PILOT MOUNTAIN — East Surry High School honored longtime educator and baseball coach Harry Downs Sunday in the dedication of the school’s new field house.
Shocked, honored, and humbled were just a few of the words Downs used when describing how he felt about the school’s dedication to him.
“When it came time to start looking for someone to name this wonderful building after, it was a no-brainer who it should be,” said current Cardinal baseball coach Chad Freeman.
The seeds for the Harry Downs Field House were planted in 2013. East Surry Athletic Director Randy Marion and then-principal Diane Beane had the initial vision for a field house by the baseball and softball fields. Marion and current East Surry principal Lorrie Sawyers worked to gain traction on the project in the following years.
Gradually, funds were gathered and an architect was hired to design the building. East Surry Athletic Boosters and the Cardinal Foundation were just two of many contributors to the project.
Although not 100 percent complete, the field house has already had a profound impact on the community.
“This project has brought us together,” said Dr. Travis L. Reeves, Superintendent of Surry County Schools. “We’re unified together and in today’s world we don’t see unity much. We see opinion, we see criticism, and we see polarization.
“Not today,” Dr. Reeves continued. “Not at East Surry.”
According to Freeman, the decision to name the field house after Downs was an easy one.
“As soon as the name Harry Downs was put on the table, everyone was in agreement because he means that much to the community.”
Downs’ involvement with East Surry dates back a half-century. Downs was a full-time coach and history teacher at the school for 34 years. Downs became a part-time Driver’s Education instructor following his retirement from teaching, and has done this for 16 years.
“I always wanted a job where I could tell people where to go without getting in trouble,” Downs exclaimed.
The theme of family was present throughout the ceremony.
“When I came to East Surry, I thought I had died and gone to heaven,” Downs said.
Downs spoke highly of the Cardinal community and how he wanted to make an impact with the players on and off the field.
“Athletics and coaching is so much more than building sports programs,” Downs said. “It’s about building values and character.”
Despite only working with Downs for three years, Freeman said confidently that he was a better coach and a better man because of his time with the coach.
“He’s forgotten more baseball than I could imagine knowing,” Freeman said.
Downs jested that the biggest criticism people had of himself and fellow Cardinal legend Barry Hall was that they were too strict on players. Downs said he wasn’t going to be with a team that threw bats and helmets.
A tearful Downs spoke of an experience he had early in his career as his motivation to teach life lessons to his students and players. Downs recalled that in his early teaching years, an older staff member said the same thing at every staff meeting regarding plans for the school.
“Is this going to help the children? Because [if not], it’s a waste of time.”
The field house is dedicated to serving not only East Surry baseball, softball, and tennis, but the JROTC program and Little League organizations.
To answer his former co-worker, Downs stated, “This is not a waste of time. It is going to help the children.”
Downs joked that his favorite part about the field house is that he will finally be able to get a hot dog at the baseball game.
“The old concession stand was condemned by the health department, so we had to go to CF Jones before the game,” Downs said.
A ceremony of laughter and tears ended the only appropriate way, with Downs proclaiming his support of the school with a vigorous, “Go Cards!”
Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith