My favorite moments as a fan

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Whenever I talk to people about working for the Auburn athletic department for two years, they often say, “Wow, that must’ve been really fun!”  And in some ways, it was – I got to stand on the sidelines at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturdays, be in the locker room before and after games, and meet some famous people.

But do you know what I didn’t get to do?  Tailgate, enjoy games with friends and family, cheer, and eat funnel cakes.

I condemn violence in sports, unless Kenny Frease is getting jacked in the face.

Working sporting events can be really fun depending on your job – announcing is still my favorite sports-related job by far – but being a fan is always way more fun.  When you’re working a game you can’t get caught up in the moment and cheer your head off, or you’ll almost certainly forget to do something crucial to your task.  And you can’t be partial and yell at the officials, either.  Well, you can yell at the officials, but college basketball referee and notorious diva Jamie Luckie might threaten to throw you out of the game for pointing out that Xavier’s lumbering oaf of a center can’t touch the ball in the lane without taking four goddamn steps and hooking the defender with his free arm to get his shot off.  Not that I’m still pissed about that or anything.

Despite all my experience working sporting events, all my most memorable in-person sports moments have come as a fan, and my biggest “I was there” moments have come at three different levels.  Here are the top 3.

3. November 12, 1999 – The beginning of a miracle playoff run.  Northwest Cabarrus spent most of the 1990s winning one game a year in football, and even in years where they were pretty good, they would lose games 97-0.  But my junior year was different; thanks to some very exciting comebacks and a little help from West Rowan, who beat our archrival Central Cabarrus on the last night of the regular season, Northwest snuck into the playoffs for the first time since 1987 with a record of 8-3 (this was back before they doubled the size of the state playoffs and you actually had to be good to make it).  Our first round opponent was undefeated North Davidson, who had steamrolled everyone they had played all season.  But on that cold Friday night in Lexington, I watched from the marching band section as the Trojans held the favorites in check and took a 7-0 lead to the locker room at the half.  The Black Knights (that nickname helped make them more villainous in our eyes) clawed back to tie the game at 14 late in the second half, and got within field goal range as time ran down.  Thanks to a clock management snafu on their part, the details of which I can’t remember, they didn’t get the kick away in time and the game went to overtime.  North Davidson managed a field goal in the top half of the overtime period, but on the second play of Northwest’s possession, quarterback Ryan Woodham scrambled nine yards for a touchdown, giving Northwest an improbable 20-17 win.  The band bus was hopping on the way back to Kannapolis, with everyone on top of the world just because we saw it happen.

We won our second round game, too – a 35-14 thumping of Erwin High School in Asheville – before falling to Concord in the third round.

Now, how do I remember so much about a high school football game that happened 13 years ago?  Most people would say it’s because I have a penchant for remembering useless things, but I think it’s because school spirit was – and is – incredibly important to me.  A lot of people think high school sports aren’t that crucial, but I disagree with them because I remember how much more fun school was when our teams were winning, and how it unified everyone.  As the athletic director at RTHS, I would love nothing more than to see that happen with our students and school community.

2. February 12, 2004 – Upset in the U.S.A.  I feel sorry for Charlotte students nowadays – the Atlantic 10 opponents are in no way interesting, and the 49ers haven’t sniffed the NCAA Tournament in basketball since 2005, my senior year.  And while I’m not usually a fan of back in my day moments, Halton Arena was way more fun when I was in college and the Niners were in Conference USA.  I mean, which opponents would you rather play?  Marquette, Cincinnati, Louisville, and Memphis?  Or St. Bonaventure, La Salle, and Fordham?  I thought so.

Courtesy of my friend Dustin, all you need to know about Martin Iti.

In 2004 we were pretty good, but we thought we were still one year away from doing anything awesome – the team was young, and Australian five-star recruit Martin Iti wasn’t yet on campus.  Iti, of course, turned out to be the biggest bust in the history of sports in the city of Charlotte.  You haven’t seen sad until you’ve seen a center get blocked by the rim when trying to dunk, and then having fans of Davidson – the whitest basketball team ON THE PLANET – give him hell for the rest of the game even while their team was getting blown off the floor.  But I digress.

