Nathan Turner’s temporary office has given him a new perspective.
The North Forsyth athletic director used to be near the school entrance surrounded by the front desk and principal’s office. Construction to the campus forced him to find a new home for the summer, and so he’s moved into the gymnasium. When basketball coaches Eric Herrick and Brian Moon ran camps and practices earlier this month, he could poke his head out his office door and see the intensity of drills and detail of instruction.
“I’m excited for our coaches,” Turner said. “They’ve really challenged our kids and pushed them, and the kids have responded back. Any time you see coaches pushing kids and kids accepting that challenge you see growth. The coaches and the kids have really come together to do that.”
Turner exudes excitement for what the 2015-16 season could be for North athletics because of the soft crescendo that built over this past season. After a rough start in the fall, North managed plenty of highlights during the winter and fall – wrestling’s continued dominance, girls basketball’s usual relevancy, baseball’s return to the state playoffs, boys track’s runner-up finish at the Region 6-AAAAAA meet.
Add in a new principal and updated facilities, and Turner beams when thinking about next season.
“This next year is an exciting time for us,” Turner said.
Forsyth County News sports editor Brian Paglia spoke with Turner about the “Dakota impact,” getting a new gym and what historic changes in store for the Georgia High School Association could mean for local high schools:
Paglia: When think back at the athletic season for North, what sticks out to you?
Turner: “It was a very interesting year. I think we had some peaks and valleys. I’m excited about the way it ended. I thought our spring was pretty strong. Our track team with our boys coming in second in the region, that was pretty special to see that. I’m really excited about the future of our boys golf team with all the freshmen. We finally got into the state sectionals this year. That was a big step.
“Baseball was bittersweet. So excited to be back in the playoffs, but if we get past that Pope round we could’ve been the one going to the state semifinals just like Pope, because that was a tight series. I really think we challenged Pope more than any other team other than Parkview.
“I saw strides and improvements in tennis for the first time in a long time. Happy for them. Boys soccer competed hard. The spring was exciting again, and that was fun. Excited about where we’re going next year. If you look at the rosters, we lost some seniors in some sports, but we’ve also got some sports with young depth, so I’m excited about that.
“If you transition back to the winter, we’re always pretty strong in the winter. Our basketball teams did well. We were pleased to see Coach [Eric] Herrick’s [girls basketball] team make a deep run in the playoffs and challenge Osborne. Coach [Travis] Jarrard’s wrestling team is always solid. He keeps saying the future’s bright and it seems like it is. If you followed this past spring all the young kids in the junior program that won state championships, his future is really bright. That freshmen class he had coming in this season was really good. [Coach Kris] Hunt and the swim team did well again. We took several people to state. Our diving team finished in the top 10. So it was a good winter.
“Fall we had a transition a little bit. Football wasn’t where we wanted it to be. Coach [Jason] Galt’s worked really hard with the coaching staff and the kids to get us back to where we need to be this next year. This next year is an exciting time for us. We had so many young kids that played football last year that got varsity experience. That varsity experience I think will pay off for us as we move forward into this year. Softball, same thing with Coach [Bud] Henderson. He had a lot of young kids play softball. We finished on the outside of the state playoffs. I look for us to get back in the mix this next year and competing for a region championship.
“Fall’s going to be exciting. Cross country is going to be strong. They’ve got some runners coming back out that are going to be exciting to see. Softball is a fresh start. Football, you’ve got all those players who got experience last year. Now it’s time to take that next step and see us grow. So I’m excited about that.
“I’m excited for our coaches. They’ve really challenged our kids and pushed them, and the kids have responded back. Any time you see coaches pushing kids and kids accepting that challenge you see growth. The coaches and the kids have really come together to do that.”
Paglia: One of the biggest improvements seemed to be with the volleyball team this past year.
Turner: “Well, I was kind of saving that. Volleyball made huge strides last year. Coach [Joy] Stewart and I sat down the other day and our expectations are to be in the state playoffs. It’s been a long time. You can look on those banners out there on the gym. She knows the exact date. It was in the late 90’s.
“She knows what’s ahead of them. She knows what’s at stake. I just asked her the other day, Are you ready for the state playoffs? She said, I’m ready for the first match. She said, It starts there and then we’ll worry about the playoffs. I’m excited for them. We were so close last year. The strides that she made, the girls got better. And then the depth that we’ve got coming back.
