By Doug Gorman
When high school baseball teams return to the diamond next season, Henry County head coach Jason Shadden will have to find something else do with his time.
After several years around the game as a player, assistant coach and later a head coach, Shadden has decided to step down from the game he loves.
Shadden has good reason for calling it quits. He wants to spend more time with his family.
The Shadden family grew by one last week when son, Grayson, was welcomed into the world.
He joins 10-year-old Brandon and 4-year-old Hayden,
Shadden broke the news to his team after the Warhawks played Monticello at the end of the season.
"Resigning was one of the toughest decisions I ever had to make," he said. "Nobody forced me out, but if I'm going to be a good husband and father, I felt this was the direction God was leading me."
The former Henry County baseball coach met his wife Kristy on an on-line Christian dating service and after a short time dating, the couple was soon married. Now he looks forward to watching his kids grow up.
Shadden still manages to keep close to the game.
He helps coach his oldest son's recreation team and is anxious to spend more time at home.
"I used to tell my players if they can't give 100 percent, they shouldn't be here," he said. "I didn't want to coach if I couldn't give 100 percent either. I knew if I was going to be a good father and husband this was something I was going to have to do because I couldn't give 100 percent to both."
Shadden is grateful he had the opportunity to coach at his alma mater. The 1995 graduate of Henry County High School played for legendary coach Chuck Campbell who brought him aboard the coaching staff when he started teaching at the school.
"He (Campbell) is totally revered for his baseball knowledge. He taught me discipline and all about the importance of fundamentals," Shadden said.
So much of what Shadden brought to the game as a coach, he learned from Campbell's influences.
He also got to spend time both when he was playing, and coaching around two other great baseball minds in Troy Baker and Jerry Smith.
Baker was a long-time assistant and went on to coach Henry County after Campbell stepped down, leading the Warhawks to a state title.
Smith was a fixture on the Henry County diamond, lending his baseball knowledge to the school for years. He also served as the team's summer league coach.
Shadden's path to coaching began after college. The former Warhawk had a chance to play at Gordon College when he tried out and was invited to join the team. However, he decided not to play, electing to join an adult league instead. He also used the time to concentrate on academics.
During his college days, he also cut his coaching teeth, working with youth league programs.
He got his teaching certificiate from Georgia College in Milledgeville then moved into teaching special ed at Henry County about 10 years ago.
Once he started teaching back at his alma mater, Campbell quickly brought him back into the Warhawk baseball family.
He started as a freshman coach, coached the junior varsity squad and then was promoted to head varsity coach when Baker resigned.
Through it all, he has coached some great players, but none better than current Braves' rookie right fielder Jason Heyward.
Shadden has some great Heyward stories starting when the future No. 1 draft choice was just a freshman.
"I was coaching the freshman team and Jason was already on the varsity, but we needed some pitchers and they let me have Jason for the day to come down and pitch. He was amazing even back then."
Shadden worked with him some when Heyward was a sophmore and junior, and finally got to serve as his head coach his senior year.
One of Shadden's favorite baseball memories came when Heyward hit a walk-off grand slam as Henry County beat Luella.
"He is only going to get better," Shadden predicted of Heyward, who is the leading candidate for NL Rookie of the Year.
He still remains close to Heyward and his fanily.
One of the first people to reach out to Shadden when he stepped down was Heyward's father Eugene.
"He just thanked me for working with his son when he was in high schools," Shadden said.
According to the former coach, once he decided to step down, he received plenty of support, especially from his team.
"I think they were a little bit sad and shocked, but I think they really understood. There were some tears, but there were also a lot of hugs too," Shadden said.
He also received plenty of support from outgoing principal Andy Giddens and retiring athletic director Chuck Miller.
"They both understood," he said. "They told me I coiuld never get this time back."
He also got support from the school's new co-athletic directors, Carl Caputa and Bob Smith.
Shadden's also consulted with his Dad before coming to a decision.
"He is sort of my go-to guy," he said. "We had several talks about what I was going to do."
He also consulted his three baseball mentors in Campbell, Smith and Baker.
"I probably talked to Troy the most about this," he said. "He didn't try to influence me in anyway, but he just told me to do what I thought was best for myself, my family and the program."