The phone call that changed Ty Stott’s life rang his dorm room at USC Spartanburg on an ordinary autumn afternoon.
On the other end of the line spoke Jeff Wilson, Polk County High School’s head baseball coach at the time but preparing to make a move to lead the Wolverine softball program. Apply for the opening, Wilson said. Come back home to Polk County.
And suddenly Stott cared only about the job he never knew he wanted.
“It was instant. I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” Stott recalled. “Sitting there 23 years old, my life changed that day, because I had to grow up. I didn’t have a lot of direction at the time. I figured I’d finish school and get a teaching job somewhere and be an assistant coach for five or six years.
“I don’t think I would have ever had the passion for coaching somewhere else that I had at Polk County. I got off the phone with Coach Wilson that day, I had tunnel vision from then on. I wanted to be the coach.”
Build a program? Ty Stott had to basically build a field before he could think about growing baseball at his alma mater. Seven years into the program’s existence Polk County had a grassy diamond and a scoreboard, but little else.
So Stott got busy, using hard work, discipline and a passion for seeing the sport he loved thrive in a place he loved just as much. Soon came fencing for the field, a press box, a batting cage, new dugouts. And wins – 262 of them, to be exact, along with five conference championships and two district titles during Stott’s 21 years as the program’s head coach.
But the passion for the program meant Thanksgiving and Christmas days worried about winter workouts and field conditions, spring breaks mulling lineup changes, summer vacations thinking about replacing seniors and welcoming freshmen. Two-plus decades of three games a week and three-hour practices on off days and living in a dugout can take a toll, and as Stott looked around the coaching landscape and saw many of his mentors and former peers enjoying life away from the field, and with his daughter, Morgan, a high school sophomore coming off a successful first season for Polk County’s softball program, Stott decided it was time he too stepped away from the game, at least for a while.
“I will enjoy this spring watching Morgan play softball and having the first spring off from baseball in a long time,” Stott said. “I enjoy being at home and relaxing and baseball is such a grind that for the last 21 years I have been locked in from December to mid-May.”
The accomplishments in those 21 seasons are numerous – the five conference titles, 14 straight home playoff wins, a four-year stretch in which the Wolverines reached the third round of the state playoffs, five seasons in which Polk cracked the top 10 in Baseball America’s state rankings, six coach of the year honors.
Throughout it all, Stott often maintained a calm outward demeanor – “you don’t see me get too up when we’re winning, you don’t see me get too down when we’re losing.” But that business-like exterior hid a fiery internal desire to succeed, such as in his first season after the Wolverines suffered two lopsided losses in a tournament at Landrum.
“It’s not easy to lose when you’re wired the way I am because I take every loss as I should have worked harder or worked smarter,” Stott said. “(That first year), my daddy said he saw someone from Landrum who said, ‘Boy, I sure felt sorry for Ty.’ I remember, I about had tears in my eyes, but I said they’re not going to feel sorry for us long. The next year we beat them at our place, beat them like a drum, then went to their tournament and won their tournament.
“I know the person meant well when they said they felt sorry for me, but I meant it when I said they weren’t going to feel sorry for me long. It was that kind of determination. There were days when I didn’t know if we ever would turn the program around. We were up against a mountain . .. but it was just sit up until three o’clock in the morning determined to come up with a better way to practice, a better lineup, whatever it may be. I’ve always had a passion like that for baseball.”
Stott’s passion for the sport and program helped fuel two extended periods of success. The first included the Wolverines’ initial conference championship, that coming in 2000 in the Smoky Mountain Conference, and two memorable moments.
“In ’99 we went 13-9 and got into the playoffs for the first time, which I knew was important because I knew in 2000 we were going to be really good,” he said. “I said, we can’t expect to do much damage in 2000 if we’ve never been in the playoffs. We got into the (1999) playoffs and lost to a really good East Surry team 3-2.
