Jim Ernst is set to become the third baseball coach in West Forsyth history, following the retirement of longtime coach Mike Pruitt.
Ernst will take over a program that showed promise early this season, finishing 8-6 and nearly matching their win total from 2019 in a fraction of the games.
Ernst, who teaches biology at the school, has coached the Wolverines in some capacity since the school opened in 2007.
"I want to thank Coach (Byron) Orr and Coach Pruitt for mentoring me and giving me the opportunity to help them build a strong baseball program,” Ernst said in a statement. “I feel that I am ready to take the reins and continue growth and success now and into the future.”
Ernst played one year of collegiate baseball at the University of Iowa and has coaching stops at William Fremd High School (Ill.) and Lake Worth High School (Fla.).
"(He's) such a hard worker and such an organized guy," Pruitt said. "He just loves the game and loves being around the kids. I think he'll do awesome."
For Pruitt, the decision to retire closes a chapter in his life that spanned 30 years.
"For about two weeks, I would wake up every morning and tell myself, 'You're not going to be the baseball coach anymore,' Pruitt said. "And I'd go to be every night and be just fine with that. I didn't have any reservations, second thoughts about it. So, for two weeks I tried it on and for two weeks it seemed to fit OK, so I made my decision."
Pruitt will stay on as a teacher during the 2020-21 school year.
He's coached at four schools in his career — Forsyth Central, Gainesville, Flowery Branch and West Forsyth.
"Thirty years of coaching something, whether it was football, baseball — one time I even coached girls basketball, only because someone needed somebody to help them," Pruitt said. "That's definitely the part that I'll miss, is the relationships with those kids that you get to make along the way, for sure."
Pruitt got his start under Byron Orr at Forsyth Central, serving as an assistant coach for five years. He became the team's head coach after Orr left in 1994 to coach baseball and softball coach at North Forsyth.
"I'm not a very big guy, so coming out of high school my options were limited as well," Pruitt said. "I was lucky enough to go play four years up at Piedmont."
Pruitt said his four years at Piedmont College gave him confidence that he would be an effective baseball coach, more so than any other sport.
He coached the Bulldogs for five more years, guiding Central to an appearance in the 1996 Class 3A Final Four. Led by the bat of Ron Riddle, the Bulldogs stormed past Salem and Henry County in the first two rounds before falling to eventual state champion Columbus in the semifinals.
Pruitt coached Gainesville for eight years, spent another four at Flowery Branch, then returned to Forsyth County to coach the Wolverines. This past year was his 10th season at West Forsyth.
"The thing about it is, we had a chance this year to maybe compete for a region championship," Pruitt said. "I felt like our pitching was strong enough and we had a lot of good pieces in place. Obviously everyone's season got cut short, and the expectations that everyone had kind of went out the window, then we moved into this new way of life that we're in and I guess it kind of gave me a glimpse into what retirement would be like."
West Forsyth graduates 11 seniors this year, including college signees Wyatt Crowell (Florida State) and Luke Cartenuto (Young Harris), but will return a talented core for Ernst's first season in 2021.
“Jim has been with the school and the program from the very beginning in 2007 and has worked hard,” West Forsyth athletic director Brett Phipps said in a statement. “We are excited to see Jim get an opportunity to take the program over and elevate it to the next level.”