First Posted: 1/15/2009
LUMBERTON - Four teams from the Lumberton Youth Baseball Association are playing for state championships this week. The young players on those teams probably wouldn’t realize that the foundation for their success began before some of them were even born.
The LYBA’s ascendancy to one of the better youth baseball programs in the state began in 1995, when the league was founded. Its aim was to grow interest and increase opportunities for kids to play baseball.
“At the time, there were a group of parents in the community who just didn’t feel like the parks and recreation department was providing enough in the way of youth baseball programs,” LYBA Treasurer and 15-year-old All-Stars coach Bruce Mullis said.
The league boasts about 28 teams and over 300 participants these days. And if on-field results are also used as a barometer, the baseball organization has achieved that mission and much more.
Three of the LYBA’s Babe Ruth All-Star teams won district championships this month and will compete for state championships beginning this weekend. The league’s Dixie Youth AAA All-Star team also celebrated a district title this season, earning a berth in the state championship tournament.
“It’s fine if we win a district championship, but when you have three all-star teams from your league win districts that shows that your league is strong,” said Michael Bass, a shortstop for the LYBA’s 15-year-old All-Star team. “We want to see all of our teams do well.”
The 15-year-old All-Star club is a good example of the LYBA’s success in building a consistent youth baseball program. Eight players on the team have been together since being picked to play for the 13-year-old All-Star team. That group has collected three consecutive district crowns.
“We just have a lot more confidence in each other from having played with each other,” said pitcher Travis Mullis, Bruce's son. “We know what everyone can do.”
Said team manager Ted White: “I think it helped in the guys coming into this season with a little more drive and desire to win together. This is their last year in the program and they want to go out as winners.”
There’s also an indirect benefit to the LYBA’s success. Many players in the Babe Ruth program play on their junior high or high school teams. Getting the opportunity to hone skills during the summer and during the LYBA’s fall baseball program has led to marked improvement for players when their school seasons roll around.
White gets to see the improvement first hand. He is also the coach of the Lumberton Junior High baseball team, which is perennial contender for Robeson County championships.
Lumberton High has seen benefits as well. In 2005, reached the regional finals of the state baseball playoffs. The Pirates lost to a D.H. Conley team that several Lumberton players had faced in Babe Ruth competition.
“We just want kids to improve, be competitive and have some fun,” Mullis said. “We’ve been able to do that over the years.”