Chris Kane’s office looks put together, but there’s still work to be done. The Pinecrest Academy athletic director recently relocated to the Paladins’ gymnasium due to upcoming construction of a new lower school, and while his desk is set up and there’s space to move around, a few boxes still sit unpacked, and a TV still needs to be hung.
It’s evidence of a school that’s still expanding and coming together, growing into its still-relatively new digs in the GHSA. The Paladins have only been playing in the state’s largest athletics governing body since 2010, and while there’s certainly still ground to gain on Class 1A’s blue-bloods, this past year produced more signs of progress for the Catholic school.
The baseball team, a year off its first state playoff appearance, reached the state quarterfinals in its deepest run yet. The girls lacrosse team, led by Mercer signee Molly Dankowski, reached the playoffs – a difficult task in Class 1-5A – for the second year in a row. Both soccer teams reached the playoffs, and the girls team made the state quarterfinals.
The key to continuing that growth, Kane said, lies mainly in creating stability and continuity at the same time.
“For me it's to keep the coaches we have that are doing a fantastic job,” Kane said. “And then to bring in new coaches, if someone steps away like Ryan (Weingart, the former head baseball coach), that can continue the rise, and make their job as easy as possible.”
There’s been a significant amount of turnover for the Paladins in that department: Weingart left for a job at Holy Innocents, both lacrosse head coaching positions need to be filled, and they’ll have two first-year basketball coaches this coming year.
FCN: One of the major stories last year was the high-profile hire of former Falcons player Terance Mathis as head football coach. His first year certainly had its share of difficulties. (The Paladins went 1-9, with the single win coming by forfeit.) How did you react to that and how are you looking at that program moving forward?
Kane: Honestly, it was – I don't know if expected is the right word – (but) we knew it was going to be a down year. We knew it was going to be a rough year, just because of the class that had graduated, so we knew it was going to be a down year. Then throw on top of it a coaching change in late April – okay, that's not going to help. I think the community and myself personally was more excited about Terance and his personality coming in, not the expectations of what the season was going to bring. Mine were very tempered. I knew what we were in for.
That's not to say coach didn't try his best and worked hard, but he was fighting an uphill battle on that one, especially when you bring in a staff that you're not totally familiar with, and you've got 8 to 12 weeks to really get to know each other and then go out there and coach varsity football games in Georgia. He's made some changes to the staff, which I am so excited about for him, and for the boys. I think you're going to see a different product this year, and the fact is, not only did we have a coaching change, we had an entire philosophy change. We changed our offense. We changed our defense. That's just so much to ask 17, 18-year-old kids. It's too much. But I don't think they would have been able to really perform under the previous offense or defense any better. So we're excited about this year.
FCN: What are your feeling on the current alignment and organization of the GHSA’s class structure?
Kane: …What they did is they split soccer and volleyball in public and private, and I'm not real happy about that. The volleyball went to 1A-2A to make it work, and soccer, they're limiting the number of teams in the playoffs to 16, which I think is really unfair. I mean, if you looked at just this past spring's tournament, there were 32 teams in the playoffs and I think there were 27 private schools. (Editor’s note: There were 25 private schools in the boys tournament and 26 in the girls’.) So to just split them and just have 16 teams go is really unfair to those private schools. We're in a new region; we were put in a new region for lacrosse and for soccer; I don't know how they came up with it, but we're out there with Hebron, Wesleyan, Riverside Military academy, that are all a good probably 40 minutes to an hour away just because of traffic, whereas Kings Ridge and Fellowship and St. Francis, that are 10 minutes away, aren't in our region anymore. Those are some things I'm not real happy about. I think there's some movement from ADs with the soccer to try to increase the number of private schools in the playoffs even maybe to just 24.
...But I'm not real happy with splitting private-public with everything, because I just don't think there's enough schools to go around on the private-public 1A. Unless they want to go to the power ranking. If you want to do a power ranking for soccer and volleyball, that's probably a better thing to do, a more fair thing to do. But when you just go to straight areas and just say (that) the top two from each area make the playoffs, that's not real fair, especially when you have teams stacked in certain areas, especially up in the north Atlanta area.
FCN: Hiring John Bauersfeld as head boys basketball coach seems like a pretty big splash, given how strong the mid-Atlantic region is in that sport. How did that hire come together?
Kane: Honestly, divine intervention. Sometimes things just line up … Yes, Calvert Hall is a monster when it comes to high school athletics, and when it comes to basketball – the mid-Atlantic, Baltimore, Philly, New York area is unbelievable – but with that, there's work that goes into it, and what a lot of people don't realize is John was in the gym almost every weekend in the spring recruiting 13-year-olds. There aren't any kind of rules like we have here in GHSA. The other side of it is, kids can transfer from public to private without any kind of penalty. So they were really at the mercy of (that) – he didn't have control of everything when it came to his kids and where they were going to go if they didn't want to stay at Calvert Hall. He was just looking for a life change. He was just looking for quality of life. He's got three small boys, 7, 5 and 2, and he and his wife saw the listing, they on a whim sent it down to me…
…He liked what he heard, and then when we brought him down here, this place sells itself. The people, the kids, the administration, they were just real with him and we're thrilled that he and his wife decided to make the move. They'll be down here in a couple weeks finalizing, making a settlement on their house, and then they'll move down here probably late July. The two older boys will be enrolled this fall, so yeah, we're thrilled. Honestly, it did come down to just divine intervention. God was like, ‘I'm going to throw you one here.’ Luckily enough, sometimes you get those things and you're like, ‘Oh, this isn't real,’ and that's what I talked to Brother John (Kane, the president at Calvert Hall) about, like, ‘Is this for real?’ And he's like, ‘Yeah, he's tired. He's just looking for something different.’