Fields of Dreams

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For 35 years Stan Olsen has made it his goal that Henry County athletes have the best facilities possible.

By Greg Woods

    Anyone who played on the Henry County High School baseball field in the late 1970’s can tell you that it was not an ideal place to play the game.

Randy Berry was a pitcher and infielder for the Wildcats in the late-70’s. He said, “It was just a hayfield. It was pretty rough. I remember me and Kenny James bringing our tractors to work on it back in the day.”

Donnie Williams who coached the team at the time agrees, “I remember when it was an all dirt facility,” he said. “It wasn’t anything but a cow pasture and the band had strips on the outfield so they could practice. To see what it is now is a testament to what Stan and others have done over the years.”

Williams was referring to Stan Olsen who has spent the better part of 35 years making sure Henry County has some of the best athletic facilities in the area.

When asked about it, the first thing Olsen did was try to deflect credit. “None of it could have been done without the cooperation of the administration,” he said. “And the dedication of the parents over the years, sacrificing their time to work Booster Bingo and other activities.”

‘None of what could have been done?’ a younger person might ask. But for anyone who used Henry County Athletic facilities before the 1990s it is obvious.

The Henry County Athletic Boosters helped the school system completely renovate its facilities over the last 30 years.

The football field was turned on end and a modern 8-lane, rubberized track was added.

A field house that was on the drawing board for years was finally built.

Money was spent to finally bring a softball field to campus so that the girls wouldn’t have to go to Harry Hill Park to play home games.

 And then there is the baseball field. Robbie Bryant Memorial Field to be exact.

The former cow pasture is now an immaculate playing field with no rivals on the local scene. The baseball field evolved over the years in small, almost imperceptible stages.

“Mary and I moved to Henry County in the spring of 1978. I was originally from Corbin but we had been living in Jefferson County for years since I had gotten a job at Ford,” Olsen said. “The first project was spearheaded by Marvin Shelton and David Stewart and I helped. We raised some money and bought some 5-foot fence and then dug the holes and put up a fence. That was the summer of 1979.”

That was the first small step. Today the immaculate field has a grass infield and a taller fence that has windscreens, which are really appreciated by those who try to play in the almost constant windy conditions found at the field.

Williams credits Olsen with much of the improvements. “Stan started the grass infield and he was very serious about keeping the field in good playing condition,” he said. “Stan had a vision. His sons, Mike and Steve, played for me and Stan and Mary were very supportive.”

Olsen remembers the crude nature of the field in the days before the improvements. “The dugouts had two pipes drove in the ground with a board attached behind a wire,” he said. “For the pitching mound they would get a load of dirt from the tobacco patch that was in deep left-center field and stick a rubber on it.”

In the early ‘80s Olsen says that the boosters helped to get sod for the infield. “I had a neighbor back in Jefferson County who had a sod field. We took our trucks down there and got the sod and brought it back and made an infield. The Booster Club raised money to get brick dust.”

In 1985 dugouts and a small announcer’s booth and new backstop were added.

The following year the Boosters started holding a bingo night. It would change things dramatically.

The money from Booster Bingo would allow the school system to make major changes to all the school’s athletic facilities.

Almost all of the improvements that were made involved sharing expenses between the school system and the athletic boosters.

The improvements included the new football field and track. The middle school gym expansion, the high school gym renovation, the new softball field and the athletic field house capped off a process that took more than a decade to complete.

In the meantime, the baseball field continued to evolve.

In ‘93-’94 there was a complete renovation of the field. “We dug up ground where the old tobacco patch and barn were out beyond the outfield and used it to level up the outfield and expand foul territory,” Olsen said. “We put up a new fence and backstop and moved the backstop farther back. In ’96 we put in the new dugouts and a new press box with a concession stand that is the one that is here now. We did that as a 50-50 deal with the school. In ’98 the boosters put in 100 percent of the money for the lights.”

