In so many ways, Scott Tilden had a lot of catching up to do.
North Forsyth’s first-year athletic director had not been at the school since his last year as an assistant boys basketball coach in 2003. He found a lot more buildings and a lot more students.
“Everything is bigger,” Tilden said.
But in many ways, Tilden was also comforted by some familiar things. Some of the receptionists and teachers he knew had never left, and some of the newer teachers were his former students, “to make me feel old,” he said.
Even better, some Raiders athletic programs had the kind of seasons not recorded since Tilden’s first tenure at the school – or ever.
The volleyball team won their first state playoff match since 2001. Competition cheer returned to the state championship for the first time in five seasons. The boys and girls golf teams reached the state championship, a first for both. The boys swimming team placed sixth at the state meet, led by two individual state titles by Arizona State signee Jack Dalmolin and another in a relay event. Girls basketball took a young team to the second round of the state playoffs. Wrestling placed third at the State Duals. Bass fishing won its fourth straight county championship. Softball returned to the state playoffs, while girls lacrosse set a single-season record for wins.
North Forsyth Year in Review
Region titles: 2
Team state titles: 0
Individual state titles: 3
Director’s Cup finish: 30th in Class 7A (32nd in girls, 34th in boys)
Best boys state finish: Third, wrestling
Best girls state finish: Ninth, golf
College signees: 21
Athletic participation: 726 (464 boys, 262 girls)
FCN: What did you learn about North in your return this school year?
Tilden: “It's much bigger than when I was here last. Probably four or five more sports are here that were not here. Everything is bigger. The school is bigger. Now we have these great facilities, none of which was here.
“It's still nice to see some of the familiar faces I saw when I was here last. It still brings back that old North Forsyth Raiders feel, and I enjoy that, some of the ladies up in the front office. They're great. Some of the teachers. Still have teachers that are here. And, to make me feel old, we have former students of mine that are teaching here. And that's a testament to North. It's a great place to teach, and people want to stay.”
FCN: What did you learn about the athletic program?
Tilden: “Wherever I was, I still lived in this community. I was still very much following North Forsyth. When I moved here, I was teaching at North, and when I started teaching at some other schools, I was still living in this community, so I continued to be aware of everything going on in these sports programs. And I'd go watch games sometimes even though I wasn't coaching here.
“So what did I find out new? Not a lot that I wasn't familiar with already.”
FCN: Did you miss coaching at any point this past school year?
Tilden: “Absolutely. Every day. I'm not passed that. That's a daily struggle. But I'm lucky and fortunate to have a great group of coaches that work here, so I enjoy watching them practice.
“So I miss it. I enjoyed the grind of practice. I loved it. So when that was taken away – just like that, coming to an abrupt halt – yeah, I missed the heck out of it. The only thing that almost fills it is going out and watching these practices and seeing these coaches doing a great job and players working their tails off.
“But I miss the teaching too. (I taught) AP Macro Economics. Loved it. My favorite subject. Not teaching is tough. Not having those relationships with the students is tough. A good friend of mine told me I would struggle with that, and he was dead on.”
FCN: How did you decide to approach your first school year as athletic director?
Tilden: “Observing and seeing how things were done in each program. Not trying to change, just trying to watch the coaches that we had in place already.
“And frankly, I was very happy with what I saw. Saw a great work ethic with the coaches and players.”
FCN: What stood out to you in North athletics this school year?
Tilden: “I would say, from my perspective, was kind of a resurgence of many programs. For example, competition cheer. They returned to the state playoffs for the first time in five years, and they had one go off to Georgia next year.
“Football, we started off 3-1, and then we ran in to a pretty tough region schedule and struggle in region, but I think our coaches – we have a great coaching staff – I think they did a great job taking a big first step towards developing a mindset and culture we're trying to build here. We were one game away from making the playoffs in this first year.
“Volleyball, under our new set of coaches, the Cecils, they returned to the playoffs in the first time in over a decade and ended up making it to the second round.
“Softball returned to the state playoffs. Came up short in the first round, but they're getting everybody back.
“Boys swim team. They finished sixth in the state. And obviously a lot of that was on the back of Jack Dalmolin. Three state championships. He's going to Arizona State. He was just phenomenal. A guy like that comes around only so often.
“Girls basketball. The expectations weren't very high, except with Coach (Eric) Herrick. And despite being as young as they were, they found a way to make it back to the region championship and almost won that game. What a great game against a really good Lambert team. But they qualify for the state playoffs again, win in the first round against Parkview, and then losing to eventual state champion McEachern. A lot of young kids in that program. Very excited about that program next year.
“Business as usual with wrestling. A third-place finish in state duals, then a sixth-place finish in traditional. And we're only losing three seniors, one of which was a starter. So everybody's coming back next year. I think their expectations are very high for next year.
“Golf. In the area we play in, we have some great teams. It would've been disappointing to see them put that kind of number up (at region) and see them lose out on an at-large bid. This year, thankfully, both of our teams made it. But they earned it, and then they played pretty well at state. The guys finished 11th, the girls finished ninth. It was a good finish all-around. And if you look at the program, we're only losing a few on each side. A lot of young players in both programs.
“Girls lacrosse set a record for wins this year with nine. Boys lacrosse doubled their number of region wins. Our track program qualified a lot of individuals to compete at the state championships this year.
“Fishing program was county champion fourth year in a row. National championship qualifier. And they also have a lot of kids coming back.”
FCN: What kinds of things are on your radar for the next few school years?
Tilden: “We're always at the end of every season looking at every program and assessing how that program's going. We continue to do that.
“Improving facilities is one of the main things the athletic department can do to help our coaches and athletes. The football field house is one of the main areas. We're going to get new turf fields soon. On the softball field, there's a lot of work that needs to be done just to secure the area, a lot of fencing that needs to go up. And the baseball program, we're looking at a new batting cage. We need to improve our track facilities down there, everything from your high jump pit to just the track itself.
“But overall, continue to assess our facilities and how we can improve them and make the experience for the student-athlete better and make the lives of the coaches better, increase their productivity and efficiency.”
FCN: What do you see for North athletics going forward?
Tilden: “We saw big first steps in many programs. Kind of a resurgence in some and others as we've brought in new coaching staffs and they've taken it in a different direction and changed the mindset and culture.
“I see nothing but great things for North Forsyth. And I saw a lot of that this year already. It's not like North hasn't been doing great things in the past, but as we continue to build on our programs and bring the right coaches in, I see nothing but positive things for North in the future.”