Being a former East Surry Cardinal is not often a positive thing when one is seeking to join the Mount Airy Granite Bears family.
But for new MAHS baseball coach Weston Payne, his long association with the traditional powerhouse down the road from the Granite City was a huge positive.
“What drew us to Weston was that he knew about you guys, he could tell us about you, he could tell us about our middle school players,” said Mount Airy principal Jason Dorsett. “He knew that there was a lot of talent and a lot of support, and most of all, he loves baseball. Anyone in this room who loves baseball, he loves it as much as you.”
Payne, who followed up his time as an East Surry player (2011-14) with a career in college baseball, and then returned to the area as a travel-ball coach and an assistant for his alma mater and West Stokes, was named as the Bears’ new head coach on Aug. 8. On Monday evening, he was introduced to his new team in an informal meet-and-greet session at the school.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to build a successful program here. I’ve been a part of a lot of success at East Surry. We’ve had success there year-in and year-out,” said Payne. “What I want to build here at Mount Airy is build a program that has success year-in and year-out. I want to develop (the players) and help you reach the next level, I want us to communicate well, and I want us to be on-page with everything we do.”
Payne spoke at length about his plans for building the program, including instituting off-season training programs, taking advantage of the off-season workouts permitted by the NCHSAA, and also said that he would try to have the maximum permitted schedule of 24 games and two scrimmages permitted by the rules, while assembling a challenging schedule for the team. He said that the team would at least practice, if not play, through the spring break period.
I’m going to try to take advantage of the time we have in the fall and the winter because that goes a long way,” said Payne, stating that fall workouts would begin after school starts, with two days in the weight room and two on the field or in the indoor facility. “The time we put in there will lead to success on the field some spring.”
Payne also plans to revive the school’s junior varsity baseball team, which fell by the wayside last year.
“We have the numbers to have a JV team, and it’s hard to have a good program year-in year-out without having a JV program,” he said. “You have freshman who are on varsity, but they’re not seeing any time on the field, so they’re not getting the necessary work they need to get better. I’m going to try my all to get a JV program back up and running this year.”
In addition to getting the JV program going again, Payne also said he would be active in helping to develop the program at the youth levels.
“If a Little League kid, or a middle school kid sees a high school coach come out and watch, lend a hand, or help out, I think that says a lot,” he said. “I’m very big on that.”
He said he is still assembling his staff, and wants to have someone who can work with everyone on the team, including the infielders, outfielders, catchers, and pitchers. Payne, who was a standout second baseman at East Surry, can also coach the infielders. He also said he has no issues with his players working with other instructors in the area, who are well-known to him and have similar ideas about coaching.
Payne, like many coaches at smaller schools, believes that players should have the opportunity to pursue as many high school sports as they want to play, as long as it doesn’t interfere with their academics. He, along with head football coach J.K. Adkins and co-athletic director Angela Mayfield, answered questions from parents who were concerned about possible conflicts with players playing more than one sport.
Payne told the players that he believed there was a lot of talent in the program, and that he was looking forward to getting to know them all better in the days to come. He pledged to help those who might want to play college baseball to achieve that goal.
“I want us all to buy-in, have good team chemistry and be unselfish,” he said. “I want to build a sense of trust between me and you, so I can help you.”
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.