When Rick Pitino and 7th-ranked Louisville came to Halton that year, it was hard to believe that we had much of a chance.  The Cardinals had been killing people throughout the conference season, and 49ers point guard Demon Brown was suspended for a little legal issue involving some cosmetic equipment, meaning that backup point guard Mitchell Baldwin had to play all 40 minutes.  Despite the obstacles, All 9,105 fans in Halton screamed and cheered with abandon all night long, and in the pep band section a certain tuba player lost his voice.  When the dust settled, the Niners had upended Louisville 77-71, the court had been stormed, and we led off SportsCenter that night (the segment carrying the name that I chose to head this section).  Almost more fun than the game itself was going with all my friends to Picasso’s Sports Cafe near campus after the game and celebrating late into the night.  We had plenty of big wins that I got to see while I was in school, but this one definitely tops the list.

Two decades later, I still can’t believe I saw this in person.

1. October 5, 1991 – From worst to first.  I first started watching Braves on TBS in 1990, when the roster included such first-ballot Hall of Famers as Oddibe McDowell and Jim Presley.  But in 1991, bolstered by free agents like NL MVP Terry Pendleton and Sid Bream, the Braves were neck-and-neck all year with the Dodgers for the NL West lead.  I can’t remember how much I pestered my parents – I’m sure it was a lot – but my dad went out and bought us tickets to see the Braves play the Astros on the last Saturday of the regular season.  The game was nationally televised on CBS, and the night before the game my sister, dad, and I made a sign that would actually end up getting us on TV – Can’t Beat Smoltz.

I’ve now been to about a dozen Braves games, and I still haven’t experienced anything like the atmosphere that day at the old Fulton County Stadium.  According to the box score, the crowd that day was 44,994 strong; it felt and sounded twice as big.  From the first pitch, through a monster Ron Gant home run in the 5th, and the completion of John Smoltz’ complete game gem, the chopping never stopped as the Braves beat the Astros 5-2 to take a 1 1/2 game lead in the division.

For whatever reason, my most vivid memory of that day was what happened after the game ended.  No one left.  The Braves players stood on the field and watched on the big-screen along with the fans as the San Francisco Giants defeated the Dodgers 4-0, clinching the division title for the Braves with one day left in the season.  As if the atmosphere wasn’t amazing enough beforehand, the place completely lost its mind at that moment.  After stopping to buy me a division champions pennant that I still have on the wall in my house, we left the stadium to the sound of war chanting, car horns honking, and people screaming.  I was nine years old, and I was positive that I’d never be a part of something so unreal again.  I was a big Braves fan already, but I was sealed up as a lifelong Braves devotee from that point forward.

And that is why being a fan blows the doors off of being an employee.  On the emotional side of things, so much gets lost in translation.  Working a baseball game, you don’t pull for a team – you pull for outs.  Fans are allowed to lose themselves in it, and I missed that when I was working in athletics full-time.

So, it’s your turn.  What are your most vivid, exciting, or satisfying sporting events that you saw in person?

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RTHS construction update

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I know very little about construction or building things; I’m really more of an observer/consumer by nature.  So when a building is being constructed, renovated, upfitted, or what-have-you, my paradigm is that unless I can see walls, doors, or windows going up, nothing happened.

Hopefully the stall doors aren’t on back-order.

And that’s why until very recently, I was incredibly nervous that our school building wouldn’t be done in time for school to open next month.  I was told that our contractors  – who built Raleigh Charter’s new building last year – are the best in the business and would not overpromise on the deadline, and I know they must’ve been doing wiring, duct work, ventilation, etc., but I had no tangible evidence that led me to believe that we’d have a school building in August.

Until this week.

These contractors, to quote one anonymous RTHS official, “do not screw around.”  Except he didn’t say “screw.”  The point is, in the last week our shell of a strip mall has started to look like a school, and that has caused my already-high level of excitement to go through the newly-installed ceiling.  And so, without further adieu, here’s how Research Triangle High School is looking just two and a half weeks from opening.

Our front entryway getting its final coat of paint.

THE FRONT ENTRANCE

Instead of a separate main office with a door that you would find in most schools, we’re going to have more of a reception desk in our main lobby.  That area, seen in the picture at left, will be staffed by Mila Presutti, our stellar office manager, and assorted parent volunteers.  The doorway off to the right of the desk is where one can find the administrative offices, teacher bathrooms, storage, and probably the copier.  I’m a big fan of how open this area feels (the floor-to-ceiling glass windows help that along), and I think it will help make visitors to our school feel very welcome, and it gives us plenty of room to store files and expand as we add more students in the next three years.

