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'Resilience' | 1 year after tornado devastates Newnan, high school's baseball team steps up to bat

Braves' Will Smith even pitched in, raising money to help Newnan High baseball rebuild their field.

NEWNAN, Ga. — Crews will demolish the old Newnan High School buildings this summer, but they'll save keepsake items to create a remembrance wall at the new facility. 

Several athletic facilities, more specifically the baseball field, was among the destruction at Newnan High School after a devastating tornado struck the town in 2021. Coweta County is still working with FEMA to secure federal funding for the largest construction project in the school district's history.

The Cougars are now back to playing at home this season, but it was a year in the making. 

"We’re glad we’re able to play here again and just look around and be able to play on this field and see the community come together to watch games, it’s awesome," Newnan senior Chasin Cash said.

The team spirit, fueled by resilience, saw their baseball field slowly take shape after it was struck by an EF-4 tornado.

"A year ago, if you would have looked at this field, you would not think it was going to be like this," said Newnan pitcher Dalton Anderson.

The baseball diamond is back, with new fencing, chalking and bases.

"We have a beautiful baseball facility, a phenomenal stadium and all these athletic complexes were just left in shambles," said Chase Puckett, Newnan High Principal.

The field, just like large portions of Newnan and Coweta County, suffered extensive damage and was unrecognizable.

"Half of the fence was gone, we didn’t even have batting cages," explained Newnan catcher Thomas Scott.

Newnan baseball head coach Marc Gilmore called the damage a "punch in the gut."

"It was a sick feeling, just because you saw the devastation," Gilmore said. "It became, 'Where do we practice? How do we schedule games?'"

Rival schools from around the area volunteered to open their doors while the Newnan High baseball field was being repaired.

"When I came in on Friday morning, you saw kids on bikes with chainsaws and like a gallon of gas, just asking people for help," said Gilmore. 

Anderson, a pitcher on the team said he felt the team spirit from beyond his teammates when it really mattered.

"You realize that even though we are rivals deep down, we still have each other’s backs at the end of the day and we’re still willing to help each other. It’s kind of nice to know that," Anderson said.

Newnan native and Braves Reliever Will Smith organized an auction to raise money in order to help the baseball team rebuild.

"I’ve had those high school kids come up and thank me for having their senior night at Truist (Park) or fixing their baseball field. They could care less about the World Series, they were just happy to be able to play on their own high school field, which I thought was really cool for me," Smith said.

Smith's generosity brought the school pride, Puckett said. 

"When he and the Braves reached out and said they wanted to help it was extremely humbling, but it was also very inspirational," said Puckett.

Anderson said Smith's actions show he's still willing to give back amid the fame. 

"Even though he’s big time, he has made it to the major leagues, he’s a big name, he still shows that he loves his community," explained Anderson.

Through it all, there’s only one word to describe the Cougars.

"Every senior class chooses a word and this year’s word is resilience," Gilmore said. "I think you see it every day in our community, our school, our students, our staff. I think you see the resilience every day from what happened a year ago."

   

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