Athens softball star, Brynn South, has major league dreams. When she walks onto the diamond in the future, it won’t be to play. She wants to be one of the head groundskeepers of an MLB park. As a female in the turf management industry, she has a few role models at that level. However, they are rare. Head groundskeeper for the Baltimore Orioles, Nicole Sherry, gives South some advice: don’t quit.
“It is not easy to get a position in Major League Baseball, but they are there, ready with open arms to accept anybody who wants to study this type of position and has a passion for the game itself,” she said. “(Brynn) is a state softball champion, so she knows about dedication and loyalty already. There is no question there. If this is something she wants to pursue, I would say she keep going no matter what.”
Sherry is only one of two women to become director of field operations at the Major League level, a feat that makes South look up to her for her persistence.
“She is a big inspiration showing that girls can do it, too,” South said.
Sherry says South and all women should remain open to new possibilities when looking at a career in turf management.
“She really just needs to be willing to take opportunities, take a chance. (The job) might not be available in Alabama. It might not be available in Maryland. The job might be available in Colorado, or in Seattle. You can do it; you can definitely take that chance to go somewhere out of your comfort zone. It will lead to great things in the future.”
South says it wasn’t easy being a girl in the Athens High turf management class. But despite some teasing, she chose to continue on with her newfound passion, with encouragement from head baseball coach and teacher of the turf management class, Chuck Smith.
“I took the turf management class at school and realized ‘oh, I love this,’” South said. “No one treated me differently, but (Coach Smith) held me to a high standard.”
As a woman joining a male-dominated field, teasing is something Sherry experienced herself, but assures South that there are people along the way who are supportive as well.
“I have lived through everything the same as she has probably gone through, but there are so many people who want to see you succeed in this, who understand and are really behind you 100 percent. So, whatever obstacles she faces, just keep going through.”
The turf class has caught the attention of Sherry, who says she follows the Athens Turf Class on Twitter.
Smith, who started the class at AHS, said that South was one of the main people in the class to take a keen interest in the ins-and-outs of turf management.
“I truly believe she found her passion while being in class this past school year,” Smith said. “Ella She was always the one wanting to learn more and do more during class.”
One person who saw this potential in South is head groundskeeper for the Rocket City Trash Pandas’ Toyota Field, Charlie Weaver. South has served as a member of the grounds crew for the Trash Pandas during their 2022 season, making an impression on Weaver.
“Brynn is very passionate about groundskeeping and her drive and energy will take her as far as she wants in the groundskeeping world. We are very blessed to have Brynn on our staff,” Weaver said.
South and Sherry both found their love for turf management in congruence with their love of softball. The combination resulted in a long-time career for Sherry, and the beginning stages of a dream for South.
South was a part of the Athens High School Lady Golden Eagles softball team that brought home the championship near the end of May.
“The reality for that hasn’t really set in yet. We worked so hard for that and we took ‘state championship rep’ seriously (in the offseason and during practice). The seniors had been working towards that for a while,” South said.
Softball has given her an opportunity to show her character and leadership abilities, which head coach Travis Barnes says he certainly noticed.
“Brynn took pride in our softball field at Athens High. She has a great personality and would be great for a job in groundskeeping. Her attention from her to detail from her will serve her well as she pursues her career as a Major League groundskeeper. I see her putting forth maximum effort to get to that level!”
Softball is also providing her with an opportunity to get a head start on her education, as she will attend Motlow State University for the sport.
However, following her two years, she plans on going to Tennessee Tech or Mississippi State, which are both known for having agriculture programs, which will aid her goals of making it to the Major Leagues for turf management.
Sherry said that an agriculture degree would be just as valuable as a turf management degree in South’s pursuit of her goals. There are other focuses that could be helpful as well, such as meteorology to help with certain weather situations.
Sherry’s career began with her dream of working at Camden Yards after a visit during her pursuit of an agriculture degree from Delaware Tech, according to Baltimore Magazine. Her final year of her as an intern with the Orioles was Cal Ripken Jr.’s final season with the team.
“When I was coming up in it, I didn’t realize there weren’t a lot of women until I got into baseball and realized there are only 30 jobs and one other woman who has this position, which is Heather Nabozny with the Detroit Tigers. I remember doing my internship, then eventually being in an assistant position with the Orioles, and I was like ‘I really want to do this as a career.’ So I worked hard, went to the Minor Leagues for a little bit, and in 2006 the Orioles hired me as head groundskeeper. A little bit of grit and grind, and here I am, 17 years later.”
This career was inspired by the realization of potential from a love of softball, baseball and the upkeep of beautiful ballparks, much how South is currently inspired.
South achieved the next step to realizing her dreams when she was selected as one of the grounds crew members for the Little League Softball World Series in Greenville, NC, taking place in mid-August.
She will be one of 13 women on the grounds crew, and hopes to meet other prominent women and men in the turf management profession.
South says she is “interested in learning from others” who are in the field and was “shocked to hear” about her inclusion in the grounds crew and honored for her selection.
Another woman who has risen in the turf management profession is Leah Withrow, head groundskeeper for the Minor League’s Reno Aces. According to LinkedIn, Withrow majored in Sports Turfgrass Management at North Dakota State University.
Withrow will make an appearance at the Little League Softball World Series, and South is looking forward to meeting her, as she is another role model for her. Sherry said she wishes she could go to the LLSWS and meet South, but she will not be able to attend the premier softball event due to an Orioles home stand during the same dates.
Now, South is hoping to motivate other women the way Sherry and Withrow have motivated her.
“I want to show other girls ‘It might be me,” South said.