The gallery, with cloud ceilings and carpet installed.

THE GALLERY

What a difference two weeks makes.  In a recent blog post, I included this picture of what our gallery, or main commons area, looked like at the time.  It was basically a shell at the time; it now has carpet laid down, fresh paint on all the walls, and a pretty neat ceiling arrangement the contractors have called a “cloud ceiling.”  The ceiling tiles are designed to cover the more aesthetically unpleasing pipes, ducts, and tubes, but some of the ceiling will be exposed.  The lighting is understated but feels warm, and track lighting lines the walls where the “clouds” don’t reach.  The teacher office area at the left of the picture is nearly done, except for the windows that will go in next week.

The science classroom is across the hall from my room. I would thank those teachers not to blow me up.

THE CLASSROOMS

As far as I can tell, with the exception of the biology classroom, all the classrooms will be carpeted.  Most of the classrooms are set up very much like mine, pictured here.  With dimensions of 20 by 30 feet, it has a door to the outside (behind where I snapped this), a floor-to-ceiling window, two cinderblock walls, one white sheet-rock wall at the front of the room, and one green accent wall.  Whiteboards are about to be put up on the accent walls, and I will have no shortage of board space – it’s 16 feet long.  It looks pretty spartan at the moment, like bare and empty rooms always do, but once I get my many, many posters up, I’m sure it’ll look fantastic.

I think I can speak for everyone at RTHS in saying that we are utterly in awe of J. D. Beam Contractors and the amount of time and thought they’ve dedicated, on a very tight schedule, to making this school a reality.  I guess teachers don’t need a nice building in order to impart knowledge, but it sure makes it easier.

As the school nears completion and the furniture gets placed and the kids arrive, I hope to post some more pictures.  I hope you’ve enjoyed this small glimpse into our school.

A trip back to elementary school

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On August 6 – less than two weeks hence – we’ll get the keys over at Research Triangle.  That’s going to be very exciting, but also quite stressful, since that means that we’ll only have one week to get everything set up and moved in before the students invade on August 13.

So deciding that I needed a tune-up game of sorts, on Tuesday I headed down the road to Durham’s Parkwood Elementary School, where my former student and current friend Allison has been hard at work setting up her 3rd grade classroom in preparation for her rookie year of teaching.  While setting up a classroom probably seems like quite a chore to a lot of people, for teachers it’s a lot of fun.  An empty classroom is like a canvas; you can arrange desks, put up posters, and bring in other stuff that shows off your character and makes your room a fun, inviting place to learn.

And sometimes, you also find all kinds of stuff that sends you back in time.

Allison’s classroom at Parkwood is a temporary one; just five weeks into school she’ll be moving over to a newly-renovated wing of the school, and the area where her current classroom is will be renovated.   I don’t know how old that school is, but it’s old.  And that was the first thing about my trip to Parkwood that reminded me of my elementary school days.

I tried to get Eric to buy me desks like these for my classroom at RTHS. Nothing doing.

I went to Winecoff Elementary School in Concord.  If you live in Concord, you may say, Oh yeah, I’ve driven by that school.  It looks so nice and new!  Well, that building was erected in 1999, when I was in high school.  My Winecoff’s main building was built in 1928, some other wings were built in the 1950s, and due to decades of deferred maintenance the building was crumbling around us.  My first thought upon walking into Parkwood yesterday? Oh my God, this place smells like Winecoff.  It’s that captivating aroma that’s a combination of really old paint and something in the air that probably gives you cancer.

It didn’t take me long to discover that the previous occupant of Allison’s classroom belongs on that “Hoarding: Buried Alive” show.  I don’t think that woman threw anything away at any point in the last 30 years, but that just added to the fun of getting the room cleaned out and set up.  One of my main tasks was going through all the books and separating them out by genre (and discarding the ones that were way below third-grade level).  I was absolutely stoked to discover that third graders apparently still read the same things I read back then – Encyclopedia Brown (RIP Donald J. Sobol), Cam Jansen, Magic School Bus, and – best of all – The Boxcar Children.  There was a time in 4th grade when I would go through a Boxcar Children book a day.  There was also a copy of A Tale of Two Cities; that seems a little heavy for eight-year-olds, but hey, to each his own.

