The F1 tornado that hit Smiths Station High School’s softball and baseball fields on Jan. 21 has thrown off the normal buildup for the upcoming seasons. That being said, athletic director Sherry Paysinger knows it’s now time for herself and others to get to work.
Paysinger stood among the mud and the tangled metal between the main softball field and the baseball field on Wednesday and showed what was gone and what was left barely standing.
She pointed at the large parts of the baseball field’s fencing that sat crumpled on the ground. Beside it were the remains of the bleachers that had sat by the now-damaged junior varsity softball field, thrown several feet by the violent winds. A softball changing area was demolished, as well as three storage buildings and the roofs of the dugouts.
She then listed off more hits that weren’t evident. The majority of the the players’ equipments were gone, and now only three players have gloves left, according to Paysinger. Dozens of game balls ready to be used for the first time are now long gone. There were mowers and a Gator utility vehicle that took on damage as well.
The work has already begun on rebuilding. Lee County sent out a crew right before daylight on Monday morning, eager to get to work on cleaning up the area. The community has also been contacting the school about what they can do to help. Businesses have asked about donating money, and sporting goods stores have checked in on giving equipment. People from local high schools, who are normally concerned with beating Smiths Station on this field, reached out to offer helping hands.
“We have a phenomenal group at school,” Paysinger said. “Our principal (Joaquin Richards) is a former coach, so he understands athletics. Smiths Station is a working community, and parents care about the kids and the athletics. Our county has been very supportive.”
Looking over the remnants of the storm was especially hard on Paysinger, who has been at Smiths Station since 1989. The junior varsity softball field that was damaged was a far cry from a field when Paysinger and others began building it years ago. They went so far as to lay the dirt down by hand, a process Paysinger made clear wasn’t done in a day’s work.
“It’s just devastating to see what everyone has worked so hard for be in this shape,” Paysinger said.
Memories aside, Paysinger made it evident there’s no time to sit by sadly now that the damage has been done. Paysinger said the first game of Smiths Station falls on Feb. 20, meaning there’s not a lot of time to work with.
Whether or not the games are played at the complex remains to be seen. What is clear, according to Paysinger, is the season will not be delayed because of what happened.
“I had kids walk up to me on Saturday when I came down to look at this, and they said, ‘Coach, are we going to play?’” Paysinger said. “My answer is yes, we’re going to play somewhere. It might not be home, but we will play.
“We just have to pick up the pieces and move on.”