Before the 2012-13 school year began, Pinecrest Academy athletic director Tom Palmer’s biggest concern was how to get Paladin athletes from place to place. Such is the burden of Class 1A schools.
But nine months later, after confidence-building football wins and history-making soccer playoff runs, Palmer is only concerned about the future.
"I wish [school] started again on Monday," he said.
Palmer spoke with Forsyth County News sports editor Brian Paglia about the school’s enthusiasm after beating George Walton Academy in football, working with a full slate of first-time head coaches and the general state of Pinecrest athletics:
What were your overall impressions of the Paladins athletic season?
"I couldn’t be more delighted. We got better at so many things our facilities, our sports program. I’m really striving for us to be first class. We were fortune enough to take some real significant steps this year."
What stood out to you the most this season?
"We have never had big numbers in football. I think last year we had 27 or 28 on the field. We just finished spring practice and had 47. Coach [Todd] Winter has done a fabulous job not only coaching but just recruiting players from within our school. I really feel like we’re building the program the right way.
"Our basketball team, under a new head coach, Jay Lynch, had a mediocre first half but really came on in the second half of the season and played in the region championship. Their program is building also. And then in the spring, our soccer program, new head coach Chris Kane, an ex-Marshall University head coach, has taken over our soccer program. When we were in the Georgia Independent Schools Association, he won a state championship here. He’s come back and we’re excited about that.
"I think the biggest piece of excitement in spring, we thought in the past we could start lacrosse. Last year in December, we put a stake in the ground that we were going to start it. Our physical education teacher, Sam Lialos, he hooked up with Trevor Ward, who had experience coaching lacrosse at Forsyth Central. When registration opened, we had eight players. By the end of the season, we had 48 players. That sport really caught on."
Any particular challenges this season?
"Coming into the year, the main challenges I recognized were facilities, improvement and transportation. And I think we’ve done a pretty good job of handling that. Last year, every one of our head varsity coaches was a first-year head coach which is a little frightening for some. Obviously they gained some unique experience. Next season, we’re going to be significantly better starting with football
"From a facilities standout point, to better support our teams we had some significant transportation needs. In the last 3 months, we had a fleet of four 14-passenger buses. … We now have a 56-, 44- and two small 14-passenger buses. Earlier in the season, we got a new locker room, two new utility vehicles and a storage facility to keep them first class. We got a new varsity uniform room, a new varsity locker room. We really believe we’re on the right track."
How did the players, coaches and administration respond to those challenges?
"From an athletic director’s standpoint it couldn’t be better. There’s a real spirit of working together. We have a program called Sports Leaders, which our chaplain, Father Richard Sutter, and I, we kind of spearhead that. The premise is mentoring players. It’s really nothing regimented. It’s more how are you doing with your books, how’s your spiritual life, how’s your home life. … This is just about trying to help build some foundations for their formations and helping them develop into adulthood. That’s working out well. We re-started that last year. I think it had a lot to do with all these first-year coaches. You let [kids] know that you give a darn about them. It’s not just about hut-one, hut-two or you missed that three-point shot.
How was the community support this season?
"I think it’s fair to say there’s a sense of excitement about the athletic program. They see stability. I think they see first-year coaches now have a year under their belt. Athletics are fun at Pinecrest. It’s a real coming together with coaches of other sports. It’s not like everybody’s on an island. It’s a real coming together and that spills over to the community. Soccer parents support swimming and swimming supports volleyball and so on. It’s very refreshing. … We’re looking for some fantastic things next year. I wish we started again on Monday. It’s a very exciting time.
Where do you feel you are in Pinecrest's transition to the GHSA?
"Since football’s a fall sport, I’ll use it as an example. Because of a scheduling quirk, we only played nine games. We beat the so-called region king in George Walton Academy. That kind of set the stage for, ‘This is where we now know we can be on a regular basis.’ With that in mind, it really proved to spill over. I think there were 33 teams in Class 1A private school football. I think we were 17th or 18th, and the top 16 made the playoffs. We really feel like if we had the opportunity to play that 10th game we could’ve made the playoffs. The office in GHSA didn’t approve our appeal. But anyways, based on that alone, to me I think that’s a minimum expectation for next season."