YOU COULD CALL IT the cooperative spirit. Or just looking out for your neighbors.
The Town of Jefferson’s Dixie Youth League seemed to be the only one around still playing 8-under softball. COVID-19 had forced the programs in communities like Hartsville and McBee to be shuttered, so Jefferson league president Tommy Catoe enthusiastically welcomed players from across the county line.
“We built these fields for the kids to play on,” says Catoe, a member of Lynches River Electric Cooperative. “If they don’t have anywhere to play, they can play with us.”
That opportunity resulted in an undefeated run through the Dixie Youth Softball World Series Tournament in Oxford, Alabama. The Jefferson Dixie Darlings, a team of all-stars comprised of players from Jefferson, Hartsville and McBee, won their division’s championship with a walk-off, come-from-behind victory over Wahneta, Florida, in August.
“While you’re down there playing you really don’t think about it,” says head coach Anthony Cassidy, a resident of Pageland who is also a member of Lynches River Electric. “But when you get back, you realize what a big deal it is. Wow! We just won the Dixie World Series.”
In this coach-pitch division, the Jefferson Darlings were an offensive powerhouse. They racked up over 14 runs per tournament game and enjoyed comfortable margins in eliminating teams from around the Southeast. That is until the championship against the team from central Florida. Jefferson had already beaten Wahneta 7-1 in an earlier round but fell behind 5-0 in the rematch. Their strong bats revived in the final inning when they pushed across all six of the runs.
“They were a talented group,” says Cassidy. “They were consistent through the whole line-up. We didn’t have a weak spot.”
It was the first such title for any of Jefferson’s Dixie Youth teams, but the league has always had a strong tradition of youth sports in the area, especially in softball. They boast several alumni who have a gone on to earn athletic scholarships at colleges and universities in North and South Carolina.
Cassidy hopes for something similar for his daughters. Six-year old Alayna is well on her way. The youngest member of the team, she scored the game-winner and has two more years left in the division.
“Tommy and Jefferson Dixie Youth do a great job,” says Cassidy. “
One reason for the success is the support they receive from the community. Catoe says in addition to fees and fundraising, the league is supported by local businesses like Lynches River Electric. He said the trip to Alabama came with a $19,000 price tag that coaches and teams raised themselves.
“I don’t know how we could run our program without the business community,” says Catoe. “Their sponsorships are a big part of our success.”
It seems when everyone has a commitment to community, everyone benefits. Even those outside the community.
Written by Josh P. Crotzer