South Forsyth is getting a long-awaited facelift this summer.
The backside of the school’s campus, behind the visitor’s stands in the football stadium, has seen a flurry of construction work in recent months, with fences, workers and construction materials filling the parking lots. Multiple facilities will undergo changes: The rear entrance of the football stadium is being revamped with a new concession and restroom facility, and the cramped backstop area of the baseball stadium is being opened up, with wraparound seating going in behind home plate and the concession area moving closer to the road.
“It was just so narrow there (that) we couldn’t accommodate everything there like some schools,” War Eagles athletic director Keith Gravitt said. “Our campus has been kind of pieced together over the years, and that kind of happened there as well.”
South is, after all, the second-oldest high school in the county, and has been something of a feeder system for the rest of the county’s athletic directors, four of whom – West Forsyth’s Brett Phipps, Lambert’s Drew Ferrer, North Forsyth’s Scott Tilden and Denmark’s Jamie Corr – worked at South in some capacity in their career before taking their present positions.
Region titles: 2
Team state titles: 1
Individual state titles: 0
Director’s Cup finish: 8th in Class 7A (9th in boys, 7th in girls)
Best boys state finish: 1st in cross country
Best girls state finish: 2nd in cross country, cheerleading
However, the school has also been at the center of the explosive population growth and subsequent changes to the school system that Forsyth County has seen in recent years. The War Eagles took the biggest hit in enrollment when Lambert opened, and the same happened this year with Denmark.
And while the loss of certain key contributors was definitely a factor in some teams’ performance, South largely maintained its status as one of the top schools in Class 7A, again finishing in the top 10 of the Director’s Cup standings and recording multiple triumphant performances in both individual and team competition.
Editor’s note: Responses and questions have been edited for length and clarity.
FCN: One of the big triumphs of the fall was the boys cross country team winning its first state title. The girls side of that program has been successful for a while, both individually and as a team, and clearly head coach Nick Wansley has built one of the stronger overall programs in the state. What do you think has been the key for him in running that program?
Gravitt: Well, let me talk about coach Wansley: Whether you know or not, it is definitely in the genes. His father was a state championship cross country coach as well, and he learned a lot in relation to that. He is a lifelong runner, and he has the best for the kids at heart in all that he does, and he makes sure that they understand that it's a team concept. (In) cross country, you have great runners, and we have been fortunate … but you also have to get the team to buy into how you get the best score for the team so that it places the highest. And sometimes you'll have runners want to run out and get theirs. But if you group a lot of runners together, and that's what the boys team was really able to do, especially at state this year, close together and high enough where they had a great overall score for the cross country team, and average time. It's real evident when you look at cross country in relation to what coach Wansley and his staff gets their runners to be able to do and buy into the concept and understand it's about the team, rather than just seven runners or 10 runners out there…
You may or may not know, our head cross country coach is changing. It's going to be Christine Shaw. Coach Wansley is stepping down, he came to me about midyear and we had a long talk about that and obviously a lot of things you've obviously mentioned he and I talked about. It was a very hard decision for him to make. He's got one of those life transitions going on right now, with a new child that was born in the last year and so forth, and he just wants to balance those things again. And I think it goes to the team concept. He's seeing how important it is for mom and dad to work together in that part and a new baby, too.
So I was completely understanding with that, and fortunately, we were able to promote from within and name coach Shaw, who has worked with our track program but is also an assistant with our cross country program for several years now already. So she will be taking the reins of what coach Wansley has done, and honestly we've got the same coach from before coach Wansley as part of our staff in Van Munn as well. So it's been a great transition and I look forward to what the runners, the student athletes of our cross country are able to continue, because they've established a very strong legacy in the past with all of the accolades they've obtained in the last few years.
FCN: The boys lacrosse program also took a big leap forward, finishing second in its area and hosting and winning its first state playoff game. What was it like to see the team and head coach Steve Hurlbut achieve that milestone?
Gravitt: Well, coach Hurlbut has worked extremely hard with the chemistry of the team. I think he took real big ownership in trying to make everybody understand how important it is for people to understand their roles on the team. And there are several, as you saw during the signing, we had quite a few boys lacrosse players sign to play at a higher level and at some very prestigious schools and very competitive boys lacrosse programs. (Hofstra signee) Colton Rudd … as well as (Air Force signee) Max Kane, and their contributions to the program have been great, but I do think coach Hurlbut did a superb job of making them understand the team aspect of that.
In addition to that, obviously he's part of and leads a good staff of school and community coach members on the lacrosse staff that have a lot of expertise in lacrosse, and they have focused a lot on the feeder team as well. I think you start building competitiveness, and it starts coming up through that feeder program, and we're starting to see that. Some of those older seniors that graduated this year have been part of the feeder program as well. I'm just so excited for coach Hurlbut and the whole boys program, like you said, hosting a state playoff game and making it to the second round as well, first time ever. And any time you're able to do something it gives a little momentum to the teams that come behind them and a belief and a pride in what their program is and what it can be. I really believe this group has gotten to that point and is able to see that side of the state playoffs.
FCN: With the opening of Denmark, some South teams lost both numbers, in terms of the size and depth of the team, and certain top players. That’s got to be tough to take, so how do you feel that teams dealt with that this year?
Gravitt: No, our focus has been on South Forsyth High School. Our coaches have done an awesome job, and the kids have been so resilient in focusing on South Forsyth High School, and what their programs are here as War Eagles and Lady War Eagles. And I can't speak more highly of everybody involved in all of our extracurriculars in our school as a whole, in making sure that we focused on that.
Life as a whole has changes as you go through it, and we've approached it as that. And I wish I could say that I had a thimble's worth of meaning in the way they handled things, but they've just from the very start (said), we're going to focus on South Forsyth High School. We're going to be the best we can be, and that's going to help us get to the next area of growth for our school and the programs, making jumps, and I think that's evident in us still being in the top 10 in the athletic Director's Cup standings, even with what you talk about there. So I think (about) the kids, the fact that we've stayed focused on South Forsyth High School and being War Eagles.
FCN: Will the drop in enrollment affect which classification the school plays in?
Gravitt: From my understanding, our enrollment will remain at a level which keeps (the school) in the 7A classification. I'm not purview to what exact number will be, but (I know) at least from what our county has shared with us from the GHSA level, that at least five of our high schools will remain at the 7A level.