Jamie Corr has been around Forsyth County sports for a while, but his job this year was a little bit different than what he was used to, and quite a bit more demanding.
Not only was he stepping into the role of athletic director for the first time in his career, but he was doing it with a blank canvas. It was on him to help shape the athletic program at Denmark, a brand new school with no history, no culture and no seniors. He’d experienced plenty of success in his time as the head baseball coach at Lambert, but Corr understood that he didn’t know everything, and he didn’t hesitate to reach out when needed.
“I leaned heavily on the other county ADs, and they were incredible in offering all kinds of advice and best practices,” Corr said. “Whether it be Scott Tilden, Drew Ferrer, Keith Gravitt, Brett Phipps, Dan Kaplan… At one point I called each and every one of them about something, and they were immediately helpful in helping me resolve almost anything we had in year one.”
And for Denmark, year one was better than anyone inside or outside the school’s still-freshly painted walls ever expected. The football team, led by high-caliber recruit Ze’Vian Capers, showed flashes of things to come in the fall with a season that saw the Danes beat significantly older teams, including Forsyth Central, a playoff squad in Class 7A.
As the year went on, the accomplishments piled up. Competition cheer won the first region title in school history, and boys basketball followed that up with the school’s first deep playoff run, earning an improbable Region 7-4A championship along the way behind the play of point guard Sutton Smith.
Region titles: 3
Team state titles: 0
Individual state titles: 4
Director’s Cup finish: 15th in Class 4A (15th in boys, 25th in girls)
Best boys state finish: 2nd in baseball
Best girls state finish: 2nd in cheerleading, gymnastics
And the success didn’t stop there: in the spring, boys tennis won the school’s third region title en route to a state quarterfinals appearance. At the state gymnastics meet, Sarah Wilson took home four individual state titles in Class 4A. But perhaps the biggest shock of the season came from baseball, who orchestrated a run to the state championship series as a No. 4 seed after being just one loss away from missing the playoffs entirely.
The best part about all of it? The Danes aren’t done. Every single one of those teams is bringing basically everyone back, and some squads, like football, have even added some more big names. The expectations are higher than Denmark could have ever anticipated a year ago, but the Danes are ready and excited for whatever comes next.
Editor’s note: Responses and questions have been edited for length and clarity.
FCN: Just a year ago, this was a new school and there was a lot of uncertainty as to how the athletic program was going to pan out. What do you think has happened since then to get where you are now?
Corr: Looking back at last spring, when the building was constructed, there was a lot of pushback about who was being forced to come here. A lot of people were really resentful for the fact that they were being made to come to Denmark. That's because it was just a building. Once you add the people, the entire culture changed. Now people are really fighting to get here because we've added the right people in the building in the right spots, whether it be administration, coaches, faculty... Everyone sees that this is falling in line with all the other various successful Forsyth County schools.
(Principal Heather) Gordy is our captain, and she's a master at making sure everyone in this building is going in the same direction. And it really is that culture of togetherness where the student athletes are working hard for the coaches. The coaches are working hard for the faculty. The faculty is working hard for the administration, and it reciprocates. The community involvement's been amazing. Everybody is jumping on board and getting on that ship, and when you have that entire culture all together rowing in the same direction, you can make waves immediately.
FCN: Your teams had plenty of successes in year one, but it’s made even more interesting by the fact that none of them had any seniors. Did you ever see that kind of youth as a hindrance and how did the teams pull off what they did?
Corr: It could have been an easy crutch to fall on but instead, we just adopted the philosophy of 'It doesn't matter.' We don't care if we don't have seniors. The spring sports saw the success of football -- going 5-5 in a collision sport with no 18-year-olds. They just realized, 'Maybe it just doesn't matter.' So then you had the run of (boys) basketball to the Elite Eight with no seniors in a sport where physical development is paramount. Baseball turns that into a state finals appearance, and so I think everyone fed off each other and realized that we're not going to use no seniors as a crutch. We're not going to use (the fact that we're) just a first-year program developing as a crutch -- No. We're made to compete in year one. We will compete in year one.
A large part of our success is our coaches' ability to share athletes. That is not commonplace anymore. In this building, it's amazing to watch the camaraderie between a (head football coach Terry) Crowder and a (boys basketball coach Tyler) Whitlock, and develop individual training schedules for a Ze'Vian Capers, for an Adonnis Tolbert. The sharing of athletes is paramount when you're opening a new school. There's not hundreds of bodies walking through here that are ready for varsity competition, so the ones we do have, we have to take the most advantage of.
FCN: Of course, baseball went the furthest of anyone, but their run was also the most improbable. Could you ever have expected what they did and what do you think changed for them?
Corr: It's funny, as you coach, there's going to be years where you start the season and you know you're loaded. You know you're in for something special that year. When it happens, you're like, 'That was a lot of fun, but we knew it.' When you have the kind of season we had, it's a whole new level of appreciation. You had a team that struggled to learn how to win a baseball game (against) anybody -- it didn't matter who. And then all of a sudden they found out, if we just fix this, if we move a component here or there, now all of a sudden, we know how to win. Once you learn how to win, you have to replicate it, and they learned that. You go into a semifinal against Blessed Trinity who, on paper, is night and day from Denmark. But we don't play the game on paper, we play it on a field. On the field, Denmark was the better team. That baseball run capped off an incredible first year.