The facts remain: Lambert High School won three state championships (girls and boys golf, girls swimming), finished runner-up in two other sports (cheerleading, girls soccer) and advanced to state competitions in every sport but one.
It was enough to make Lambert the first school not in Cobb or Gwinnett counties to win the Regions Director’s Cup in Class AAAAAA after hovering in the top five since the school opened in 2009.
“I think it tells us all that we can do it and to continue to push toward that,” Lambert athletic director Drew Ferrer said. “I think that it’s a great goal every year to be top 5 in that if we can. I think that’s a new benchmark for us.”
Forsyth County News sports editor Brian Paglia spoke with Ferrer about the athletic department’s banner year and what he learned as interim baseball coach this past season.
Paglia: So how did you feel the athletic year went from start to finish?
Ferrer: “I felt we had a great year. In the fall, we had a new transition with the football coach [Louis Daniel], and I thought they got better as the year went on, which is great to see. The kids responded well to him and his staff. I felt like the football team really got us going in a good direction. In the first two or three games, everybody was a little uncertain, and then they just kept getting better.
“Our cross country teams did pretty well this year, and then we moved into winter and had a very strong winter. Our wrestling team did well. Our swimming and diving did well. Both basketball teams did great. Another change there with coach Fisher, and I thought she did an outstanding job. She had a young team and had a great season, competed well throughout the season. I think they peaked at the right time and beat Pope [in the first round of the state playoffs].
“And Scott [Bracco] winning the region the way he did was amazing. I think the fact that he had so much depth and played so many kids throughout the year and the style of play he had helped him when they had kids go down. It was neat to see them win that game and win the region [tournament] for the first time.
“Coming out of the winter moving into spring, our spring sports usually do well, and this year was no exception. They did great this year. Everybody did very well. I think we had everybody in the spring make the playoffs. It was neat. I felt like we had a great year.”
Paglia: Obviously we’ve talked about winning the Director’s Cup already, but what do you hope that does for Lambert athletics going forward?
Ferrer: “It was neat to finally win it, and I think for this year that everybody did an outstanding job of preparing their teams and getting to the playoffs and everything behind that. Going forward, I think it tells us all that we can do it and to continue to push toward that. I think that it’s a great goal every year to be top 5 in that if we can. I think that’s a new benchmark for us.
“And even the kids were aware of it, which was neat. Some of the boys golfers were asking before the state tournament, Where are we points-wise? If we do well what happens? That’s not something we’ve talked about with athletes. I just think they’ve started paying attention to it, and I think that’s kind of neat too. You want your kids to feel ownership in the school and the program and to be proud of it and to want to achieve something.”
Paglia: How did you like being in the head coaching seat with the baseball team?
Ferrer: “I think professionally it was probably the best thing for my career. I was able to see some things. I’ve never been a head coach before. I’ve been an assistant coach for a long time and assistant AD, but to actually be in their seat was very good for me. You can talk about a lot of different practices and things, but until you finally do it I think you get a new perspective. I think it was great in that regard.
“I enjoyed it a lot. It was a lot of fun to be around the kids and prepare them and do everything. At the same time, I felt like I was not as effective supporting the other programs like I try to do. I’m obviously really excited that Rick [Howard, former Brookwood baseball coach] is coming in to take over the program. I think he’ll do a great job, and I think for me it gave me an opportunity to professionally grow and hopefully become better at the AD position.”
Paglia: What kind of things did you learn or see as a head coach that you think will help you as AD?
Ferrer: “Start with tryouts. You run your tryouts, and as a group we’ve always discussed and tried to figure out a best practice for how to handle cuts. Some teams like to do them face to face. Some like to post it. There are various ways to do it. I think once you do it and see different things, you can hone in on a best practice.
“Communication with the team, players and parents. It’s different now. A lot of kids are using group texts and different things like that, GroupMe. It’s changing, and it was good for me to see it first-hand. Nothing huge, just things like that. Things are changing, and it’s a good thing.”
Paglia: What kind of plans do you have as an athletic department next season?
Ferrer: “I think one of the big things we want to do here is sustain. I want to see us be successful year after year. Not just coming out strong out of the gate in the first six years. I’d love to see us to leave something behind and sustained. The Brookwoods and the Waltons and some of those schools that have done it for so long, I think that’s the benchmark. I think anybody can have a good year or two, but to be able to do it consistently is that something that we want to strive for as a department, a school, a community.
