In most ways, the 2014-15 athletic year at Horizon Christian Academy was a success. The Lady Warriors volleyball team went a perfect 39-0 and won their second straight GICAA Division II-AA Championship. The football team reached the state playoffs a year after going winless. The girls and boys basketball teams both advanced to the state semifinals.
But when the baseball team didn’t have enough players to field a team, it was a reminder of the travails Horizon faces year in and year out. Three years ago, the Warriors didn’t have enough football players, and the season was cancelled.
Still, Horizon athletic director Charles Wiggins believes the groundwork is being laid, both in academics and athletics, for the Warriors’ program to sustain success.
Forsyth County News sports editor Brian Paglia talked with Wiggins about increasing the number of middle school teams at Horizon and a two new basketball head coaches.
Question: How did you feel the athletic season went?
Wiggins: “I thought it went well. It’s growing. We’re growing the middle school programs where we can have feeder teams up to the varsity. This year we’re going to have more middle school teams than we’ve ever had. It’s going to plan for what I strategically envisioned for us.”
Q: What stood out to you on the court and field?
Wiggins: “That we were able to compete in almost all our athletic programs. Volleyball won a state championship and went 39-0.
“But we had a lot of seniors this past season, and with a small school things can go down a little bit. But we’re maintaining. And to me what’s most important for our athletes is that they maintain good academic standards. That’s what we want. That’s why people come to this school. That’s what we want to maintain – a good balance with academics. So we’ve been staying on par to what I thought it would be building an athletic program.”
Q: Why have you chosen to devote a lot of attention to the middle school programs?
Wiggins: “When I got here we didn’t have a lot of feeder teams. Because we’re so small, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th grades all played on one team, which wasn’t good. Imagine a seventh grader playing on a varsity team, but you had to have them to have teams. When I came in an analyzed everything that was one of my goals, to get middle school programs to feed to the varsity programs. This year we had 20-some seniors and probably 17 play sports. We’ll have athletes to fill in for them.
“So far it’s been working well. And now, when we need a couple eighth graders to play on a high school team, they don’t want to play up. They want to play with their age group. And that’s the way it should be.”
Q: How many more middle school programs do you have now than when you first got to Horizon?
Wiggins: “There really wasn’t any middle school program. The first year I got here we joined the North Atlanta Metro League for basketball, which most of the private schools in this area are members of. We had a middle school boy and girl basketball teams. The following year we had sixth, seventh and eighth grade boy and girl basketball teams. This year we’re having an eight-man football and baseball teams. All the varsity programs have middle school programs to go along with them now.
“The issue is our school is not quite built up to where we need to be where we have those middle school teams. That’s my goal, and that’s the goal of the school is to get more students in the sixth, seventh and eighth grade levels to build all these, and at kindergarten to bring them all the way up. That’s what’s going to get our school to where we need to be.
“All the bigger high schools around here with bigger middle school programs have hundreds of kids. Some of those kids, when they get up to varsity, they don’t play a minute. Some people say there’s nothing wrong with that. Well, I think there’s something wrong when you have 120 [football] players and you only play 32. Why not have cut like to pros to 52 or something? Lacrosse in our area has exploded, and now it’s going to be the same way.
“But here at our school, you can play three sports. You don’t have to be a superstar to play. Matter of fact, on our football team this year we had five kids who had never played football before.”
Q: It looks like Horizon is looking to replace both boys basketball coach Curtis Eggleston and girls basketball coach Doug Markle.
Wiggins: “Coach Eggleston has moved over to North Forsyth High School, and coach Markle, he was a community coach, and he had to focus on his job.
“We’ve hired a new boys coach, coach Damon Taylor. He coached football here for me, so he’s been here for a little while. He’s from Louisiana.
“And girls we’re still trying to find someone.”
Q: Just a few years ago Horizon wasn’t able to have a football team. This past season it didn’t have a baseball team. How easy is it for you to gauge from year to year how many sports you can offer?
Wiggins: “I wish I could. Not until we get up to where we have 250 to 300 high school students will we be able to determine that.
“In today’s society, the kids want to be specialized. A lot of people have opinions about it. When recruiters talk to me, they ask, ‘Does he or she play any other sports? Are they balanced?’
“My mindset is they should be playing anything they can in high school. It’s a small percentage who get to play in college, and then a minute possibility that you’re going to be in the pros. If you want to play, then you should be playing. Why not play everything you could possibly play?”
Q: Is that a dynamic you’ve seen at other schools that play in GICAA?
Wiggins: “Yes. Take baseball; the year before last we went to the state semifinals. But I had eight players coming back. Eight. And when it was time to start practice we only had five. They needed to work for money for college or to get a car.
“When I was playing back in the 1970s, I had to work too, but I managed my time to where I could play. I wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world now. I can’t imagine quitting my junior or senior year, and now my baseball team doesn’t have enough players to have a team.
“That’s the issue, the kids’ mindset of being committed not just to a sport but their teammates. If you don’t want to do that, it affects more than you.”
Q: In your three years here at Horizon Christian, how kind of direction do you feel Warriors athletics is headed?
Wiggins: “I think, because this is not my first rodeo in doing this, we’re on track for what my vision was for our athletic program. I think we’re a little bit behind as far as student population, but now moving into a new school building, our vision is to get bigger, get more of a spotlight in the community.
“Some people don’t even know about Horizon Christian. You can go right down the road and ask a gas station attendant how to get to Horizon, they don’t even know. We have to get the word out that we’re here.
“I would say in the next three or four years we’re going to explode with students because of all the things that are happening in the world, especially for Christians.”