From the The Brunswick News
Longtime academic administrator William Carlton has experienced college athletics at just about every level imaginable, from junior college to NCAA Division II to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. The College of Coastal Georgia athletic director understands there are new and sometimes unexpected challenges anytime a school moves from one level of competition and association to another.
Those challenges continue at Coastal Georgia as the now four-year institution embarks on its second year of participation in the NAIA and just its second year competing as a four-year school in athletics after years and years of junior college status.
Carlton assigned high marks to the transition by the school and its programs to date and said the future looks bright. The timing, he said, was right, and the principals involved in the transition have responded superbly.
"It kind of depends on the area you're talking about, but in general, a B-plus," said Carlton of the school's athletic transition from a two-year school to a four-year. "There were certainly some surprises. We had a pretty strong plan and just tried to execute the plan and definitely solve the problems as they came up."
Coastal's Athletic Futures Committee considered several options before deciding to pursue affiliation with the NAIA, a Missouri-based governing body for 300-plus smaller colleges and universities that conducts championships in 23 sports. The school joined the organization and its Southern States Athletic Conference as a pending member for the 2011-12 athletic year and becomes a full-fledged member of both beginning this fall when its teams will become eligible for championships and postseason play going forward.
"I honestly haven't seen any downside to moving to the NAIA," Carlton said. "We certainly had growing pains, but I think the NAIA and the Southern States is exactly the right place for us to be right now."
After fielding just a men's basketball and softball team as a junior college, Coastal now boasts 10 athletic teams: basketball, cross country, golf, tennis, softball and volleyball for women, and basketball, cross country, golf and tennis for men.
This past year, the college fielded its first-ever volleyball team and revived women's basketball, both of which fared nicely in competitive play in 2011-12 under coaches brand new to the school and to the NAIA, Jeff Huebner and Betsy Harris. In addition, the school's golf teams, in just their second year of competition, were both nationally ranked at season's end with the men ranked fifth among NAIA schools and the women 18th.
"The (women's) basketball team and volleyball team, to me, were such pleasant surprises, and I would include both of our golf teams in that, too," said Carlton. "The fact that those programs are so young is just remarkable.
"Coach Harris would get mad at me when I would come to her and say I was really surprised how well her basketball team performed. She didn't appreciate that, but it was very positive when I would say that because it's so rare to put a group of young ladies together and in the very first season, with no tradition, no history, to achieve that kind of success. There are hardly many teams that have been together and have that tradition that have achieved that number of wins. Certainly coming out of the gate, that was a real shock.
"And volleyball got 15 wins against pretty strong competition, so (I was) very pleased with them -- and with all the other squads."
Under Harris, the women's hoops team went a remarkable 19-10 -- closing the season with nine wins in its last 10 games -- and had a winning record both at home and on the road. Huebner's volleyball squad started 10-2, posted a winning road record and finished just two games under .500 at 15-17.
"We had some singular successes and we had some disappointments, but the competition, overall, I'd give us an A-minus, maybe even higher than that," Carlton said. "But (this) year will be substantially different because all of our teams will be trying to make it into postseason and see if we can win a championship. (This) year will be a new dimension where all the games count toward something."
Like with any program, continued success is the goal, and Carlton said recruiting has gone well across the board.
"All of those teams are very young. We've got everybody back on our golf teams and have added some depth there, too. And Coach Harris has done a nice job recruiting and bringing in some young ladies to help there, and the same thing for volleyball -- we return a great nucleus and have added some talented players with some size and skill."
Despite the major transition, Coastal didn't have to add as many new staff members as one might think, Carlton said. Some existing members had roles expanded and others' duties were tweaked.
"We've been fairly stable with our staff, which goes back to having that strong plan about how we wanted to hire and the sequence and so forth," Carlton said. "This summer has been unusually quiet in that regard. We really have only hired one person who is going to be a cheerleading coach. She's a local young lady who is going to help us with our cheerleaders and our spirit program. We're going to try to put a real focus on that spirit and get some things going for the students and the fans. That will be one of our focuses for the year. We want to roll out some sort of mascot, too, so we're working on that to get some excitement generated there."
Adhering to new and sometimes changing NAIA rules pertaining to athletes and their academics also posed a challenge, as expected, said Carlton.
"It certainly added compliance responsibilities, and our volleyball coach has taken that role on, which allowed us to give him some additional responsibilities and get him stabilized a little bit. He's taken that and done a nice job with it. That is certainly an area we've grown in and learned a lot in and have more learning to do there, too.
"Rules are always an interesting adventure. I have now been under Division II rules, Division I rules, junior college rules and now NAIA, and none of the systems work perfectly and all are just a little bit different to make it annoying."
All in all, the plan is working nicely, said Carlton. The challenge of educating prospective student-athletes about Coastal Georgia is still at the forefront, though.
"We really haven't quite reached that tipping point where people look at us as a true four-year school, either from a student perspective or a student-athlete perspective," Carlton said. "The college has done a lot of things to get to that tipping point, so when we reach that point, I think we are really going to see some explosive kind of growth. You have to get them here. (When) we get kids here on campus, they can't believe it."
|Release Date: 7/14/2012|
Source: The Brunswick News
|By DAVE JORDAN|