Found in Allison’s classroom: this science textbook, published in 1989. I distinctly remember using this book at some point in elementary school, before I started consistently getting C’s in science.

While this trip down memory lane was plenty fun, it was also a relief to hear Allison point at things from time to time and say, “This stuff has got to go.”  Armed with a degree from the UNC School of Education, infectious enthusiasm, and a bottomless supply of energy, I know she’s going to provide her kids with a valuable, 21st-century education, and the outdated maps and cassette tapes stored up in that classroom aren’t going to help in doing that.  I was told that her classroom will have several computers once school starts back up.  Hopefully they’re not the Apple IIe models of my elementary school days.  Oregon Trail, baby.

It was a reminder that teaching kids the way they’ve always been taught isn’t going to cut the mustard anymore.  All levels of education have to change, to teach kids to use new technology, to think through problems for themselves instead of having information dumped on them.  If it doesn’t start at the elementary school level, those kids aren’t going to be successful at a school like Research Triangle, or in the job market when they leave high school.  In a way, the cleansing of Allison’s classroom was symbolic of what has to happen in education across the country – out with the old ways of teaching, and in with the new innovative methods that are going to help students succeed and become lifelong learners, and teachers that help students develop knowledge instead of just providing it.

But don’t ever throw away the Boxcar Children books.

The trouble with mascots

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If all mascots were like Aubie, I wouldn’t be writing this.

Now that we’ve revealed our mascot as the Raptors to the Research Triangle High School student body and community, more than one person has asked me, “Hey, are you guys gonna have a Raptor mascot at your games?”

What comes out of my mouth: “I guess we can look into that.”  What I say in my head: “Jesus, I hope not.”

Why?  Well, for starters, those costumes aren’t cheap.  I also love the suggestion from Deb, our lead English teacher, to get a faculty member’s dog and do this.

Hugo the Hornet, in George Shinn-forced exile since 2002.

But mainly, I hate mascots.

Now, before you start sending me hate mail, there are exceptions to this.  I’m still very partial to Hugo the Hornet, the symbol of the first sports team I ever truly loved (and that will hopefully return to the Queen City one day).  And Auburn University’s Aubie, seven-time winner of the college mascot national championships (yes, that’s a thing), is very enjoyable to be around at games and university functions.   But more often than not, mascots just creep me out, and they should creep you out too.  Let’s explore the reasons why.

1. Mascots smell awful.  I didn’t actually know this until I started working in sports, but the smell of a mascot costume is pungent and disgusting enough to knock out a full-grown elephant.  Imagine the wettest, sweatiest stench you can imagine – locker room, high school semi-formal, whatever – and then imagine it combined with gallons and gallons of Febreze.  The problem is that Febreze never actually gets rid of the smell of sweat; it just smells like sweat and Febreze, which is even worse.  The happiest day of my life was when the Kannapolis Intimidators created a mascot dressing room, which meant that they weren’t storing that cesspool of a costume in the press box anymore.  Oh, and speaking of the Intimidators…

Dub, the blue-furred root of my mascot distrust.

2. Dub.  The Intimidators had several years of misery trying to find someone suitable to play Dub, the Phillie Phanatic-inspired creature that for some reason symbolized the team (was a Dale Earnhardt costume just too creepy?).  When I first started working for them, they had a strange guy who would actually yell on the field while in the costume – isn’t that against mascot code or something?  After he quit, they got a younger guy who seemed like he was going to be pretty good, until he was fired after the team got reports of him walking up to the wife or girlfriend of a current player, leaning down in her ear, and saying, “Hey baby, how would you like a little monster in you?”  After a later incarnation of Dub tripped over third base during a race against a kid – causing Dub’s head to fall off and roll away, doubtlessly traumatizing the children in attendance – the Intimidators decided to just cut their losses and retire Dub.  In 2010 he was replaced by Tim E. Gator the Intimidator.  Because when I think of legendary NASCAR drivers, I think of alligators.  Whatever.

