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On a warm spring evening at Shallotte Park, the Shallotte Lions Club Riverdogs and the Jones Ford Sand Gnats are playing in a Dixie Youth baseball game. Among the spectators is Zachary Craig Cheers, a former Dixie Youth ballplayer who will be attending college in a few months.
The connection between college and Dixie Youth baseball was made clear to the Riverdogs and the Sand Gnats during a presentation between innings, when Dixie Youth Baseball presented a plaque to Cheers. The plaque acknowledged Cheers as one of the recipients of a $2,000 scholarship for college.
Cheers received a $500 scholarship earlier this year from Shallotte Dixie Youth Baseball, but it was unknown when was the last time a former Shallotte Dixie Youth ballplayer received a scholarship from the national organization.
The plaque was “in recognition of outstanding accomplishments, service and academic excellence.”
Terry Lanning, a district director of Dixie Youth Baseball, made the presentation.
“It’s a well-rounded young man or woman who gets this scholarship,” she said.
The only qualifications necessary to apply for the scholarship is the applicant must be a senior in high school and must have participated in Dixie Youth Baseball as a player.
“I feel honored that they would do this for me,” Cheers said. “I hope people will continue to support Dixie Youth Baseball.”
Cheers, who was home-schooled, plans on attending Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.
“I’m thinking about (majoring) in business,” he said.
It wasn’t that long ago he was thinking about home runs and strikeouts.
“I played out here about five years,” he said. “I played for the Cardinals in the minor leagues and I played for the Diamondbacks when I was in the major leagues.”
Cheers pitched and played shortstop, and the highlight of his Dixie Youth baseball career is a feat many youngsters dream about.
“I remember one time I hit an inside-the-park grand slam,” he said.
Cheers was a member of some good Dixie Youth teams. Because of a change in age qualifications, he twice played for the Brunswick County all-star team for 14-year-olds.
“We came in third place in the state tournament the first year and second place the second year,” he said.
It’s been two years since he last played baseball, but that is part of growing up.
“I miss it some,” he said. “I have a job now. I’m pretty busy.”
Cheers also played church league basketball and did some running.
“I liked basketball,” he said. “We won league championships a few times.”
But there will be no competitive basketball or baseball in his future.
“I selected Liberty,” he said, “because it’s a Christian University. I can grow spiritually and I can grow academically. They have nice, beautiful campus. It’s in the mountains, and I like the mountains.”
In baseball parlance, it’s another grand slam for Cheers.
MICHAEL PAUL is the sports editor at the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.