By Jake Winfrey
The Cullman Times
Those who know Chad Shannon might find it difficult to label the baseball man anything other than an ambitious personality.
In 10 seasons spent as a coach, Shannon has made it a point to take on a reclamation project each summer at the field or facility he’s been at during his coaching tenure.
His three years as the Vinemont skipper have been no exception to the rule.
“Since I’ve been here, we’ve redone the lighting and painted some structures, among other things,” Shannon said. “This year, we finally got to a point where we needed to make some improvements that, financially, in-house fundraising wouldn’t be able to cover completely.”
The improvements Shannon sought to make this summer were substantial and included a field renovation, complete with new dirt, sand and sod, as well as field conditioner and tarps to cover some areas on the field.
To counteract the lack of funds, the coach put together a grant-writing committee consisting of himself, a few parents and a couple of retired Cullman County educators in hopes of accruing enough money to turn his vision into a reality.
“We all sat down and did some research back in the fall,” Shannon said. “We filled out some grants, and I filled out a couple more on my own. Luckily, we were able to get one for the amount of around $20,000.”
With funds in hand, Shannon embarked on his next step — finding somebody to do the necessary work.
After acquiring estimates and quotes from several companies, Shannon eventually settled on Warner’s Athletic Construction, a sports field renovation company based out of Smyrna, Tenn.
According to Shannon, Warner’s is well-known amongst coaches in the southeast, as it caters to SEC schools, including Auburn and Arkansas, as well as numerous smaller colleges, minor-league teams and other high schools in the area. The company was even responsible for maintaining Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros, over the past 11 years.
“I used them when I coached in Tuscaloosa County,” Shannon said. “It’s what they do every day, year round. It’s pretty amazing to see what they can pull off and what they can do. I think they’re the best in the business.”
This past Monday, work to renew Mike Cupp Field got underway, as Jon Mitchell, the man in charge of the project, began what ended up being four days of hard work en route to getting Vinemont’s diamond back into playing shape.
“It doesn’t really matter where we are working,” Mitchell said. “We are going to do the same job and put out a great product. For coach Shannon and his high school, this was a really big job for them. We wanted to give them a quality field for years to come.”
According to Mitchell, changes made to the facility included leveling and rebuilding the pitching mound and home plate area, edging the entire infield, installing and grading out clay in the infield and taking off some field conditioner.
When all was said and done, Shannon had only good things to say about his upgraded field.
“It’s beautiful,” he said. “Even Jon was bragging about how good it turned out. I believe it’s going to be a much more consistent playing surface for us now. It’s really everything I could have wanted.”
Shannon isn’t the only one who’s excited about the field, though. According to him, several former and current players have stopped by to see the improvements.
“They’re all kind of speechless about it,” he said. “For our program and our community, it's the biggest thing we've done. It's a huge upgrade. Our kids are excited about it.”
One of those kids includes Riley Foust, who’s played for Shannon each of his first three prep seasons.
Foust didn’t mince any words when describing how he felt.
“It’s pretty cool to have, especially as a senior,” he said. “It’s a good thing for us and the community. They did a really great job on it. It’s going to be sweet for the players.”
It’s no doubt getting to this point has been a quite an accomplishment for Shannon and the Vinemont program. When the coach arrived three seasons ago, he sat down with administrators and implemented a five-year plan, in which he hoped to accomplish eight major points during his time at the helm of the Red and White.
“Getting this field improved was one of the last things on that list,” Shannon said. “It’s pretty overwhelming to see how far we’ve come from three years ago and how much we’ve been able to build this program. I think we are on schedule to become a major force.”
It’s not lost on just how gracious Shannon has been to the program, either. Just ask Foust.
“All he’s done just shows you how much he cares about his players,” he said. “You can see it in all the stuff he does and teaches us about baseball.”
Vinemont has another slight field upgrade to look forward to later on in the year. Courtesy of a $2,000 statewide grant, the Eagles will be eventually replace all of the field’s netting.
% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 136 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.