“In 2000, we got to the third round. We had the second round district championship game here, and I think the athletic director at the time said there were probably over 500 people at the game. When I started coaching, I had envisioned us getting to the point where we were really good and getting to the point where people would come to the games. I can remember getting ready for that game and standing on the foul line for the national anthem and the cars were just streaming down the hill even at seven o’clock. There was nowhere to park and people were everywhere.
“That’s obviously one of the most satisfying games of my career because there was so much happening. I knew where we started and people had told me in ’96, ’97, ’98, you need to get out of Polk. You’re never going to win there. There’s too much apathy. All this came together and people are streaming down the hill and there’s nowhere to park and we’re playing in a big game. We had a big home run late in the game and it sounded like a packed football stadium full of fans. It was just the best atmosphere.
“When we got into the Smoky Mountain Conference. . . you walk into the conference meeting, baseball, softball, golf, everyone is there. And there’s a bunch of trophies sitting in the corner. Our first year in the Smoky Mountain, I looked over there and thought, I’d really like to have one of those. I’d like to put one of those in a seat belt in my car on the way home. In 2000, when I walked into that coaches meeting and saw my trophy sitting over there, I don’t know that I’d thought about anything else for five years.”
Stott credits a number of peers and mentors for helping him through his formative years:
Bill Metcalf, a Tryon native who had a Hall of Fame career at Chapman: “I coached with Bill Metcalf in a fall league that year, and he invited me to come be his volunteer assistant coach (just before Polk County called). It felt like I was going to work for the Yankees for 2.5 million dollars a year. I was terrified he was going to change his mind. If I could be two places at once, I would have given anything to have one season (with Metcalf). I coached with him in fall ball and he taught me a lot.”
Rob Weber, Polk County’s athletic director when Stott was hired: “Rob Weber was my first athletic director. I was not the easiest person to teach, a 24-year-old who knew everything. It might have taken two weeks to sink in or a year or even five years, but he taught me more than I realized at the time.”
Jeff Wilson: “Coach Wilson was the softball coach, and we always had that kind of working relationship. We also taught together and he was the athletic director for 13 years. He was great to bounce ideas off and things like that. Those two, as athletic directors for a majority of my career, it was huge.”
District administrators Susan McHugh and Bill Miller: “Honestly, I don’t know how you could have three people over you (including Weber) and be in a better situation.”
Coaches around the area: “You look at the legends of coaching who were still coaching when I started. Every team had a legend coaching. They’re all gone. You’re talking about Steve Coley at Landrum, Gary Rivers at Hendersonville, Dean Jones at East Henderson, Jim Hyatt at West Henderson, Tom Smith at T.C. Roberson. Bill Metcalf was still at Chapman. A lot of people don’t know these names, but these are Hall of Fame-type coaches. All of those people were still coaching when I started, and I got to learn from them.”
Following a 14-7 mark in 2001, Polk County moved into the Southern Foothills Conference – “the best 1A conference in the state,” Stott said – and hovered around the .500 mark for four seasons. But a move to the Western Highlands Conference in 2006 and an influx of talent set the stage for the second run of success in Stott’s tenure, beginning with a share of the WHC championship in 2007. A pair of late losses that season by Owen and a Polk County winning streak led to the Wolverines hosting Hendersonville for the chance to share the league title.
“2007 is the year we got good, and that’s what the new coach will hopefully understand, that it can be one game that can spark it,” Stott said. “We went into spring break 2-3, and I remember going into spring break I had a decent feeling that we’d be all right. I’m thinking we’re going to make the playoffs. We come back and we start beating everybody.
“(Against Hendersonville, Polk trailed 3-1 entering the bottom of the seventh). I blink and all the sudden, we’ve got the bases loaded and no one out. We had our number nine hitter up. He hits the hardest ball he’s ever hit in his life, the third baseman makes a diving catch, reaches over and tags the bag. We’re lucky it wasn’t a triple play. I wish I had a picture of my face because I was not being the positive guy. It was the worst few seconds you could ever have in your life. Brandon Jolley comes up, we’ve got men on first and second. Brandon gets two strikes on him, and at that point, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I may go home and drown myself in the bathtub or just drive off the road going home.
