Brittney Lofthouse — Staff Writer

In the late 1990s, coaches Keith Brooks and Eddie Sutton were looking for a place for a baseball field they could call home. Dennis Sanders, who served as the principal of Macon Middle School at that time, offered a small used area on the school’s campus for a possible field. It wasn’t long after Sanders offered a space, that Coach Sutton was having breakfast in town complaining about not being able to play ball that week at the recreation park field when Lewis Penland offered up his services to build a field at little or no cost. 

That breakfast conversation turned into more than just a baseball field for the Panthers but grew to also include a soccer field and a softball field, all build by Penland at his own cost. Because of Penland’s never-ending support and unwavering dedication, on Friday, the Panthers officially dedicated the fields at Macon Middle School and unveiled the “Lewis Penland Sr. Sports Complex.” 

Penland wasn’t alone in his efforts to create the sports complex, and with the help of volunteers and matching funds from the county commissioners, the money needed to build up the stadiums was raised. Mary Ann McConnell worked tirelessly and left no stone unturned collecting donations for the baseball field, while her husband, Harley Lee McConnell, a local contractor, started the long journey of building the structures and helping Penland to make Franklin High School’s baseball field one of the best fields in western North Carolina. Harley spent countless hours using his workers, at no cost to the school system and calling in volunteers that owed him favors to help build the field. Because of their combined efforts and instrumental roles in the creation of the baseball field, the baseball field was officially named the McConnell Baseball Field on Friday. 

To celebrate the dedication of the sports complex and baseball field, members of the Franklin High School’s 2001 championship team along with coaches who have guided the Panthers over the years were also on the field on Friday.