“I’ve listened to several athletic directors talk as you’ve done these State of the Program articles about feeder programs. Feeder programs have been a key to us building success. Volleyball really got their feeder program kicked off last year, and it’s only growing and getting stronger this year. Basketball feeder programs are doing well. The softball feeder program is unbelievable. The wrestling feeder program is premier. It’s one of the top wrestling feeder programs in the state. Baseball started doing some things with feeder baseball this year. Cross country is now dabbling with some feeder program running.
“So what we’re doing is trying to grow that depth at a younger age and trying to mold our athletes to be better and more skilled and more adaptable to the high school level, and we’re starting to see some fruits of our labor.”
Paglia: North is getting a new principal, Jeff Cheney, former principal at South Forsyth. What has been the response from coaches and the athletic department?
Turner: “All the coaches wanted to know, How does Mr. Cheney feel about athletics? It’s pretty unique. The day that he got the job we were at the state wrestling tournament in Macon, and Mr. Cheney emailed me said he’s excited about getting to North, he’s excited about the future of Raiders athletics. Principals talk just like coaches do, and he knows some of the great things we’ve got going on with all this young talent. He’s ready to see it explode and be a part of it.
“We spent several hours together a few weeks later and we just took each sport, talked 20 to 30 minutes about each sport. You could see the excitement on his face about what’s going on here. It’s real encouraging. He’s a former college basketball player. He knows what it takes to build a good program and be a great coach. It’s fun to talk about those kinds of things with your principal.”
Paglia: With all this construction going on at North this summer, what will that add for athletics?
Turner: “We’ll have a brand new state-of-the-art gymnasium that will be connected to the current gymnasium. We’ll have some new tennis courts toward the end of the construction phase. There is going to be some re-sodding on the practice fields.
“When it all comes together, I think we’re going to have one of the premier athletic facilities not only in Forsyth County but in the state of Georgia. We already have great facilities for high school athletics in Georgia. It’s only going to get better.”
Paglia: So what will the primary use of the current gym be?
Turner: “This will be our auxiliary gym. We’ll be able to run JV and ninth grade basketball games simultaneously on those nights.
“The big thing that we can do is host those wrestling tournaments in this gym. If you want to get really big, you can host wrestling tournaments with both gyms.
“And think about hosting a region basketball tournament with two gyms. We’ll be able to facilitate boys and girls basketball tournaments to keep things running.
“We’re going to be able to do some things that North Forsyth has never been able to do. We’re going to be able to expand our athletic profile just by being able to host some premier tournaments in Georgia.”
Paglia: Right, when was the last time North hosted a region tournament? I guess wrestling has been able to.
Turner: “Wrestling’s been the only sport who can host a region tournament because of the way the gym bleachers can fold back and you still have your top bleachers above it. You can get more wrestling mats in. But we’ve not been able to host a basketball or volleyball region tournament.
“And then, I’ll be honest with you, we’ve grown as a school, so our seating capacity has gotten larger. That extra seating capacity in the new gym is going to be neat to have. More modernized. This gym is a little over 25 years old now. It’s going to be nice to have that fresh new gym, fresh new start.”
Paglia: But you know I almost hate to think you might lose that great home court advantage you’ve had in Raider Arena these years.
Turner: “I’ll promise you, even though we’re going into the new gym, there’ll be times we bring it back into the current gym. I love what Forsyth Central did this year playing in the dome for Domecoming. We can have the Return to the Arena, and it could be fun.”
Paglia: You had two big-time transfers this season – Dakota Holtzclaw for boys basketball and Dakota Chalmers for baseball. Let’s call it the “Dakota impact.” What was that like for North?
Turner: “Dakota Holtzclaw and Dakota Chalmers were impact players. They definitely made a difference. They really helped our athletic department grow because they’re playmakers. I appreciate their year of service, I guess you could say, at North Forsyth High School, because they made a big difference and their impact will be felt for years to come. I wish them both the best. It’s exciting to see them do well as they take that next step, but they meant a lot this past year.”
Paglia: You’ve been heavily involved with the Georgia High School Association, and there is a lot of discussion going on about realignment and some of the drastic proposal considered. Where do things stand?
