Southwest Dekalb fighting through adversity

Posted 2/26/16


The baseball field was set on fire during the offseason at Southwest Dekalb High School. After first believing the

team would have to play all of its games on the road, the coaching staff and a turf management company worked

to get the field in suitable shape to play home games this year. (Special Photos)


By Tim Morse

Georgia Dugout Preview


Southwest Dekalb High School shortstop Tyler Sylvester remembered the dreaded words.

He couldn't believe the school's baseball field has been burned, not with the season starting in less than two months.

"I was caught off-guard," Sylvester said. "I didn't believe it when several folks told me about it."

Sylvester had to see it for himself.

Southwest Dekalb coach Tyrus Taylor said he isn't sure if the field was set on fire on purpose, but one thing is for sure -- the Panthers, expected to contend for the Region 6-AAAA title, are determined to turn the negative into a positive.

"I gave them a speech about adversity and they handled it really well, better than I thought," Taylor said. "So I'm not going to even complain."

Both the softball and baseball programs share the field behind the high school with each coach maintaining during their respective seasons. In the fall, the softball team installs a portable fence near the baseball infield and the baseball outfield becomes the softball infield.

After softball concludes in October, Taylor and his staff take down the fence and spend the next four months preparing the baseball field for the spring. He planted rye grass to start the field maintenance last fall before he stumbled on the horrible news.

"I'm not sure if it was a disgruntled parent or someone who was tired of looking at the grass growing wildly," Taylor said. "I hate to speculate, but it was really ugly."

Dekalb County officials hired a turf maintenance company to inspect. At first, Taylor was told the field would be unplayable this spring and the team would have to play all of its games on the road.

The community pitched in and the Panthers held preseason practices at Browns Mill Baseball Park, about three miles away. Taylor and the team tried to stay positive.

Three games into the season, Southwest Dekalb is 3-0 and two games have been played at home, bringing a smile to Taylor and the players.

The grass is still dead in some spots but the field has come a long way in a short time.

When the Panthers defeated Westlake last week, Sylvester said he heard some opposing players talking about the field. But he said to be able to play home games is a miracle in itself.

"Not everybody has heard what happened," he said. "There is some unbalance in some spots, but we're going to do the best with what we have. We want to go undefeated, and I believe we're going to do some good things."

Taylor has been at Southwest Dekalb for 15 seasons, including the last 11 as head coach. He has the Panthers playing well and the program is an annual postseason contender. He believes the latest episode will make the program stronger.

"These last two or three years have strengthened my faith," he said. "It's crazy that is has taken a sport to do that. At the end of the day, it's all worked out. I'm grateful for the support."