Mardi Gras beads that jangle around their necks, the little ones chase each other, pausing only to slap the outstretched paw of a teenager wearing a high school mascot's costume. Music blares from a loudspeaker. Paige Fielden, Margaret Bryant and other moms impose order and, somehow, the parade begins. It snakes out of Garr, down the stairs, behind and back up the other stairs next to the Dowis building. Teams march proudly behind their coaches onto the Jane Wilkins Bronco Field. Balloons and red, white and blue bunting are everywhere, thanks to NYO's moms.  

That's how it goes on Opening Day, always a special day at NYO. But this Saturday, March 19, Opening Day will be extra special. And bittersweet. For it will be the last time Jane Wilkins presides as our executive director. After more than 35 years, Miss Jane is retiring. She agreed to stay on through this spring until her successor, Tony Watkins, could fulfill his duties at Holy Innocents' Episcopal School.  To honor Miss Jane, NYO is staging a homecoming of sorts at noon, immediately after the Opening Day ceremonies. A giant tent will be pitched in the main parking lot. If you've ever been or are an NYO player, volunteer, coach, team parent or family member, you're invited, as are all friends of Jane. So, that's pretty much everyone!

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Saturday, 05 March 2016 11:54

How many of us get to go out on top? Since 2008, Tony Watkins has coached the girls' basketball team at Holy Innocents' Episcopal High School, twice finishing as runnerup in the class AA state championship tourney. On Friday, Holy Innocents' took the state title, defeating Wesleyan, 66-64, in overtime. It's the school's second girls basketball championship, the first since 1999. Later this spring, Coach Tony, 38, will leave his coaching and sixth-grade teaching duties at Holy Innocents' to become NYO's new executive director, succeeding Jane Wilkins.

The Golden Bears went 27-5 in 2015-16, bringing Coach Tony's career win-loss record to 199-42 at Holy Innocents'. His teams qualified for the state playoffs in each of his eight years, wining four regional titles, making the final four four times and finishing as runner-up twice. But this year was THE year. The win over Wesleyan avenged last year's loss in the championship game. The two teams have met eight times in the past two years, with Holy Innocents' winning six of the games.

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Wednesday, 02 March 2016 11:43

He's an NYO coach and dad with three young children. He grew up playing NYO baseball and even proposed to his wife on a swing in the playground across W. Wieuca Road. Perhaps that explains his enthusiasm for the new playground that has just opened on the site of the old one. 'My kids had been counting the seconds until (it opened and) they could check it out. Yesterday, we ventured up there after practice, and the kids LOVED it. In fact, my 4-year-old wants to have a half-birthday party (there) because she can't wait until November.'

Four years in the making, the new Chastain playground is open and ready for all NYO players, their siblings, friends and parents. An aging playscape (which has been refurbished) has given way to 40,000-square-feet of play space set on six rolling acres just north of the NYO fields. A rustic wooden fence defines the playground and protects children from wandering into traffic. There's a pavilion, complete with an outdoor piano, picnic tables and restrooms. Two side-by-side giant slides are perfect for racing, and there is a wheelchair-accessible treehouse. There's a climbing wall and boulders and tree stumps for scrambling. Three giant 'oodle' swings can accommodate two to three children at once.  A collection of percussion instruments thump and chime. And there is space, lots of tree-dotted green space, for running, jumping or just resting on a blanket.

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Saturday, 27 February 2016 14:57

Major-leaguers call it spring training. At NYO, we call it an opportunity to see who can do what, to hope it's not too cold or wet to practice and to get ready for a season that is barely two to three weeks away.  On a glorious late-February Saturday (temperature of 54, clear blue skies, a gentle breeze), the NYO fields at Chastain are alive with players, coaches and parents.

Fastpitch softball teams swarm the batting cages. Like a factory at shift change, one team leaves and another quickly takes its place.  There are as many parents on the T-ball field as there are 4-year-old players.  Moms and dads roll grounders to their little ones with cries of 'alligator.'  Those who understand this bizarre instruction slap their gloved hand to the ground and raise their throwing hand in the air so they can snap down on the ball when it reaches them. Think of an alligator opening wide, then swiftly clamping shut its jaws on its prey. Last spring, the weather was so bad many teams opened their seasons without a single on-field practice. This year, mercifully, has been different.

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Wednesday, 10 February 2016 12:21

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.

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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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