Turner: “Reclassification is going to be the hardest and most grueling thing we’ve done this year. We’ve started to set dates for the fall. By November we’ll start having everything in place, and probably by Christmas time we’ll unveil the next classification for what should be the next four-year cycle. We’ve asked to move from a two-year cycle to a four-cycle.”
Paglia: What’s the motive behind moving to a four-year cycle?
Turner: “Because we’re moving so fast. Every time we get into a cycle and we get comfortable, it changes. We need to kind of stretch it out.
“There was a proposal made [in April] talking about the Super 44 – the top 44 schools in the state of Georgia with student population. There are going to be some changes. It’s definitely going to be different.
“I feel the Forsyth County schools will be in the Super 44. There’s a great chance that Forsyth Central could be up with us, and you could see all the Forsyth County schools in a region together. Don’t know what regions are going to look like. Don’t know what kind of size they’re going to look like.
“There’s been some talk that the Super 44 might be in a situation where you take the top 32 teams out of the 44 for the playoffs, and it might be decided not necessarily by region champions by power rankings. You’ve got mixed emotions about that. I don’t know; I kind of like it.
“That will be the debate. If we go with the Super 44, how will regions be decided? I’ve asked that questions three different times at three different meetings that we’ve had – will we have regions, and what will regions look like? – and right now that’s the million dollar question.”
Paglia: Do you get the feeling the Super 44 is inevitable?
Turner: “For AAAAAA. You’re going to probably see some tier brackets – upper and lower – for the other classes.
“This is big. What’s going to happen this year is going to be historic for the structure of the GHSA.
“Now one thing we’ve tried to do is keep people in Atlanta at the state legislature in the loop, because we’ve had some, as you know, some interesting moments with our state legislators. So we’re trying to work really hard with them and give full disclosure to them. But we know we need to get it right.”
Paglia: When you say, “get it right,” what does that mean?
Turner: “It has a lot to do with south Georgia travel. We’re very blessed that we drive 32 miles to a ball game. They might drive 170 miles one way to a ballgame. That’s what we’re trying to work on and get right.
“And then you’ve got to look at size of schools. You’ve got Mill Creek over there with over 4,000 students. I know we’ve got about 2,400 to 2,500 students. That’s like twice the school. But we are in the Super 44, and it is what it is.
“There’s a lot to shake out. I could say that it goes this way today and tomorrow there might be a different theory of how it goes. There’s a lot to be done between now and December.”
Paglia: What about down in the lower classifications? There have been some proposals to bring back the multiplier, right?
Turner: “That multiplier has kind of been looked at more for the city schools than with the private schools.
“There are some people in south Georgia that want private schools to be total separate. I don’t quite agree with that.
“There could be a multiplier there. Those are questions that have come up and will have to be addressed this year.”
Paglia: Where in the country is the precedent for some of these ideas? Are there other states the GHSA is using as a model?
Turner: “We’re taking models from many different states and trying to blend what’s best for us.
“The tier brackets, I know Indiana has something like that. Indiana has a process where everybody makes the playoffs. You get seeded with a blind draw and kind of go. That’s kind of unique and interesting.
“Alabama just keeps creating classifications. I think they have eight now.
“And if we were to go to tiers, by the way, we’d probably have nine state champions if you go four upper and lower classifications plus the Super 44. You’d be awarding nine football state champions.”
Paglia: I wonder what that would mean for the GHSA and its ability to host neutral site playoffs and tournaments.
Turner: “It would definitely make more work. And we voted this past year to take the quarterfinals in basketball playoffs to neutral sites. You got to start thinking strategically about all that.”
Paglia: Well back to North. Is there anything else you’ve been thinking about for the future of North athletics?
Turner: “I’d like to see us move up each year in that Regions Directors Cup and see that we’re picking up points. We talk about volleyball getting in the state playoffs – I see some areas where we can grow. The thing is we need to capitalize.
“We always try to come up with a theme or a slogan every year. I passed this one along to coach Herrick the other day, and I’ve really been thinking about it: ‘The dream is the free, but the hustle is sold separately.’ We’ve got to get in there and hustle and we’ve got to compete, fight and take our spot. That’s where we are. We’ve built a foundation, now we’ve got to go fight for championships and titles.”