3. Mascots are people in a freakin’ costume, man!  Think about it.  When you let a mascot take a picture with your kids, are they getting their picture taken with a real cute, cuddly anthropomorphic animal?  Hell no they’re not; they’re getting their picture taken with a grown-ass person who walks around in a costume for a living and probably horses around with children and chases after the attractive female patrons with something approaching a fervor all night.  Do you think every team does background checks on the people in those costumes?  I seriously doubt it; for all you know they could be a pedophile, or a plushie, or god-only-knows-what.  They might want to put a monster in you!

I basically view mascots the way I view clowns.  I’m not afraid of them, but I just don’t normally like them.  I feel like I’ve built up a pretty good rapport with Norm the Niner and Aubie, but any other mascots out there… if you’re reading this, just stay away from me and let me enjoy the game.

Green Raptors, Pt. 2: How they got picked

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The second of a two-part blog series on the development of athletics and a school identity.  Read the first part here.

One of the things our faculty stressed time and time again to our students at our freshman orientation camps was that everything about Research Triangle High School is brand new; new building, new way of “doing school,” new traditions.  One prime example of this was the discussion about our school values, which I mentioned in my blog post about our orientation sessions last week.

But before the students came through our doors for the first time, many of us at RTHS were already laying the groundwork for developing our school identity.  When we weren’t planning to have athletics in our first year, things like mascots and school colors didn’t seem of paramount importance, but when we decided to officially support and sponsor several teams, that was something we had to move on.

Maybe it’s because some people know of high schools primarily because of their sports teams, but the question I got from tons of people as soon as I was hired was “So, what’s your mascot gonna be?”  Well, for several months, we as a staff didn’t know either.  Professional teams change their colors all the time, and in extreme cases (e.g. the Washington Bullets/Wizards), they change their nickname too.  But unless your mascot embodies Native American stereotypes or the Confederacy, high school and college branding very seldom undergoes drastic changes.  So we had to make sure we got this right.

For the colors, we only had one rule: we would not take sides in the ever-raging Tobacco Road college sports war.  That meant no light blue, royal blue, or red.  For the mascot, we also had one overarching rule: nothing lame or cliche.  “Hopefully we can have a productive discussion of mascots,” Eric told me in an April email, “that won’t result in us being the Golden Bulldogs.”

After compiling some lists on our own and then comparing notes, Eric and I settled on four color schemes to put to a vote: orange and blue, purple and silver, dark green and silver, and maroon and gray.  We both thought we could get the faculty behind orange and blue; biology teacher Lara Pacifici and I both went to Auburn for our masters degrees, Eric went to Florida for his bachelors and masters, and English teacher Deb Brown went to Syracuse.  But we couldn’t quite get everyone behind that one; purple seemed to have quite a few champions among the faculty.  There was also the issue of not knowing what our mascot was going to be.

It was around that time that Bill Massey, our art teacher and a former creative director at multiple advertising agencies, recommended that we put it to a vote of the whole RTHS community to ensure that whatever choice we made had “buy-in” among our stakeholders (i.e. the students and parents).  To that end, we included in the online colors ballot an open-ended spot where people could suggest mascots.  At the end of the voting for the colors, we compiled some of the most popular and frequent suggestions and put those to a vote.  These were our seven finalists.

  • The Manticores.  Eric pushed awfully hard for this from the beginning.  I was less than enthused at first, but had to admit that it’s a pretty badass creature – head of a man, body of a lion, and the tail of a freakin’ scorpion?!?!  WHAT?!  Eric suggested this as a possibility at several of the student open houses, and it was apparent from the get-go that his bully-pulpiting worked; the Manticore was suggested by quite a few people.
  • The Griffins, alternatively spelled Gryphons.  Head of an eagle, body of a lion; kinda cool and not too common.  I don’t know if it’s because we have a disproportionate number of mythology nerds in our student body, or if it’s because of the glut of fantasy-themed mascots at non-traditional public schools in our area (Raleigh Charter Phoenix, NCSSM Unicorns), but we saw this one from quite a few people too.
  • The Raptors and the Mammoths, categorized as our “extinct options.”  Mammoths grew on me after Eric sent me a picture of the logo for a minor-league lacrosse team called the Colorado Mammoth.  Deb pointed out, though, that maybe “Mammoths” wasn’t the best thing to be known as when we had a building full of image-conscious teenagers.  No one really seemed to object to the Raptors name.
  • The Elephants.  This was recommended by several people, but I just didn’t get it.  Babar doesn’t really strike fear in the hearts of opponents, although elephants have been known to go off the reservation.
  • The Lynx and the Wolves.  These are things that seem like they would be more common mascots, but they really don’t appear very often.  I certainly could’ve lived with either.

