Dunn Parks and Recreation Director Brian McNeill discusses the work his staff has been doing the past few weeks ahead of this month's Dixie Youth Baseball state tournament at Tyler Park.
DUNN — Brian McNeill has the process down to a science around this time of year.
As the director at Dunn Parks and Recreation for nearly a decade, McNeill has overseen preparations for the Dixie Youth Baseball (DYB) Division II State Tournament on an almost biannual basis during that span.
This week, as he directed his staff members mending the baseball fields at Tyler Park, it signaled the home stretch as the park plays host to 24 teams from July 9-16.
“We’re going 100 mph right now,” McNeill said Tuesday, adding that prep begins as early as four weeks prior to the tourney start date.
“I know I’m hard on my staff leading up to (the tournament) but they understand the fruits of their labor when everyone’s out here and giving them all the compliments.”
Next week marks the fourth summer Tyler Park opens its cozy concession stands and spotless fields to a statewide audience, and it’ll be the second time in three years after last hosting in 2019.
McNeill says each spring, he and the city representatives put a bid to host, then the DYB directors assess the bids and choose the appropriate location.
“We have a good relationship with them (DYB reps), so anytime we put in a bid, we typically get those tournaments,” he said, noting facilities, staff, support from booster club members and city officials as key separators from other bidders.
Jay Hardison, director for DYB District 11 which includes Harnett, Cumberland, Hoke and Lee counties, had similar sentiments as to why Dunn is a prime spot for the yearly events.
“We’re in the central part of North Carolina, so the people from the east and west have to travel, but there’s just more teams around the central area. ... We’ve been fortunate in this district,” Hardison said.
Meanwhile, McNeill also pointed to the larger ramifications for the city as it joins others around the country trying to recover from the leftover damages caused by a global pandemic.
“It’s a huge economic boost ... and at the same time, it gives people a chance to see more than the (Dunn) sign, traveling across Interstate 95,” he said.
“They’ll get to see Dunn in a more detailed view. They get to see, not just the city itself, but the hospitality that people have.”
Two tournaments are scheduled to run simultaneously: AA (8-and-under) and AAA (10-and-under). As the host city, Dunn will automatically qualify one club in each of the 12-team brackets.
Parks and recreation staff will be making extra efforts to make everyone feel comfortable in the wake of COVID-19, including sanitizing bathrooms and other common areas regularly. McNeill says there won’t be a mask or social distancing requirements, but those that want to do so are encouraged.
The traditional opening ceremony is scheduled for Friday, July 9 on Tyler Park’s Red Lambeth Field. McNeill will be joined by Dunn Mayor William Elmore, and special guest speaker Leonard Henry, in addressing what’s expected to be a robust audience.
Henry is a former East Carolina University football standout, and 2002 NFL draft pick, who now serves as a motivational speaker.
McNeill is excited for Henry’s addition to this year’s festivities and hopes it sets the tone for the young athletes as they strive for success on and off the field.
“It’s a huge experience for them (players). It’s one of those things that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives,” he said.
“Also, some of these guys will create friendships and bonds from other teams ... hopefully, it’ll be relationships that last a lifetime.”
Donnell Coley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-230-2040.