Lakeview Academy athletic director Deuce Roark will see a lot of familiar faces this year, both within the walls of his own school and from the teams the Lions’ athletic programs compete against.
Lakeview brings back all of its head coaches from last season, while Region 8-A retains eight of the nine teams which have competed in it over the last two years.
There is, however, at least one big change this season for the Lions — a return to a region football schedule.
The Times sports editor Jared Putnam sat down with Roark to discuss the Lions’ return to region play and the athletic director’s take on the many changes to Class A over the past few years, as part of a series of question-and-answer sessions with area athletic directors.
What stood out to you about Lakeview Academy athletics last season?
“The biggest thing for our school last year was just the dedication of kids. We had kids who played multiple sports. Eighty percent of our high school population participates in some form of athletics. Sometimes they’re a little limited on when they get into a sport, so to find the success they did (after) having such a large class graduate the year before, and to come on strong and build ... they did a great job.
“The kids were spectacular, as well as the coaches. We had a couple new faces that really added a lot to our school and they continued to grow our program, which is exactly where we want to be.”
I guess one example would be with boys basketball. When you lose a legendary coach like Coach (Seth) Vining, how important was it to be able to replace him with somebody who had a great resume himself, like Coach (Todd) Cottrell?
“Well, you look to fill a huge gap there. Coach Vining was incredible, the hardest-working fellow I knew. Still, after 30-plus years (he was willing) to continue to provide a tremendous give-back to the school.
“For Todd to come on over and be a part of our program was tremendous to keep that momentum that Coach Vining had built. Coach Cottrell has brought an energy and just a different approach, and it’s been one that has fit with exactly what Seth has built here.”
Some small private schools really saw their sports programs affected when the economy took its downturn several years ago. Some small schools in the Georgia Independent School Association lost so many students that they were unable to field teams in certain sports, and that forced other schools in GISA to move into the Georgia High School Association. People seem to have very different opinions about how much the economy has recovered since then, but how have those dynamics affected Lakeview in the last several years?
“I think an independent school definitely has a different (experience) than a public school due to the tuition. When the economy isn’t going as well, you tend to have maybe a little blip on the radar, maybe a little downturn for a little bit, but we’ve had great leadership in our head of schools (position) with Ferrell Singleton, Jim Robison and now John Kennedy. They have found ways to continually help our programs grow.
“We’ve added programs in the last few years, which only provides more opportunities. Finances is one of those things ... you’re continually looking for ways to do it better, raising money a little differently, but there’s only so many ways you can do it. It’s a continual battle.”
Is there a different approach to raising money at a private school as opposed to a public school?
“Not necessarily. Athletics are a great equalizer, wherever you go to school. Maybe you have a different approach with your families than you might somewhere else, but typically we’re all trying to do the same thing.
“It’s amazing the way athletics have changed. Used to be, you carried a uniform for maybe 10 years. Well, now it’s about a one-year deal and you’re changing uniforms. That aspect of high school athletics is a little bit different. You see the college teams changing their uniforms constantly, and the trickle-down effect (comes into play).”
Aside from finances, is there an issue out there that you see as a big hurdle for Lakeview or high school athletics in general?
“I think one of the biggest things, more in athletics as a whole ... is keeping a healthy perspective. I think 4 percent (of athletes) will go and play after high school, so I think keeping a healthy perspective of getting the most out of your high school playing days, and keeping that to the forefront for our players and parents (is important).
“Understanding that it is a privilege and honor to play, and it will come to an end sometime (is key). We want coaches and players to learn their life lessons through athletics. We all want to win, but ultimately we can’t guarantee that. We can guarantee teaching life lessons through our sports, and that’s kind of where we want to focus. We think that by doing that, winning is then a by-product.”
Looks like you keep Region 8-A relatively intact for the next two years. Pinecrest Academy moved out and Providence Academy replaced it?
“That’s the only change we have. We’ve stayed pretty steady in our region the last few years. We’ll add a team, or a team we’ve had before will come back, or we’ll lose one every now and then, but the core group has always been there since I’ve been the athletic director. You get to know them, you get to appreciate them and build some good relationships.”
Is Lakeview continuing with a non-region football schedule?
“No, this will be a region football schedule this year. The last two (realignment) cycles, we’ve been in a non-region schedule.”
What went into the decision to go back to a region schedule?
“A couple factors. One, just ease of (filling out a schedule) and two, we want to continue to grow in that direction. We want to make sure we continue to strive to give the most to our kids and playing a region schedule gives us opportunities for playoffs and other things that we can do.
“In the public and private and the way they separate a non-region schedule, it doesn’t benefit any other team in (Class) A to play you. It’s just advantageous to play a region schedule.”
The public school-private school split in Class A seemed to come out of public schools getting frustrated with competing for state titles against some of the powerhouse private schools. The idea was that it would increase competitive balance in Class A. But how did the split affect a private school like Lakeview, which doesn’t really fit the stereotype which the public schools seemingly wanted to get away from competing against?
“It was a very interesting development. If you look at it over time, (Class) A has mostly private schools in it, especially north of Atlanta. Our region only has two public schools — Towns County and Commerce. So, you think of a Northeast Georgia region in (Class) A, it is mostly private schools. South Georgia has a few private schools, but most of them are public.
“The split can be considered public-private or North-South, however you want to analyze that. I think it’s a little bit limiting in a state like Georgia. It has some advantages, certainly has some advantages, but realistically the goal of high school sports is to give people opportunities. If we’re going to create opportunities in a public-private split, let’s create even more. That’s what high school sports are about and what they need to continue to be about.”
What would be an example of a way to create more opportunities like you’re talking about?
“I think the biggest thing is creating more playoff spots. There’s only 16 in private and 16 in public, and that makes 32 like every other (classification), but if you’re going to separate it out, let’s create a few more spots. Because, that limits (us) from Atlanta (on) north, which is predominantly private schools.
“Maybe it’s even limiting the public schools in the north, too, because ... of the records with football and basketball and baseball in the power rankings. If you look at it that way, it can be a little limiting. I think probably in the future there will be some changes, hopefully. If not, we’ll keep trucking with what we’ve got, but if there are some changes, I wouldn’t mind.”
I’ve known athletic directors who had to essentially be a jack of all trades at other small private schools — situations where the A.D. would have to be in a suit for a meeting early in the day, then maybe in old clothes to help paint a locker room later in the afternoon. Is it a similar case for you here at Lakeview?
“An A.D. wears many hats. Maybe because of the size of our school, you just pitch in wherever as needed, and I like it that way. It has a family feel.
“... It’s very hard to lead if you’re not willing to serve. That’s where, I think, I can get the most out of my job.
“I think the hardest part is family. When you have three children at home and your wife is doing the best she can in baseball season to get them all where they need to go, that’s the hardest part. You don’t want to cheat that at all. You want to give your utmost to your coaches and kids, so you just do the best you can, and you ask for a lot of strength.”
Is there anything you want to accomplish at Lakeview in the near future beyond winning titles and building programs?
“I’d like to see us continue to develop our playing facilities and our programs. ‘Develop’ is not necessarily a word for winning, it’s more of solidifying the things we do. And kind of having a true standard for community service and for a commitment to a certain type of excellence, not only on the field but off the field, but making sure our kids continue to get the opportunities they deserve.
“That (can be) deciding what college they want to go to, academically, or how far they want to take their athletic careers. We want to continue to supply the things they need. And maybe that’s (a case where) bigger is not always better. It’s just (about) making sure they’re taken care of and building trust.”