Olsen wants people to know that several dedicated people were involved. “In the early days, before bingo, Marvin Shelton and David Stewart and Gene Garrett did a lot of work,” he said. “During the years when we had Booster Bingo Lorraine Hawkins, Virgil and Pat Chapman, Margie and Bobby Moore, Ted Chisholm, Don Seligman, Brenda Louden and my wife Mary and I spent a lot of hours making sure that Bingo ran smoothly. They spent a lot of Saturday nights at Booster Bingo. I know I’m leaving somebody out, there were so many who helped with this. They need to be recognized too. Without the Henry County Athletic Boosters we couldn’t have done any of this.

“It should be an important priority for someone to pick up and restart the athletic boosters. Because of costs most schools have an activity fee. We don’t have that yet but it will happen unless someone picks up and starts boosters again.”

Olsen’s youngest son Steve graduated in 1987 and went on to a professional career that included a stint in Triple A baseball with the Omaha Royals.

But Stan and many of the boosters who ran the highly productive Bingo night continued to work for many years after their children were gone.

Only Stan and Mary continue to work now to help the athletic teams. Mary runs the concessions at baseball games while Stan takes care of the field. “I couldn’t have done this without Mary and her support.”

According to those who have worked closely with Olsen over the years, he puts many hours into ensuring that the field is maintained to a level not seen at other high schools.

“Most people are not aware that Stan sometimes will put in 30-45 hours of work in a week on some of our outside athletic facilities,” said Henry County Athletic Director Todd Gilley. “Stan has been such a valuable asset to Henry County athletics. He takes great pride in our facilities and donates countless hours for our athletes.”

Henry County Schools Superintendent Tim Abrams said, “Stan Olsen has been a supporter of Henry County Athletics for over 30 years. His work along with many others improved the athletic facilities at the High School Campus through their work with the Henry County Athletic Boosters’ Saturday evening Bingo. Their financial support supplemented many athletic projects. Since those days, Stan can be found spending many hours each week working on athletic fields at the high school. Whether he is mowing, fertilizing, preparing the field before a game, or picking up trash, or many other daily chores, Stan can usually be found on one of the fields. His volunteerism is greatly appreciated by the Board and by myself.”

New baseball coach Zak Yates has been an assistant since 2000 and played for the Wildcats in the early ‘90s. “People don’t realize what Stan does behind the scenes, now and over the years.,” he said. “He has been instrumental in funding a lot of sports programs’ needs through the booster bingo for a long time. People don’t understand how much goes into this job just to get ready to play games. To be able to have him and Mary take care of the field, concessions, fundraising, uniforms, etc. is something I’ll never be able to repay.”

Henry County High School assistant principal and former baseball coach Austin Hunsaker agrees. “The six years I spent working with Stan were certainly memorable,” he said. “When I became head coach, I was quite young (25), and Stan was a huge help. When I started coaching in 2006, I had just gone through the death of my father, which was a terrible time for me.

In a unique way, Stan reminded me in many ways of my own father, which helped me get through that difficult time. Stan was just as important to the success of our program as anyone. You can look at our field and see how amazing he is at what he does. The long hours, the countless players he has helped.

I remember one occasion where Stan helped out a young man in severe financial need with some extra food after our games, and he did this for several players over the years. That’s what sticks out to me about Stan. He is just a genuinely wonderful man; there are none better. I sometimes get emotional thinking about all he did for me and our program over the years. Simply put, he is invaluable.”

Former Wildcat baseball coach Bruce Gentry counts Olsen as one of his best friends now. “When I first met Stan I was intimidated by his reputation,” he said. “But I realized that the intimidation came from his desire to do things right and not cut corners. There are not two other people who care more about people than Stan and Mary Olsen. Their contributions to the community are more than just the athletic facilities.

“If I want something done right, I will go to Stan. He is so particular about doing things the right way. He has been to clinics with the Reds and Bats on how to take care of the grounds correctly. He is so intense–planning and organization are two of his top attributes.

“There is very little I could criticize with Stan for what he has done for this school district. It’s pride… not his own pride but for the kids. He has a vision for the school that is of a high standard of excellence.”

When asked why he still puts in so many hours despite the fact that his sons graduated over 25 years ago Olsen said, “It’s something that you helped bring from its infancy as a cow pasture with others – it’s hard to walk away from unless you see someone that is willing to maintain it the way it is. That time has to come in the not-too-distant future but until it does, I’ll be here. It gets a little taxing sometimes but I still enjoy doing it.”