Five years ago, Paul Cromie joined the North Gwinnett softball team as an assistant coach, and one of the Bulldogs’ first wins that season was against Forsyth Central in the annual Hawk-Bulldog Tournament hosted by Mill Creek and North Gwinnett.
Cromie didn’t get another chance to assess Central’s program until this past season, and he got a much different perspective after Central’s 8-4 victory.
“They had just come leaps and bounds,” Cromie said. “It was day and night with the talent, the intensity, the discipline.”
That was Cromie’s biggest impression upon being named Central’s next softball head coach on April 11. The program he inherits from Kaelin Stevens, who stepped down in late March after five seasons, is much-improved. Stevens bolstered the program’s confidence and competitiveness, particularly against county opponents, helping the Bulldogs reach the state playoffs this past season for the first time since 2012.
But North Gwinnett was a program with bigger aspirations than just making the state playoffs during Cromie’s time. Indeed, North Gwinnett never missed the state playoffs in his five seasons there and reached the GHSA Softball Championships in Columbus three times (2013, 2015, 2016), including capturing the 2016 Class 6A state championship.
That’s where Cromie sees taking Central softball next.
“I’ve been fortunate to go to (the GHSA Softball Championships) three of the last five years, and once you get a taste of it it’s amazing,” Cromie said. “It’s something I would love to share with the community.”
Cromie is originally from Middletown, New York, where he coached in private schools for a few years after graduating from the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. He moved to Georgia in 1992 and has coached everything from basketball, football, soccer and track and field, first in Douglas County for eight years and Gwinnett County the past 14.
Baseball had always been Cromie’s specialty, but softball grew on him when he joined North Gwinnett’s program under head coach Randy Black. Taking part in North Gwinnett’s recent success motivated Cromie to consider leading his own program.
Cromie’s family moved to Forsyth County two years ago, and when Stevens stepped down Cromie saw the potential to make an impact through the sport in his own community.
“I’m looking at it as an opportunity to leave a legacy,” Cromie said. “To take the program that coach (Stevens) has done such a great job with and hopefully take it the next level.”