After an April 27 tornado wrecked much of the small Catoosa County town, questions lingered about where the Ringgold team would play its season, among other more pressing concerns.
Cartersville, and others in the baseball community, did not hesitate to spring into action, easing many of the Tigers baseball-related concerns.
At a Senior Night game at Richard Bell Field on April 28, the Canes got donations to aid Ringgold. As a result, Chester was able to deliver 12 pairs of cleats, 10 dozen baseballs, 24 dimple balls and 24 indoor balls to Tigers coach Brent Tucker the following day.
“We took up a donation, but we gave double what we got from our dugout club,” said the longtime Cartersville coach, whose team donated $650 to Ringgold.
“It was an appropriate time to do that,” Chester added of the Canes’ quick action.
In constant communication with Tucker the night of the tornado, he knew he wanted to do something if lucky enough to make it out alive.
“It went through my mind that night because coach Tucker was texting me back and forth through [the] night,” Chester said. “He said one of his players’ houses were gone and their field was completely destroyed. … I told Brent that [Thursday] morning, ‘What do you need? What do you have? What do you not have?’”
Roughly a day later, Chester and Tucker met up at a parking lot just off Interstate 75 in Calhoun.
“When we pulled up, of course, we stood there and talked forever. We had to meet at the interstate because you could not get into Ringgold,” Chester recounted.
After getting out of his vehicle, the Cane skipper first unloaded some shoes and then some baseballs, with each item drawing countless thank-yous from Tucker.
“That was huge because they had nothing. [That] Friday afternoon they were going to meet and toss a little bit, but he was thinking, ‘They don’t have any balls,’” Chester said. “He was very, very touched.”
When Chester pulled out his next donation, Tucker resisted at first, saying he could not take it. He eventually relented.
“He was hesitant,” Chester said of Tucker’s initial response to the monetary donation. “[Then] the emotions came, and it was a good moment between me and him. … Two of the top programs in the state, and in our region, and we are in the parking lot helping each other out.”
Tucker knew there was no way to resist Chester’s help.
“[He] didn’t give me a choice in the matter,” the Ringgold coach said. “He had heard that our baseball field was hit extremely hard and wanted to reach out. We are big rivals on the field, but Stuart and I have always had a lot of respect for each other. …We talk probably at least once a week. There’s a friendship there, and we respect each other’s program.”
Chester’s first step spurred action from other baseball teams in the state.
“After he took that step forward, people heard about it and many others followed,” said Tucker, whose program has received help from schools like Carrollton, Wayne County, Sprayberry and Calhoun, not to mention its county rival Heritage, where the Tigers hosted a first-round GHSA state playoff series last Friday and began attending classes Monday.
“I think baseball coaches — and a lot of it’s through the Georgia Dugout Club, we see each other throughout the season and at coaches’ clinics — … we understand how hard baseball coaches work,” he continued. “When one of us has a need, other coaches are going to jump out to help.”
Chester believes the situation provided an opportunity for each coach to impart upon his players an important life lesson.
“When it all comes down to it, we’re men in position to lead and teach character and teach about life, and I think that was probably taught in this situation,” he said. “Too much in society today, I think, [is] about me, me, me. … The word “give,” that’s a word that should probably be used more in education and school, baseball, athletics, everything.”
Tucker commended the Cartersville community for its willingness to give.
“The Cartersville fans doing what they did at the game, it just says a lot about the community and the baseball program,” he said. “One week we’re at each other’s throats, and a week later they were the first ones to reach out.”
Although he would not hesitate to reciprocate the favor to all that have helped, the Tigers’ coach hopes that equation never plays out.
“Like I’ve been telling people, this is a favor I hope I never have to return,” Tucker said. “I hope this never happens to another school or another athletic facility.”
And as thankful as Ringgold is for the Canes’ generosity, do not expect the Tigers’ to cut their purple-clad brethren any slack should the two teams — both first-round winners — meet later on in the Georgia High School Association state playoffs.
“I think that would just add to the story if we meet up in the championship. [Chester] would notice some of his cleats being worn and some of his baseballs being used,” Tucker chuckled.