“Brandon Jolley hits a ball, the left fielder comes in, tries to make a diving play and the ball gets by him. We score from first and second, we score them both and we tie it up. Then they don’t score in the eighth inning and we come in and get the bases loaded again and Ethan Edwards, who’s now at the middle school, comes up and he lines one up the middle.
“It snowballed from there. We won a couple of pretty easy games, then in the third round got beat by Cherryville. Next year it was like everyone had gotten so much better and confident. We expected to win. Just from that previous year, we were riding high and we expected to beat teams. It snowballed and people were like, man, Polk is really good. It just kind of happened overnight. That took us on about a seven-year magical run that was unbelievable. First or second in the conference every year, four conference championships and three second-place finishes. It all started with Brandon Jolley and that seventh inning. It had to happen the way it happened. Had Brandon not had that hit, I’m convinced the seven-year run would not have been what it was.”
The four WHC titles accumulated during that run, along with the earlier league crown, rank among Stott’s favorite memories.
“I used to tell Josh McEntire, I know that five conference championships doesn’t sound like a lot, but you’ll see when you get to be a head coach that it’s a lot,” Stott said.
“The conference championships, I’ve always said, they’re special. I used to tell Bruce Ollis, if they got beat in a playoff game or upset in a playoff game, I said Coach, people don’t know how far you made it in the playoffs. Ten years from now, if you ask someone, in 2003 how far did the football team go. ‘I think they made it to the fourth round.’ They didn’t make the fourth round. They never got past the third round. But they remember those conference championships.”
McEntire and assistant coach Billy Alm were present throughout most of that seven-year streak of success.
“Josh was unbelievable at his job, being an assistant coach and being a first base coach and not overstepping his bounds,” Stott said. “We had a run there for several years where me, him and Coach Alm were just living the high life. It was a lot of fun.”
Throughout his 21 years, Stott showed a willingness to try new ideas in order to help the program. Junior varsity teams used to play at the same time as their varsity counterparts, but at a different location. Stott began playing JV/varsity doubleheaders, and soon all schools did so. Polk had a fall team in a South Carolina league for a time and the Wolverines were among the first schools to hold winter workouts. The program explored different ways of raising funds, at one point having 81 sponsors involved with the team.
“We worked and we were doing things no one else was doing,” Stott said. “That kind of stuff, everyone is doing now. You can’t get ahead by just doing that. We got ahead by hard work and determination and a bunch of kids who wanted to work and get better. It’s hard to do that now because everybody’s caught on.
“We’ve had a camp for 19 years that at one time was putting out 100 kids. Then a lot of people caught on and said we can do a camp for our kids and make money for our program. Now there’s so much going on that we’ve got 20 kids. The amount of money we raised over the years to do the things we do. Bill Miller used to come down and ask, where’d you get the money to do that? We raised it.”
A new coach will lead Polk County this spring, and Stott will happily be a proud parent, cheering on his daughter during Polk County softball games.
But there may well come a spring when the call of the diamond beckons, and Stott will rekindle the passion and see where it leads him.
“I think, after a few years, I may be interested in getting into coaching baseball again in some way or another,” Stott said. “There are a few places in the area that I have always been interested in seeing what I could do there. Or maybe be an assistant coach.”
Note: Ty Stott wanted to say a word of thanks to all of the assistant coaches who worked with him during his 21-year tenure. They included:
Mark Emery – 1996-2001
Wink Mintz – 1996-1997
Jamie Davis – 1999-2005
Don Landrum – 1999-2001
Ricky Greene – 1999
Nic Johnson – 2000
Josh McEntire – 2002-2015
Steven Pack – 2002- 2004
John Ruth – 2006-2011
Billy Alm- 2008- 2013
Justin Harris- 2010
Clint Harris- 2011
Josh Money- 2014- 2016
Zach Searcy- 2016