Editor's note: A summer series looking back at the athletic year that was for each Forsyth County high school with the county's athletic directors.
Dan Kaplan did not get it printed on signs or stitched onto t-shirts, but from the start of the 2015-16 school year at Forsyth Central the Bulldogs’ second-year athletic director quietly and consistently plugged the mantra of “P and R” to his coaches.
“Progress and respect,” Kaplan said. “Let’s continue working on gaining progress on any sport or program you’re in, and let’s continue to earn respect.”
There were plenty of signs Central succeeded at doing both the season before the school moves from Class 5A into the state’s largest classification, the newly created Class 7A, and into the same region as sister schools Lambert, North Forsyth, South Forsyth and West Forsyth.
The Bulldogs had two teams finish runner-up in the state – a senior-laden boys cross country team and deep gymnastics team that also won county. Competition cheer finished fifth. Baseball won its second straight region championship. Girls soccer made an impressive run to the state quarterfinals. Wrestling had its first individual placer (Abraham Perez) at the traditional state tournament in years. Swimming and diving had state placers in Micah Gillam, Logan Belt and Ashley Cesario. Bonnie McKinnon helped the girls cross country make a long-awaited return to the state championships, then placed at the state track meet, along with Taliyah Manning.
Ten teams in all represented Central in postseason play to help the Bulldogs improve in the Regions Directors Cup from 39th last season to 20th.
FCN: Was your second year as an athletic director easier than the first?
Kaplan: “I had more of a groundwork of what to expect. I’m a big timeline guy. I’m scheduled. So I knew, alright, in the summer I knew what was coming up. Had to get the GHSA dues in, our region dues in and certain forms turned in. And as the weeks went along, as you got ready for winter sports you kind of knew what had to be turned in. I guess you could say it was easier, yeah.
“The relationships [with athletes and coaches] were further bonded. In certain sports we had a large percentage of seniors, like our baseball team for instance, another great season that they had, back-to-back region champs. They had a large contingent of seniors where on the other side of the spectrum, but just as successful, our girls soccer team had a large amount of freshmen and sophomores. So there’s a really neat dynamic that a lot of our established programs had some older kids but some of our programs that are starting to establish themselves have such a young core of kids.”
FCN: Your two biggest coaching hires this season – Brian Welsch for volleyball and Frank Hepler for football – I think a lot of people were impressed with the caliber of coach you were able to bring on board.
Kaplan: “Both high-quality men, which we look for all our head coaches to be quality people. When we got here we had such quality people. With the addition of those two gentlemen and the extiement we had in the spring, I can kind of feel the quality of our five fall coaches in place, we’ve got a great core of fall leaders that we’re so excited about. We have so much comfort in our fall five. And then you look at our winter sport coaches and the quality and depth they have, and obviously our spring coaches have it with what we’ve just gone through. I’m very proud to be associated with our head coaches. Parents who I speak to are very, very pleased with the folks who we have guiding their kids and teaching them to be young adults.”
FCN: Considering Hepler’s reputation in the county, how much of a buzz did the announcement of his hiring create?
Kaplan: “Obviously, we got a boost of buzz, just with the success he’s had at another school in Forsyth County. They did fairly well there, from what I understand.
“Every place he’s been – he was a long-term coach in south Florida. His record speaks for itself down there, and then the amount of quality players and the amount of quality men he produced, kids who still call him today for advice.
FCN: You made a jump from 39th to 20th in the Directors Cup standings. Another good sign of “P and R?”
Kaplan: “A direct reflection of what our kids are doing and the leadership our kids are giving them. When I got here there was such a quality of a coach already and such a quality kid, just with the continued support and the dynamics of their programs, they’ve been able to establish momentum. The whole kind of theme has been when a couple programs have been successful at a school, other programs want to emulate that. I think there’s a little fever going where other programs are saying, Hey, we want to be successful too. Even some of our programs that have not made it to the postseason, they’re continually trying to find ways to take the next step. Whether it’s a small leap in another sport and they double up their wins but it may not be making the postseason, they’re still making strides to get to where they want to be. You can throw a dart any of our 23 sports and I can tell you there’s been progress made in all of them.”
FCN: Next season you move into a new region. You get to join your sister schools in Region 5-7A. What is the level of anticipation around the program for the move?
Kaplan: “I think the vibes are excitement. The kids are excited about being able to play people they know. In regions we’ve played in in the past we’ve travelled as far as seven counties. So there haven’t been any real rivalries.
“When the first inkling of us being in the region with the FoCo Five and Milton, everybody was like, ‘Do you really want to be in there?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I want to be in there. Who is our rival?’ And nobody could come up with who our rival is. I think we’re going to return to some great rivals we’ve had in the past. That alone is going to breed excitement and continue our hopeful progress and respect in the county and the state.”