I have no desire to reveal the actual results of the voting as it was non-binding to begin with, but here’s how things shook down.  In colors, purple/silver and dark green/silver did very well, and the other two choices were pretty far behind.  In mascots, the top vote-getters were the Griffins, Raptors, and Wolves.

I really have to hand it to Eric; if I was the principal of a brand-new school and was told that my dream mascot choice appeared to not be very popular, I would have probably thrown a fit and stubbornly stuck to it.  But Eric very graciously conceded; it didn’t hurt that we discovered that manticores were seen as symbols of fraud in medieval Europe.

People began to rally around the Raptors name, but there was one thing that needed to be cleared up: was it the Raptors as in the dinosaurs made famous by Jurassic Park, or was it the Raptors as in the contemporary bird of prey?  We chose the dinosaur for several reasons.  For one thing, if we were the bird of prey, weren’t we just adopting a common mascot like Eagles in a roundabout way?  As William Shakespeare once said, “An eagle by any other name would be just as lame.”  There are also several local connections; there’s a significant dinosaur exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, and Dr. Mary Schweitzer has done some amazing, world-renowned dinosaur research at N.C. State.  And you can’t spell “Raptor” without RTP.

Purple, you almost won out as our school color.  Until someone brought this up.

Throughout the entire process, purple remained immensely popular among most of the faculty as a color choice. Settling on “Raptors,” however, completely killed that dead.  Purple dinosaurs?  We found a way to connect green and silver to our mission – the green represents natural science, and the silver represents the metal associated with engineering and technology.

So, everyone, we’re the Research Triangle Raptors.  And our colors are dark green and silver.  I learned several things from this process.  For one thing, you’re not going to please everyone.  I’m a consensus-builder by nature, and I feel like we reached a pretty good consensus in this process.  With hundreds of parents and students all wanting very different things, though, some people were going to be bummed by what we picked.  We just had to accept that and endeavor to get them to buy into it going forward.

Piggybacking on that last point, I also learned that input from the community can be not only helpful, but invaluable.  I don’t think anyone on the faculty would’ve thought up the Raptors as a mascot, but hey, out of the mouths of babes…  I have no idea if he’ll ever read this, but it’s worth mentioning that RTHS freshman Matthew Cottrell was the very first person to suggest the Raptors as our mascot.  Well done, sir.

Next comes the fun part – the actual creation of our identity and brand.  We’ve played around with some logo ideas (one possible secondary logo, shamelessly stolen from the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, heads this post), and hope to be releasing our official branding soon.  The building may not be done yet, but having a mascot and colors has definitely helped make this school feel more real.

Green Raptors, Pt. 1: The birth of RTHS athletics

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The first of a two-part blog series on the development of athletics and a school identity.

Given my background working in multiple sports at multiple levels in multiple capacities, I was excited to use what I’ve learned in helping Research Triangle High School get the ball rolling with regards to its athletic programs.  So when I got hired at Research Triangle High School, I was thrilled when my boss and friend Eric discussed with me the possibility of being the school’s athletic director somewhere down the road.

The key phrase in that last sentence, though, is down the road.  We’re a start-up school with a mere 160 students in grades 9 though 9 the first year.  We started up too late to get into the North Carolina High School Athletic Association for the first year.  The closest thing we have to an athletic facility is a field out behind the school that lists at about 30-degree angle toward a drainage ditch.  In other words, we had virtually nothing going for us.  The tentative plan was to let club sports form organically through student interest in the first year or two, and use that as a springboard to develop a full athletic program somewhere around the school’s third year.

At a small charter school like RTHS, basketball will be the flagship sport. Football could get ugly.

Our students and parents, however, had other plans.  Almost immediately after our charter was approved in March, the powers-that-be started getting inquiries about basketball, and soccer, and track, and cheerleading, and you-name-it.  Since my graduate studies were winding down and I didn’t have much else going on, I volunteered to take some of the athletics-related correspondence off their hands.  But even then, our position hadn’t really changed – no school-sponsored sports in year one, and my emails to parents were largely to that effect.

