Progress 2024: The right time — Ellison leaves CCHS baseball program better than he found it

Published 2:23 pm Friday, May 17, 2024

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This story was originally featured in Progress 2024.

Story by Carey Reeder | Photos by Brandon Sumrall & Brittani Ellison

As spring air starts to blow into Chilton County, tens of baseball fields around the county are being prepped for the upcoming seasons this spring. Jack Hayes Field will have a new head man leading the preparations as long-time head coach Ryan Ellison stepped away from the program he helped build for nine seasons.

Peaches and baseball, it is what Chilton County is known for, and Ryan was no different than any other kid in the county growing up with baseball dreams. He started playing baseball when he was four years old when his father took him to sign his brother up for a 5-6-year-old league. Ryan, being only 4 years old at the time, wanted to play too. The president of the park told his father, Hal, that if he coached the team Ryan could play. Hal agreed, and Ryan’s baseball career was born.

He continued to play baseball throughout his schooling and attended Isabella High School where he excelled on the diamond, earning a baseball scholarship to Troy University following graduation from IHS.

While at Troy, Ellison met his wife, Brittani, while Ryan was playing baseball and already getting into his postgraduate plans.

“I met him when he was about to graduate so he was already coaching,” Brittani Ellison said. “Pretty much as long as I have known him he has been coaching baseball.”

Brittani said that sports in general have always been a big part of Ryan’s life, and she believes it is an extension of the great times he had with his father growing up, all the way back to him volunteering to coach an upstart 4-year-old. She added that she sees Ryan seeing baseball as more than a game, but a chance to teach kids skills that can be used off the field as well and being there for them, as well as teaching them baseball skills.

“I basically followed the same career path that (my dad) did,” Ryan Ellison said. “Sports were always a big part of our life because he coached, I went to practices with him, I played and he coached me. I did not really know I would go into coaching in high school, but as I got into my college courses and majoring in education, that is when I realized that is what I am going to do.”

After graduating from Troy, Ryan wanted to stay close and got his first coaching job at Goshen High School just outside of Troy. Shortly after, he returned to Chilton County as an assistant at CCHS while working at Clanton Middle School. He then got the opportunity to coach at his alma mater Isabella for two seasons, but returned to CCHS to be the JV coach in 2013 and was subsequently named the head coach the following season.

“Baseball in Chilton County is a big deal, and there are a lot of kids who grow up through the park systems playing baseball,” Ryan Ellison said. “To have the opportunity to lead a program in Chilton County was special.”

In the nine seasons he spent at CCHS, the Tigers advanced to the state playoffs multiple seasons and made appearances in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. As his coaching career solidified at CCHS, the Ellison family grew as well with daughter Rylea getting a brother, Parker.

Coaching is long hours at the fields, and long hours away from home. The Ellisons travel to games as a family because that is the easiest way to get everyone together on a regular basis, so it was important to make baseball a family thing early on.

“(Baseball) is all Parker has really known, and he got to enjoy going to the games as he got older and all of the kids always included him and made him feel special,” Brittani Ellison said. “He has enjoyed growing up around it, and I know it has benefitted him with his sports as well.”

Ryan said there were many moments and memories he will hold on to from his time at CCHS, but one that sticks out to him the most was in 2019. CCHS was hosting Beauregard High School in the second round of the playoffs, and it was game three after the two teams split the first two games. CCHS was down 8-3 in the bottom of the 7th inning with 2 outs and no one on base, and they came back and won 9-8 to advance to the quarterfinals.

“It was one of those memories that you do not get a lot, but there are a lot of memories over nine years,” Ryan Ellison said. “I was fortunate to be able to coach a lot of high character kids, have some very supportive families and great assistant coaches that backed me and helped out along the way. I definitely could not have done it by myself, and all the support I received was a blessing.”

Ryan had thoughts about stepping away from coaching for a few years prior to 2023. Brittani said as their two kids got older, and Parker started playing baseball himself, there were times Ryan missed games due his coaching obligations that weighed on him. He wanted to have more time to coach Parker in the years that he could, but his role in the CCHS players’ lives meant a lot to him as well.

“It had been on his mind for a couple years, but he was not sure when he wanted to let it go because he loved being a part of the player’s lives,” Brittani Ellison said.

Then, things changed quickly just after the start of 2023. On January 24, 2023, Ryan found out he had colon cancer. He had surgery on Feb. 6, 2023 to remove half of his colon, and the operation was successful in removing all of the problematic areas.

Ryan got on the road to recovery quickly, and it only kept him away from the baseball field for the first few weeks of practice. He did not miss any games and sat in the dugout for the first handful of games, but after a few weeks into the season he was back on the field coaching third base.

Ryan is going back for quarterly scans and received good news at each checkup a year after surgery, and is on the full mend after surgery.

“He really enjoyed coaching, and he put a lot of thought and effort into making the team and boys as good of baseball players as they could be, but also as good of young men as they could be,” Brittani Ellison said. “He really tried to be a good example for them and be there for them when they needed him, and make it more than just there on the field but in all aspects. In all the years, he really did care about everybody, and wanted to do the best for them that he could. I am very proud of him as a baseball coach, but more importantly for the man he is.”

Now after stepping away from CCHS, Ryan Ellison will still be in the coaching realm, but at a different level coaching his son Parker, getting the chance to spend time with his son the same way his father did with him. He has already gotten involved with coaching Parker, coaching him in football last fall and in basketball during the winter, and getting to coach him in baseball in the spring.

“I am very thankful for the opportunity I was presented with 10 years ago to be able to be here at Chilton County, and have the opportunity to lead the program over the years I was here,” Ryan Ellison said. “I am thankful for all of the support the community and administration has had over the years, the parents we have had step up and be willing to do things above and beyond, all of the players I have gotten to coach and build relationships with and my assistant coaches as well.”