The two were talking about the future of the program and what it would take to build excitement for the program. The Warriors had just gone 1-9 in Shaw’s first season, and the coach recalled Graham, the director of sponsorship for the school’s touchdown club, bringing up the idea of getting a videoboard.
“When (Shaw) came up from Etowah and took the job, Cherokee was starving for some good things to happen,” said Graham, whose son is a member of the freshman football team. “There was so much excitement that first year. At the end of the season, we were in the end zone looking up at our old scoreboard and I said, ‘Let’s put a Jumbotron in here,’ and he looked at me like I kicked him.”
Shaw admitted to laughing at the idea, but the two kept talking.
Soon, a plan was hatched to install a new scoreboard at the school, complete with the county’s largest videoboard. The key part of the plan was to have sponsors back the entire purchase, so that neither touchdown club nor the school district would be responsible for making the payments.
Shaw said Cherokee principal Debra Murdock quickly got on board.
With Graham contacting businesses in the area, often one-by-one, the financial backing soon came together.
“I started talking to businesses and a lot of them wanted to support us,” he said. “I put a proposal together and reached out to those who were a part of the Cherokee family.”
Cherokee scored a big win when Graham contacted a man whose son is coming up through the football feeder system. The man is an employee of YESCO, one of the nation’s top digital sign and videoboard companies. Through him, Graham was able to put together a payment plan that suited the school.
Graham said he didn’t target specific companies — he emailed business registered with the Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce that operated in Canton — but he found that many of those who chose to be sponsors had a connection to the school.
For example, Steven Folsom of 911 Restoration is a Cherokee graduate, while Beth Dozier of ReMax Town and Country has a son who graduated from the school. Juan Butler, who owns Vertical Vision Financial Marketing, was another top sponsor. Butler has a son who graduated from Cherokee, and younger children zoned to attend the school.
Other sponsors with connections to the school include Gregg McDermott (Texas Roadhouse), Eric Stark (Supreme Lending), Dr. Chris Alvey and Kathy Alvey (BridgeMill Animal Hospital), Josh Baby (ALFA Insurance), Billy Cagle (Mid-City Pharmacy) and Sheree Edmondson (Allstate).
Shaw said the project would not have been possible without the help of the local businesses.
“Those businesses are the ones that will be making the payment for us for the next five years,” Shaw said. “There was not any money coming out of football. We actually solicited the sponsorships before we purchased it. We sold all those people on the vision of it. They believed in that vision when we really had nothing to show them.”
Altogether, more than $125,000 was pledged to the project.
“We are completed sold-out right now and there is a little bit of a waiting list,” Graham said.
The scoreboard was installed in the north end zone of Tommy Baker Field at the end of May, making Cherokee the second of the county’s six schools — after Woodstock — with a videoboard.
“When that thing is on, it is amazing,” Graham said.
The new addition won’t just benefit the teams that use the field. A class has been added at Cherokee to train students to operate the board.
Joe Steward, head of the school’s video production department, will head up the class.
“We are going to do the whole kit and kaboodle,” Shaw said. “In our video production class, there will be an internship through them to run it. They will have a class that is responsible for creating the effects for the game. We are going to have instant replay in the games, in-game commercials and pre-game commercials from our sponsors and introduce starting lineups. We just didn’t want to get it for the sake of getting it. We wanted to get it and be as effective as we can with it.”
The plan for football season is to have two active video cameras at each game. One will focus on in-game action, while the other will be a “fan-cam” to engage the audience.
Fans attending Cherokee’s first home game, Sept. 13 against North Forsyth, will be treated to introductions by Jay Crawford, an anchor with ESPN’s “SportsCenter” and an acquaintance of Graham’s.
“He is going to do an intro for us for the very first game,” Graham said. “We are working this up to be something big.”
The resolution of the videoboard is high enough that it can be viewed even in daylight. There are also plans to host movie nights.
“We can open up the concession stand and bring everyone in with a lawn chair and they can sit on the game field and we can watch a movie and do a mini-fundraiser,” Shaw said.
Still Shaw thinks back to the day nine months ago, when it all started to take shape, and he said it never would have happened without Graham.
Graham lived in Chicago until 2007, but upon his arrival in Canton, he quickly adopted the school as his own.
“I bleed Cherokee,” he said. “I just saw so many opportunities here for things that we could do for the community.”
Graham, meanwhile, said that none of it would have been possible without the support of Murdock.
“She made it easy,” he said. “She understood what it meant to her program, what it meant to her student base, what it meant to the players. It was easier than what I thought it would be, and it was extremely easier than what coach Shaw thought. He thought this was a long shot, and I told him, ‘Let’s just keep the faith,’ and we did.”
The upgrades at Cherokee are expected to continue in the upcoming year with the addition of a new field house.