“It’s great right to win this Director’s Cup. This year you can say that we’re the No. 1 athletic program in the state. But we want to sustain. I want to continue to be competitive in all areas. I want our teams to do well in AAAAAA and compete.”
Paglia: How much will Lambert be affected when Denmark High School opens?
Ferrer: “From my understanding – this could be wrong – but from my understanding is that it’s going to take from West Forsyth and South Forsyth primarily, and that the residual would be that some of our neighbors would end up going to South. I think it’s going to be 141, so you’ve got Bridleridge and some of the neighborhoods on 141, Deer Lake, some of those.
“It’ll be interesting to see. It’ll have a little bit of an impact, but we have the right coaches and right community to still be successful.”
Paglia: Yeah, about coaches. Last year, we talked about reaching this level of success and wondering who might come after your coaches. And then you had former baseball coach Jamie Corr leave for the college ranks. Do you get that feeling this year at all?
Ferrer: “We enough people here that are all in. They’re completely invested. They moved over here. Their kids are in the community. They want to see their kids come through here. So I think we have a good base of that.
“But at the same time, I think Scott Bracco – and I’m biased – but I think he does as good a job as anybody in the state, and I think he could easily run a college program. I think we have some others like that too.
“But I think they’re so bought in here that they’re all invested and all in. That makes me very comfortable on our end. We’ve got to do a good job on our end too to support them as an administration and staff.”
Paglia: I hear that a lot from athletic directors. What does that support from an athletic director look like?
Ferrer: “Like camps, for instance. We are very good about allowing our coaches to run camps and do that through the parks and rec and allow them to supplement their programs and their incomes. Their assistant coaches get paid through that.
“It looks like having a good protocol set up so if there’s an issue with playing time, we support the protocol they set where if a player is not playing much, they need to go talk to coach first. And if they can’t get that resolved or get on the same page, then maybe parents step in and talk to coach.
“On the flipside would be them calling me directly and saying, I want to talk to coach about not playing my kid, and I meet with them, and then the coach would be like, Why are you doing that? So I think having some good protocols and policies and putting those in place to support them, whether it’s disciplinary or academic, whatever that is, making sure we’re doing a good job of supporting them. If it’s facilities, any of that kind of stuff.”
Paglia: How interested are you in the big realignment issues going on with the GHSA?
Ferrer: “It’s such a new idea that I haven’t really delved into it that much, but I get a lot of information from [North Forsyth athletic director] Nathan [Turner], because he goes to a lot of those meetings. The way I understand it right now, though, is that it doesn’t affect us as far as who we’re playing, because it looks like a lot of the same schools are going to be in this new Super 44. I think we just have to worry about what we can control, and that’s how we train and prepare kids to play, and that’s what we’ve got to focus on.”
Paglia: Any other high school athletic trends you’re keeping your eye on?
Ferrer: “You always have kids wanting to specialize. You always have good golfers, good tennis players, who homeschool, or they decide to not play for the school because they feel like they’re going to better prepare doing it on their own with their clubs. That’s always an issue.
“ I think that the high school athlete benefits so much from being a part of the school and the relationships with their teammates and things like that, I think it’s very special. We always have to sell that to kids, that this is a very special thing. If you’re a golfer, you very rarely get to play as a team, so I think it’s great for them. I think once they play high school sports they realize it’s a great experience and they love it.
“Club seems to be getting bigger and bigger in soccer. They’re trying to make kids do contracts where they can’t play high school sports and just train with them. I think all schools and all programs are facing that. I think that’s a challenge.
“We’ve got to bring the right coaches in here. If we bring in good solid coaches in here and have good players around them, they don’t feel as though they can’t play high school.”
Paglia: To your point, both your soccer coaches (girls head coach Scott Luthart and boys head coach Chris Wilson) also work in the club soccer world.
Ferrer: “That helps, because the parents start to know them a little bit, but they’re also high school coaches. It helps to have guys like that.
“This is a different subject, but I thought Scott and his team did a phenomenal job this year. I thought they overachieved and he really got the most out of those girls, got them to play together well and did a great job.”