By C. Julia Nelson
Trey Clay will be one of the first athletes to enjoy a home baseball field at Mt. Vernon Presbyterian School, 471 Mt. Vernon Hwy., throughout his entire high school career.
An eighth-grader at Mt. Vernon, Trey, 14, will have this opportunity because, among others, his father, Billy Clay, made it possible.
Five years ago, Clay, a Sandy Springs resident, volunteered to maintain the baseball fields at Morgan Falls Park using his design, installation and lawn maintenance company, Eye Care Lawn Maintenance. After seeing the poor condition they were in and knowing his son was playing there for the Bulldogs with the Sandy Springs Youth Sports organization, Clay wanted to make sure the fields were in tip-top shape.
“I started taking fields one at a time and redoing them,” he said. “Kids were getting hurt sliding into home plate where lips would be turned up or on broken bases; there were holes in the ground they would stumble over.”
Eventually his service evolved into a contract with Fulton County, which was honored by the city of Sandy Springs when it incorporated and took over the parks in 2005. Based on his reputation as the man who stepped up to maintain the fields, coupled with the fact that his son had begun attending sixth grade at Mt. Vernon, the school’s board of trustees called on him for help.
Trustee President David Barclift said the school had identified grant funding to put toward finishing phase one of the school’s construction process on the new Glenn Campus – a home baseball field – but needed matching dollars to secure it. Clay stepped in like a knight in shining armor to rescue his damsel in distress.
In June 2006, Clay made a commitment to the board in terms of free labor to oversee the build out of their baseball field and the matching dollars became a reality. He spent the next year and a half keeping his word.
“It’s all turned into a lot more than the initial commitment,” Clay said. “We’ve tripled our initial commitment. I’ve gotten (the field) to where it needed to be and paid for a lot of it myself.”
He started construction on the field in August 2006. By the spring of 2007, the baseball players had a field to play on, but the stadium portion, including bleachers, was far from finished. It was not until opening day, on March 10, 2008, that the Mt.Vernon Mustang baseball team had a full fledged, state-of-the-art home baseball field.
From start to finish, the scope of Clay’s work included grading, sodding, lawn maintenance, fencing, dugouts, bleachers, brick and mortar – the whole nine yards – as well as providing labor including subcontracting agreements and in many cases materials.
While his generosity goes well beyond the call of duty, considering the estimated cost to build a field of this magnitude with a 400-foot center field and a top-of-the-line drainage system is about $1.5 million, the board knows they found a gem in their midst with Clay.
“We’re very grateful for the generosity of Billy Clay and others who have made the baseball field a reality,” Barclift said. “It was an absolutely huge service. With Billy Clay’s generosity and other donors, it allowed us to complete the baseball field.”
Other donors included project architect Mike Collins from Collins, Coopers, Carusi of Buckhead, who developed the Glenn Campus master plan including the baseball field and Tom and Lou Glenn, who donated some of the land on which it was built.
“It was really a join effort,” Barclift said. “We’re very pleased with the quality of the design that the team put together and constructed. It’s a quality baseball field for the high school level.”
The baseball players, too, know they have a valuable asset at their fingertips. Codee Burton, 18, plays shortstop for the Mustangs and has seen the condition of most other area baseball fields in the Georgia High School Association (GHSA).
“Our field is definitely better than the rest,” he said. “It’s really humbling to play at an away game and find out that we practice on an amazing field.”
Burton appreciates having a top-notch field to call home and the work that went into making it a reality.
“It’s unbelievable,” Burton said. “It’s pretty generous of the donor; it’s extremely nice.”
One of the highlights for the team is actually having home games at home.
“It’s easier before games because we don’t have to travel,” Trey said. “We have a lot of home games now.”
What’s more, the timing of the completed field aligned with the final baseball season for the seniors in the first graduating class of the new school.
“We’re about to graduate our first senior class in May,” Barclift said of the new upper school on the Glenn Campus. “To have the field completed in time for our seniors to play on it is huge. It’s extremely rewarding for the seniors to be able to play their last season at home on such a nice field.”
In addition to creating a permanent home field for the baseball players, Clay also constructed a temporary softball field worth about $50,000 and now contracts to provide maintenance services for the soccer and football fields as well.
“What you do for the boys you have to do for the girls, too,” he said. “This is a growing school and growing schools need growing help. That’s what I’m here for; we’re very into sports and these kids need fields. The quicker they can develop the fields, the quicker they can develop the sports programs without having to go somewhere else.”
Phase II of the Glenn Campus construction, which is currently in the design process, will encompass an additional classroom building, an athletic facility/gymnasium and a permanent field for softball.
“We were very fortunate to be able to complete the baseball, softball, soccer and football field within the initial phase of construction,” Barclift said. “It was a wonderful culmination of wrapping up the first phase of the Glenn campus construction.”
What sealed the deal for the school, Clay and the kids was the baseball opening day ceremonies and game against The Weber School Rams at the Mustang home field.
Clay’s wife, Wynn Clay, who helped her husband get the project underway, said opening day was like a breath of fresh air to her family, the team and the school.
“It was kinda neat with everybody out here and all the balloons and the hoopla,” she said. “All the kids came out; Billy got to throw out the first ball. It was a really a good feeling to know we didn’t have to go anywhere else for the home opener. It was a beautiful day and you could see everyone enjoyed it. It was an uplifting thing.”
Looking back on all the sweat equity that went into the project and knowing there are still some final touches to be made plus continuing maintenance, Clay is just glad he could do it.
“It’s been a work in progress, a lot of man hours,” he said, but he doesn’t regret a minute or a dime spent. “There are a lot of nice people at this school; it’s a pleasure to do these things for this school and for the people who run it.”