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Russellville celebrates retiring baseball coach’s legacy

The Russellville High School baseball program has been successfully led the past 10 years by head coach Chris Heaps, but an era is coming to an end: His retirement from public school education was celebrated recently by a large number of former players and supporters.

Heaps has been a tremendous asset to Russellville as a teacher, coach and mentor. His baseball record speaks for itself, including five AHSAA Class 5A state championships and a runner-up finish in 10 seasons.

Also included in his baseball accomplishments is a 2021 ASWA 5A Coach of the Year award.

His positive impact on his players and those involved with the baseball program is likley immeasurable.

Heaps will now be joining the private school baseball program at Briarwood Christian School in Birmingham.

“What he meant to me was that he was mentor,” said Cole Barnett, a former Golden Tiger player and state finals MVP from the 2021 title team who currently plays at Wallace State in Hanceville. “When I think of Coach Heaps, I think of how good he was as a coach, but the biggest thing for me is that he changed who I was as a man. He helped me out in more ways than people know.

“I used to be toxic to the dugout, and I was a ‘me’ guy,” Barnett admitted. “About my junior year, I really started to try and make a change for him, and it was all him. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be – not just the baseball player that I am – but the person that I am.

“I look back every day and use lessons that he taught me,” Barnett added. “I hate to see him go, but I’m happy he’s going to be closer to his grandson and get to be with his family.”

Russellville assistant coach Jay Stanley has been a key member of Heaps’ staff for the entire 10-year run. “He’s been phenomenal to work for, and he’s a very caring person,” Stanley said. “He cares about the players, the coaches and the whole program.

“He puts in unlimited time,” Stanley added. “I don’t know how he comes up with 25 hours in a day, but he has made 25 hours in a day to put into Russellville baseball for the past 10 years.

“It’s been a blessing to work for him. The things that he’s taught his coaches, taught his players, about not only baseball but about life and about being a better person – he should be commended for that.

“He’s well deserving of the opportunity that he’s got, and we’re all super proud, and we hate to see him go,” Stanley shared.

Jackson Lindsey, current University of Alabama in Huntsville player, was a member of the 2021 state championship-winning Russellville team. He was also the Class 5A hitter of the year and a first team all-state selection under Heaps.

“Coach Heaps gave me the opportunity to get where I am in baseball today,” Lindsey said. “He gave me the opportunity of getting on the team in middle school, and from then on, he saw something in me that I probably didn’t see in myself at that young age.

“Even if I wasn’t playing directly under him, everybody that he affected, it trickled all the way down to the bottom,” Lindsey explained. “From seventh grade all the way to the 12th grade, I can credit to him just about everything that I did.

“All the countless hours at the facility – he works like nobody else that I’ve ever seen,” Lindsey added. “All the success that he’s had, he’s earned it. It’s not luck; he deserves it.”

Heaps’ last squad at RHS was another in a long line of success stories on and off the field – including stars like Canyon Pace.

“It’s a blessing to be a part of the legacy that he’s left here,” said Pace, who recently signed with Union University. He was a senior on the 2022 state championship winning Russellville team, a first team all-state player, 2022 5A hitter of the year and entered the AHSAA record books this year by hitting home runs in three-straight plate appearances. He said Heaps “was one of those people who was going to give it his all every day. He wasn’t into building baseball players, even though he did. He was more into building young men.”

“It’s unbelievable to see what he’s done here and what he’s going to continue to do.”