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.
To read about Forsyth Central, click here.
To read about Lambert, click here.
Nathan Turner was coaching football at Clarke Central High School in Athens in the mid-1990s, a good spot to be then. Clarke Central was a marquee football brand in Georgia that contended in the playoffs and produced top college, and even professional, talent.
But in 1999, Turner was offered a chance to coach at North Forsyth High School with then-head football coach Bruce Miller and principal Mike Weaver. He’d be closer to his Hall County roots, so he took it despite North’s meager history in football at the time.
Seventeen years later, Turner has no regrets.
“What a special 17 years it was,” he said.
This past school year was Turner’s last at North. He’ll soon officially become Athletic and Activities Coordinator for Forsyth County Schools, starting July 1.
The Raiders gave Turner plenty to celebrate in his final season. Wrestling finished second at the state duals and traditional tournaments and had its first individual state champion (Jackson Bardall) in 13 years. Baseball hosted a state playoff series for the first time in 10 years and reached the second round. Softball returned to the state playoffs, and boys swimmer Jack Dalmolin had a podium finish at the state meet. Boys golf qualified for the state sectionals as a team for the first time ever, and had its first individual qualify for the state tournament – all after the tragic summer passing of team member Joe Dumphy.
Turner had his own noteworthy moments. He led the creation of Region 5-7A that will include all five county public high schools and was athletic director of the year in Georgia.
FCN: In the time you’ve been here, what has made North Forsyth distinct and special from the other high schools?
Turner: “We can talk about the growth of this county all we want, but that community feel in the north Forsyth and Coal Mountain community is real special. That’s what kept me hanging on. That closeness. You look back and 17 years later it was a special run.”
FCN: In specifically during your time as athletic director tenure, how have you seen North athletics change?
Turner: “When I took over I wouldn’t say we were at a low point, but we were definitely at an adjustment point going into Class 5A, at the time the highest classification. You had a lot of doubters – can we compete at the 5A level? A lot of people said we needed to be in 3A, we needed to be playing the mountain schools.
“And you had to really working with the coaches and the kids to change the mindset, because even then some coaches would say, Oh, we can’t compete. You start talking to the coaches and the kids and believing that you can, that you can do this. We’ve had to work hard over the last six years to do that. I feel now that we’re not afraid to play anybody anymore. We’re in 7A. So be it. Let’s play.
“When we first got into that 5A region with some of the Gwinnett schools. One of the big nights was when Jared Zito was the head football coach, and we beat Norcross. That was a turning point for the school. Things like that happened. Coach Cahill and the baseball team got in the playoffs, and I think we went to Lassiter and competed, put them on the ropes. We started to realize, hey, we can play with these teams.
“Now you talk to a young kid, it doesn’t faze them to go line up against a 7A opponent. It’s just part of it now. That’s been one of our biggest adjustments, is turning the ‘we can’t’ into the ‘we can’ compete.”
FCN: You’re certainly familiar with your replacement, Scott Tilden.
Turner: “Real excited to have Scott back home. He was an integral part of Raider Nation in the early years. Really knows the schools and culture and community. It was really good to see Scott to get that job. He’ll do great things. He’s already building those relationships and bonds and making them stronger with everyone. He has a heart for north Forsyth and a passion for Raider Nation.”
FCN: In this new position, what are some of the short- and long-term plans you have?
Turner: “Short-term, we’ve been looking at improving our tracks, so we have some repairs we’re working on now. In the next few years, our turf fields will be coming up, so we’ve got to work on that. We’ve got a new high school opening up. There are a lot of things going on there.
“Working with our middle schools, and that’s new to me. I’ve been so entrenched in the high schools. I’ve worked hard this late spring is understanding the middle schools and the policies and procedures that we’ve got in place here county-wide for that.
“But the big thing is I want to keep branding Forsyth County athletics. We’ve done a great job in the last year and a half doing that, and I want to take that to a higher level. Look at the state championships and state runner-ups that came through Forsyth County this year. Every school at least has a GHSA state runner-up trophy. We really need to market ourselves as a premier county in the state at the highest classification playing each other. Part of my job is to get out and sell our athletics state-wide, and working with athletic directors supporting them with whatever they need.
“We’re opening some new gyms this year. And then we talk about the Forsyth Five together. What a great way to market and sell yourself with everybody competing together, and you’ve got an opportunity to have multiple schools in every sport in the playoffs.”
FCN: What do you hope are the tangible benefits of “selling” Forsyth County athletics state-wide?
Turner: “You want to be a perennial contending school system athletically. Gwinnett seems to have that model and have their programs out there.
“Last week, I attended the Positive Athlete Georgia Awards. You want to see your kids involved in that. You want to see your school system involved in as many things as you can, whether it’s in the Director’s Cup – Lambert just won the Director’s Cup again – or the Positive Athlete Georgia Awards – Sam Hicks from West Forsyth just won that. You want to keep driving and pushing your athletic programs in every aspect, not only on the court or field but out there publicly in a positive spotlight.
“We want to be first class. We want to be top of our game. South Forsyth is going to be playing the Corky Kell Classic. That’s big. That’s big for our school system, so we want to get out there and push South Forsyth and get our name out there.
FCN: You’ve worked a lot with the GHSA. The GHSA had an interesting athletic year with several controversies, even one locally with West Forsyth cross country runner John Green getting disqualified from the state meet. What did you think about the year the GHSA just had?
Turner: “There are some things, Executive Committee-wise, we’ve got to stay on top of our game, because the oversight committee is there now to look over us. We’ve got to make sure that we’re doing everything one step ahead of the state legislature. We’ve got to work together, Board of Trustees, Executive Committee, GHSA officials, to make sure we’re doing the right things for kids and athletics.
“We did some things this school year. We addressed the John Green situation. There’s now clarity in the rules on what logos and what things can be put on uniforms. We’ve also addressed the basketball state championship sites. I think that’s one of the greatest things ever. Even back to my high school years, everybody was always like, why can’t we play at Georgia or Georgia Tech? That’s a good thing. We’re close to working some deals to have baseball at some championship host sites.
“We have a lot of positive things on the horizon. We’re still looking at transfer rules. That’s never going away. We’re still looking at reclassification for the future. It’s an ever-evolving door of issues. But we’ve got to address them. We’ve got to hit them head on. We can’t let them hit us.”