Cannon Ballers helps rebuild Southeast Baseball Field – Reuters

By Mike London

SALISBURY — It’s 10 a.m. on a Tuesday, normally planning time for Southeast Middle School math teacher Phillip Hilliard, but it’s a day he’s circled on the calendar for months.

Hilliard is also Southeast’s baseball coach, and at the sports complex in a valley below the school, three professionally driven vehicles work hard on a Patriots baseball diamond that looks like it was dug and cut into a pasture.

The experts handling the vehicles – trained staff of the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers, including head caretaker Tim Siegel – sweat, drag, groom, level, fill holes and rebuild a battered field that has been brutally battered by the lethal combination of the time and weather.

Each storm knocked the Southeast ballpark out of service for a long time. Prior to Tuesday, the Patriots had only been able to play one home game this season.

“Every time it rains, we’ve been closed for several days because with the drainage situation we had, the outfield just wasn’t safe,” Hilliard said. “But things are looking up for us.”

Hilliard learned baseball from his father, Craig, a long time ago.

A southpaw, he threw and batted so well for the Salisbury Hornets teams coached by Scott Maddox that he received the Mark Norris Memorial Award as Rowan County Player of the Year in 2005. A solid guy, he also played on the offensive line for the Football Hornets. and he played for the Wingate Bulldogs during his college days.

After college, Hilliard was athletic director at the Hurley YMCA for years before moving into education. A graduate in sports management at Wingate, he now holds a master’s degree in special education.

Teaching Exceptional Children (EC) students in the full range of subjects proved to be rewarding work, and he also took the reins of the Knox Middle School baseball team.

Prior to this school year, when offered the chance to teach just one subject at Southeast — math — and coach the school’s baseball team, he accepted a new opportunity.

“I really enjoyed the special education, I got to work with some really good kids, but the advantage I have now is a lot less paperwork,” Hilliard said. “The paperwork took up all my time.”

Southeast is a unique school for Rowan County, with students heading in all sorts of directions as they transition through high school. The South East sends a significant number of its graduates to Carson, East Rowan, West Rowan and Salisbury.

Coaching the Southeast baseball team brought challenges. Hilliard found athletes eager to learn and anxious to compete, but they are mostly inexperienced, mostly young, and mostly undersized compared to still-strong baseball schools such as China Grove, Erwin, and West Rowan. Middle.

“When we played Erwin, by the time we had thrown four pitches, they had hit two over the fence,” Hilliard said, managing a small smile.

Rebuilding the Southeast baseball field, building player pride in their place and environment is an important part of what Hilliard hopes will be a transformation for Southeast baseball.

Hilliard has personally spent hundreds of hours in the field, seriously improving the dugouts and the right field scoreboard, among other things.

“We made it our business to bring the national anthem back to our games,” he said. “We want the college baseball experience to prepare our kids for what they will see in high school. We tried to improve a lot of little things because it leads to big things. The more you show you care about them, the more effort you put in, the harder they want to work.

The renovated field should become a rallying point not only for the baseball team, but also for parents and for the surrounding neighborhoods.

Hilliard received advice from Maddox for donations, and there was an outpouring of help from the community, with donations of materials, money, time and resources.

Trexler Trucking donated haul trip to Pageland, SC

Thousands of dollars, huge bags of mulch, tons of sand, heaps of bricks and lots of wishes were accumulated to move the project forward.

Hilliard has listed Corriher Sand and Stone, Piedmont Sand and Stone, Trexler Trucking, Taylor Clay, Lowe’s, Lowe’s Lawn Care and Landscaping, Carolina Dent Source, Shuford Caddell & Fraley, LLP, Civitan of Salisbury, RW Sportswear and Harwood Signs as businesses in the region. to which Sud-Est owes many thanks.

The crowning achievement of the on-court revival was bringing in the Cannon Ballers.

Hilliard credited Cannon Ballers season ticket holder Edgar Simmons with suggesting he call on the Cannon Ballers for on-court assistance that could bring it all together.

“There was nothing to lose by making the call,” Hilliard said. “The worst they could do was turn me down.”

They didn’t refuse it. In fact, the timing was perfect. While Hilliard was looking for help with his field, the Cannon Ballers were looking for a local baseball field that could benefit from professional help.

Siegel, who is certified in turf management and worked for the MLB Marlins, had moved to the China Grove area from Florida last May, so this was an ideal challenge for him.

“Baseball is so much more than a game, and this was a chance for me to give back to the community,” Siegel said. “It is not difficult for a child to follow the wrong path in life. But you give them a nice baseball field, give them something to do with their free time, and maybe baseball makes all the difference in their lives. It’s not for our wallets or for Cannon Ballers PR, it’s for the kids. It’s not a one-time thing or a one-day thing. Maintenance of this baseball field will continue.

While Siegel took charge of the field’s reconstruction, Wisconsin-native gregarious Ryan Pegarsch, who holds the title of community relations manager with the Cannon Ballers, is also on a tractor, donating his time and experience. He brings a little joy to work. It’s good to be out of the office.

“I like to get my hands dirty,” he laughs. “You have a coach here at Southeast Middle School who obviously cares about the kids, and the Cannon Ballers organization is thrilled to be able to get out into the community and provide any help they can. The baseball diamonds take time and we are only in phase one today, but the plan is to get everything leveled up, take care of the drainage issues and put everything where it needs to be.

Along with Hilliard, Southeast Director Davian Ellison watches the men and vehicles at work and beams.

“Community and Cannon Baller donations mean everything,” she said. “When people come to a baseball game, they might not remember the score, but they will remember the experience they had at our school. It will make this experience better.

When the Cannon Ballers crew finished, the mid-southeast field underwent one of those caterpillar-to-butterfly transformations.

It’s a different place. It may not be a field of dreams yet, but the progress is incredible.

“We knew they had the tools for a complete rebuild, and the Cannon Ballers gave us their time,” Hilliard said. “We are grateful.”

At play time, “SE” is added to the crisp white chalk behind the reconstructed batter boxes.

The Patriots are ready to play.

The college conference tournament is scheduled to be played in the Southeast in early May. Hilliard is looking forward to it.

“This is what a baseball field is supposed to look like and how baseball is supposed to be,” Hilliard said. “I’m thinking of putting a sign there. You know – one that says build it and they will come.

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