State of the program
The 2013-14 school year is over, so FCN sports editor Brian Paglia sits down with local athletic directors to talk about the triumphs and challenges of the past season.
Today: Forsyth Central
Sunday: North Forsyth
Wednesday: Pinecrest Academy
June 13: South Forsyth
June 15: West Forsyth
When Mike Woodard became Forsyth Central athletic director three years ago, he was something of a transplant. He’d been a coach and athletic director in parts of south Georgia for 23 years.
Three years later, Woodard said he feels a part of the Bulldogs family. He had a son graduate from Central. He has another son and a daughter, both rising sophomores, coming up through the school who play multiple sports.
"The decisions that I’ve had to make on a daily basis as athletic director had everybody’s kids’ best interest at heart," Woodard said. "No one wants to see Central athletics improve or have success more than I do, because I’m right back in that parent pool."
Indeed, Woodard announced earlier this year that he’s stepping down as athletic director to become Dean of Students. It’s just part of a big transition year for Central, which is getting a new principal (West Forsyth assistant principal Mitch Young) and athletic director (West Forsyth girls’ lacrosse coach Dan Kaplan).
Woodard talked with Forsyth County News sports editor Brian Paglia about his tenure the past three seasons and what’s in store for the Bulldogs’ new athletic leadership:
So here you are at the end of your tenure. What was the biggest issue you faced over the past three years?
"I got here in 2011 and I had to find 13 coaches. What the county allows, sports. That’s not counting community coaches. That’s just paid spots that Forsyth County school system says this is what we’ll pay for. When I got here I immediately had to find 13. The next year 28. This past year 39. Now 21 this year. … That number’s not that high when you look at that total number. Through my 28 years in public school education, I see the trend – consistency, or longevity, is not as long as it used to be. That’s probably become the biggest struggle being an athletic director."
How would you define longevity in high school sports these days?
"You tend to use your own personal philosophies in your decision making. As a [former] coach, I think four years, because that’s seeing a kid come up as a ninth grader brand new. If you can get people to stay four-plus years, that’s probably above normal now. As a parent, I even use personal experience. My son graduated last year from Central and had had four baseball coaches. Now we moved.
"Being an athletic director, that’s why I stress trying to get people when we do have vacancies to get people who can stay. The worst is you want kids and parents to buy into a program and then their coach leaves. It’s traumatic, but everybody’s skin is resilient. We’re getting better at moving on. We understand that changes occur."
What have you found makes Forsyth Central athletics unique from other schools?
"I can only speak from being on the inside of Central. I haven’t walked the halls of the other four public high schools. Just based on what everybody seems to be able to judge athletic programs on, as an outsider looking at those four and knowing what we provide from the inside, I think we deal with totally different characteristics than the other four schools."
"It’s according to what group of people you want to talk to, whether you want to talk about enrollment, of course, numbers; if you want to talk about finances. We just have different characteristics. But I guess all the schools can say that. To me, if that distinguished us, that’s what it would be. Inner city a little bit. A little bit smaller, of course. Not a proven track record.
"We seem to be spending a lot of time, and I feel like we’ve spent a lot of time, and I think we’ve gotten better just always trying to improve the image, and it’s sometimes hard to change peoples’ mind if there aren’t a lot of trophies right now to show immediate return. But I sense that we’ve changed. I think we have changed attitudes in the three years I have been here. I think we’re on the right track. Again, it’s some of those same old characteristics kind of rear their old heads."
But Central seemed to have some great moments this season: boys’ cross country made state for the first time, gymnastics made state, baseball was in the hunt for the playoffs.
"A good positive that I think is sometimes used to our disadvantage is those accomplishments. But I think what people see is Central is the oldest school in the county and it’s taken us this long to get some of those accomplishments. Whereas some of the newer schools who haven’t been around as long are getting to those levels within four, five and six years of existence."
Give me some of your favorite memories from your time here?
"You’re going to get the generic answer from every athletic director. It’s just the ability to have relationships with kids and families, and that’s been the case. …
"I just do not believe anybody will ever want to see Central athletics have more success than I did. I worked myself hours. As you go out, of course it’s just like the director’s cup standings came out today and we’re 55th. I probably put a lot more pressure on myself. I know I’m not all responsible, but being an athletic director I take that responsibility.
"The implementation of new [lacrosse] programs. We’re not at the level of where we want to be. We probably in my opinion started too fast. We probably should’ve stayed as a JV group again. I think studies should have been done. It was already in place before I got here. But the implementation of programs is always positive. And if you look back to where we were three years ago, there are a lot of positives that I’m thrilled about."
Central will be in a reconfigured region next school year. What do you think of the make-up of the region?
"We’re actually at a time now – again, three years ago when I took over as athletic director, we were the smallest Class AAAAA school at that time. Now we’re the largest. We’ve got two years to be one of the largest. Top two or three, I think, according to enrollment. We’re excited about the next two years being able to have that, to be one of the larger Class AAAAA schools. With that also comes some anxiety that we’ve got two years to try to help turn this thing around, because again in two years we’ll be back as one of the Class AAAAAA schools and probably enrollment-wise we’ll be way down the list.
So you project Central will probably jump up in classification next time?
"If you look at the numbers and the things that have happened the three years I’ve been here, we’re close already. Top one or two [in Class AAAAA], I think, when the numbers came out in spring. Undoubtedly enrollment at Central has increased three years I’ve been here, so that’s how we look to be. … Like I said, we’ve got to take advantage the next two years with the region we’re in and put everything together to try to create some success that can catapult us when we do have to go back up with the big fish.
Any advice you’d give the next regime coming in to keep things going in the right direction?
"Just like any new coach, administrator – anybody coming in, too, I think there should be an evaluation of what worked and what didn’t work, and then an implementation of a philosophy. That would be my advice. Everything we did undoubtedly didn’t work, but then again there are things that we did that I think did work that don’t need to be ignored.
"But that again is based on the route and direction the new administration wants to go. Same three years ago. I came in and just evaluated the first year. With that comes change. That’s the first area of discern that happens. Everybody has to understand that and know that the reasons are made in the best interest [of the program]. Nothing’s done personally. It’s just what at that time seems to be in the interest of the program."
How about your new position of Dean of Students; what’s that going to entail?
"It will be a continuation of some of the day-to-day administrative duties. Be a part of Mr. Young’s leadership cabinet. … Basically anything that has to do with student life, whether it’s parking permits or detentions. Dean of Students is basically a go-to person that can make the students’ life more organized and stress-free."