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State of the program: Riverside Military charging ahead with optimism under interim athletics director, new vice president Mark DeFoor
Eagles returning to the football field after 2020 season was cancelled, due to coronavirus precautions
Riverside Military athletics
Riverside Military's Armand LaDouceur (6) maintains possession of the ball during a 2021 lacrosse match against Greater Atlanta Christian's junior varsity program. Photo by Natalae LaDouceur

Mark DeFoor wasted little time getting to work at Riverside Military Academy. 

On June 1, the veteran coach of football and basketball took over as vice president and interim athletics director at the private boarding school in Gainesville. 

He knows it’s going to be a challenge to pull double duty, especially with Riverside Military bring back 11 sports programs after the 2020-2021 school year was greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

However, coming home to work in Gainesville is something that has DeFoor eager to get to work everyday. 

“The best thing about Riverside Military is that the people are so nice and gracious in helping me get acclimated with the school,” DeFoor said. 

DeFoor will helm the position in athletics that became available after Marc Paglia retired at the end of the 2021 school year. 

Even though DeFoor doesn’t anticipate being in the role of athletics director for years to come, he’s thoroughly grateful for the impact Paglia made at Riverside Military. 

“Coach Paglia’s work is a testament to his love for Riverside,” DeFoor said. “All the sports programs here had what they needed to complete. On top of that, he was swimming coach and an outstanding math teacher.”

There was really not any time for DeFoor to get butterflies before coming back to work in Gainesville. The day before arrival, DeFoor was wrapping up his sixth and final season at Winder-Barrow, where he worked with the football and both basketball programs. 

At least for now, DeFoor said he leaves himself a sticky note on his desk with the first tasks he wants to accomplish the following day, so he doesn’t have to think about it. 

DeFoor said he relies heavily on Riverside Military Academy assistant athletics director Errol Bisso, who has worked at the school for 57 years, many of those coaching various sports. 

“Coach Bisso is a wealth of information,” DeFoor said. “I’m talking with him all the time and he’s always helping me.”

Generally speaking, DeFoor is excited about the athletics department for the Eagles, which he plans to hold the position of interim athletics director for the entirety of the next school year. 

The drawback for the fall sports is that Riverside Military Academy football coach Nick Garrett will not have his full roster on players until August 4. 

However, there’s no denying Garrett’s passion for the game and his ability to attract players to the private-school campus. 

DeFoor said keeping Garrett on staff after the Eagles didn’t have a 2020 season was one of, if not the most important thing, for their athletics department going forward.

“Coach Garrett’s commitment to Riverside Military is incredible,” DeFoor said. “He’s stayed in touch with kids as much as possible and is looking forward to having new kids on campus.”

DeFoor said that once students returned to Riverside Military Academy last winter, after the campus was shut down due to a high number of coronavirus cases, Garrett was active in working with the kids in intramural sports. 

This fall, Riverside Military is making the leap to Region 8-2A and will playing against Rabun County (led by one of the nation’s top quarterbacks and Georgia commit Gunner Stockton), Banks County, Elbert County and Union County. 

This season, the Eagles will have seven home games, starting in Week 1 against Notre Dame Prep on Aug. 20 at Maginnis Field. 

DeFoor, a long-time assistant football coach and football enthusiast, acknowledges that a good season that set the tone for the atmosphere on campus at Riverside Military. 

“We’d love for fans to come out here at catch a game this fall,” said DeFoor, who graduated from Gainesville High in 1983. “Our facilities department does a wonderful job and we’ve made some upgrades at Maginnis Field.”

Riverside Military Academy welcomed an influential name back when Jason Pleasant was named June 29 as its boys basketball coach and would be returning as defensive coordinator to its football coaching staff. 

Last season, Pleasant left to help coach both sports at Cherokee Bluff High, which is also where former Eagles standout Shad Dabney (now playing football at Kansas University) played his final year of prep sports. 

The last hole is a big one on the Eagles staff, as former head soccer coach Diego Vacca has since departed. 

Vacca led a lengthy run of success in soccer at Riverside Military, including the school’s only playoff team in 2021. 

DeFoor is working diligently to have that position filled by the time students move in to campus. 

The Eagles’ new athletics director and vice president has no grand illusions of its sports programs being dominant. 

Student attrition took a toll when Riverside Military cancelled all of its fall sports, in 2020, and winter sports were unable to take place, due to lingering coronavirus concerns on campus. 

However, the educational opportunities that Riverside Military provides give parents of boys in sixth-12th grade an option to consider. 

DeFoor said that the school has ‘rolling admissions’ so young men can join the student body, even after the first day of classes. 

Riverside Military’s new administrator wants to be hands-on in interacting with students in its wide-array of sports programs. 

“Our philosophy is to compete in every sport,” DeFoor said. “We want the students to enjoy their experiences playing sports at Riverside Military.”

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