Well, that line has not held.  Through a combination of parental support, a slightly increased budget for athletics, and enthusiastic reaction from students, we’ve developed a very small slate of sports to offer in 2012-2013: boys’ and girls’ JV basketball and JV soccer, boys’ and girls’ cross country, and cheerleading.  Boys’ tennis is also a possibility for the spring semester.  We hired a young, very enthusiastic guy to teach Health and P.E.; he will also coach both of our basketball teams.  Several parents with experience coaching youth sports for their kids have stepped up to coach or assist with cross country and a club indoor soccer team.  We have teachers on staff who can work with the cheerleaders and tennis.

For me personally, it’s been a hell of a leap from my Robinson role of public address announcer and de facto sports information director to being an athletic director at a brand new school.  I’ve become a daily presence in the email inboxes of athletic directors at charter schools all over the Triangle, asking them what the hell to do.  How do I schedule opponents?  How do I book facilities for our teams to use for practices and games?  From whom should we order uniforms?  The questions never stop coming.

It’s been one of the steepest learning curves I’ve ever been a part of, but it’s also been a lot of fun.  Once I have classes for which I’ll have to plan and do grading in addition to handling sports-related matters, we’ll re-evaluate that statement.  But I think it’s going to be very rewarding to, as my student affairs professor said at Auburn, develop the whole student; academics are obviously integral, but students need ways to mature physically and socially too.  And I can’t wait to be on the front lines of that.

Coming tomorrow: how we’ve developed our school’s colors, mascot, and identity – in other words, I’ll be explaining the title of this post.

School in a strip mall

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Research Triangle High School

Everyone knows what a typical, good ol’ fashioned red-blooded American high school looks like.  Brick and mortar buildings with lockers lining hallways, the cafeteria, the gymnasium, the football stadium, and so on and so on.  Some charter schools look like that, too.  Others don’t.

The front lobby of RTHS, under construction.

Research Triangle High School definitely falls into the “others don’t” category.  As a fast-track charter school whose charter was just approved on March 1, RTHS didn’t have time to erect a new school from scratch in time for the school year to start.  So such schools have to find the best existing building possible and make it work – Raleigh Charter High School occupied the old Pilot Mill buildings near downtown Raleigh from its opening in 1999 until they bought their own new building in 2011.

Going to high school in a mill must’ve been an awesome experience – I took my quiz bowl teams to many tournaments there each year and my kids and I could never get over how much character the place had.  But there was no stadium, no gym, no auditorium, and no cafeteria.

Research Triangle found a building that you would never think could be the home to a high school – an unoccupied strip mall in the heart of Research Triangle Park.  It has some great advantages, too – it’s convenient to Interstate 40 and N.C. 54, the two main roads through RTP, it gives us plenty of room to grow, and it’s located near several Triangle Transit bus stops.  That last part is particularly important, because like most charter schools, we don’t have our own buses.

The café, flanked by the teachers’ offices (left) and a conference room that will be available to students.

And just like Raleigh Charter, we won’t have a cafeteria or a gym either.  We will, however, have an area we’re going to call the gallery or café where students can eat lunch they bring from home, work in their study halls, or get stuff done before or after school.  It’s going to have tables and easy chairs, almost like a coffee shop.  We’re looking at some other cool food options to occasionally provide, too.  For athletics, we’re going to have to find options off-campus like community centers, the gyms at RTP companies, or city parks.  We’ll also probably play a lot of away games, especially the first year.

After having some very nice amenities at Robinson, working here will probably be a bit of an adjustment at first.  But the other teachers and I are focusing on what we will have instead of what we won’t have – a first-class faculty, an administration that values teacher autonomy and creativity, and access to technology and other resources that will help us give our students a world-class 21st century education.

School starts at Research Triangle on August 13, one month from today.  There’s a lot to be done before then – two more sessions of Meet RTHS Camp, putting the finishing touches on the curriculum, and moving my teacher stuff into my classroom, among other things.  But watching this nondescript shell of a building turn into one of the most exciting things I’ve ever been a part of has been the thrill of a lifetime.  Just like Raleigh Charter made the old mill buildings their own amazing school, we’ll make this strip mall one seriously awesome place.

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