Catch the theme of Forsyth County athletics. Or, really, Forsyth County in general: growth.
It’s hitting Pinecrest Academy athletics, too.
The Paladins rounded out their lacrosse program by adding a girls’ team this season a year after getting it started with a boys’ team. Both will play varsity schedules next season. Softball is set to return this fall under the direction of baseball coach Daniel Stockdale.
"[Head of School] Fr. Robert [Presutti] said, in a playful way, ‘Are you finished?’ said Pinecrest athletic director Tom Palmer. "In my opinion, for our size school, we now have a full array of athletic opportunities for our student-athletes."
Pinecrest feels it’s starting to catch up in achievements, too, highlighted by the boys’ soccer team capturing the school’s first region championship in any sport since joining the Georgia High School Association in 2010.
Forsyth County News sports editor Brian Paglia talked with Palmer about Pinecrest catching a break with the latest reclassification and who the Paladins consider their current rival.
What were your impressions of the athletic year?
"Frankly, it was outstanding, because we made some real advancement. Not only with some specific teams but I think philosophically with where we think our program can go. I just never have believed that you have to be a Class AAAAAA school to be first class. We’re inching our way to first class.
"We made some really good strides this past year, like the initiation of another lacrosse program, the girls’ program. So now we have four lacrosse teams that we didn’t have two years ago. This year, we’ll compete in varsity in a GHSA region for boys and girls. That will be a really big deal come spring."
How did the community and school like the addition of the girls’ lacrosse program?
"It almost mirrored the boys program. We opened up registration, and when we broke for Christmas we had eight players registered. Then when we came back from Christmas, got together with the PE teacher and simply said if we’re going to start this we need to introduce it properly in PE classes. One of our unbelievable parents bought some sticks and balls, and we had seven PE classes from the day we got back from Christmas break until the end of January. We started the lacrosse season with 48 players.
"It almost mirrored that for the girls this year. I think we ended up with 31 girls. The incredible thing about the numbers, the lion’s share of the players never had a stick in their hand. I think we had three girls who had never played lacrosse before. So that’s been really fun to see develop."
Did you see the new program affect other spring sports by pulling away athletes?
"Well, being a Class A school, you worry about that. There was a fear that it was going to take away from the soccer program. What it really did, it brought kids from texting on their phone in the afternoon to the athletic field. There were several girls who were supposed to be on the soccer team but never got to play. They found they could play in lacrosse.
"My philosophy is to get as many kids, student-athletes, playing something to the max, because I’m a firm believer that you learn more on the athletic field – camaraderie, team-work and all the good stuff."
It seemed boys’ soccer’s region championship was a big milestone for the program.
"They had a better team [than Pace Academy]. … When it was all said and done, they were crushed that they got beat 2-1 [in the Class A second round] and couldn’t advance. They got surprised. But Coach [Chris] Kane is really a superb soccer coach. The soccer program has really come on."
Any other teams or athletes who stood out to you?
"We are restarting softball in the fall. We’ve always been a little light, in my opinion – and I just finished my ninth year – in opportunities for the ladies. There’s cheerleading and volleyball in the fall. And in the winter it was basically basketball and swimming. We just didn’t have enough. Now with lacrosse and softball, you can get more girls involved. It’s a lot more equitable now for both genders. Coach [Daniel] Stockdale, our baseball coach, he’s going to be the softball coach too. They’ll play a JV schedule.
"I was talking with Father Robert. He said, in a playful way, ‘Are you finished?’ In my opinion now for our size school, we have a full array of athletic opportunities for our student athletes.
"So I’m really looking forward to a great year. Our football team’s going to be real good. Ten seniors are coming back, nine lettermen, and a [sophomore] QB now with a year under his belt. A couple of kids who are probably going to play Division I. Volleyball’s in good shape. Basketball should be really up. The interest in swimming is going off the charts. That’s probably right now our second biggest sport as far as participation, and with no facility. And then of course in the spring it’s crazy. It’s exciting."
Part of next year will be in the new region.
"It’s all plus-plus. In my opinion, the competition is decidedly better overall. The challenge for parents and grandparents as far as going to games is a huge improvement. King’s Ridge is 15 minutes away. The teams in our region now, probably the longest bus ride may be 45 minutes versus two-and-a-half hours. Two years ago we were the most northern school in what was that region. These past two years we were the most southern team in the region. Now we’re back to reality."
Your program is already familiar with a lot of these schools on the middle school level, right?
"Big advantage there. I think it’s good all around. The kids learn the system. Coaches sometimes don’t want to talk about it, but if I play against you for six or seven years, I’m probably going to remember you, and there’s a good chance I’m going to be your friend. Stranger things have occurred where kids go to the same [college] and can say, ‘Hey, remember when we played against each other?’ The change in region is plus, plus, plus for us. Excellent competition. The geography is really good for us. It just presents a situation where we can have natural rivals. I think that’s healthy for any program."
Who would you consider your rival right now?
"I would probably have to say King’s Ridge, simply because of the geography."
But you’ve had to schedule them in non-region games the last two years.
"Right, but we’ve continued to play them at the middle school level. So now it’s just more natural to play them. St. Francis, too, right down in Alpharetta."
What are a couple issues that are on your radar for the next few years?
"For us it’s facilities. Anytime you expand the program, you have to provide some place to practice and play. Even though we don’t believe that you confine your program to a number of sports because you can’t field them – and we encountered this with the new lacrosse programs. The easy answer was portable lights. I just think [facilities] should never be a deterrent for starting something. I don’t know how we got by before with one gym. Now that we have a lower school gym, that’s a huge benefit, and we’re going to do a lot of refreshing this year, like with the practice field. We want the main football, lacrosse and soccer field to look like our baseball field. Our baseball field is probably one of the best ones in the entire state for being first class. But our practice fields need some upgrading. We’re still flirting with the concept of artificial surface on our main field."
Do you have any plans to build a new stadium?
"For now, I think the [Pinecrest Academy] Board has decided that’s not the prudent thing to do from an investment standpoint. But acreage is not our issue. There’s like 60-plus acres. … There’s a master plan up to 10 years on different things to do. It’s always money. It always will be that.
"But I think we’re doing a really good job of doing well with what we have. If you do what you can do, and you do it in a first class way, I think it not only attracts people to the school, but there’s a real strong sense of pride. When you go to a school and see the big press box and artificial surface and say, ‘Wow.’
It makes a big first impression.
"It does. But I drop back to reality and say, ‘You know what? We don’t have all that yet. Someday we’ll have it. But, gosh, we’re doing pretty well with what we have.’ I guess there’s some pride in that. There’s always room to grow and be better."