Building a new athletics program
MIDWAY – Stan Smith spent his professional career working toward the day when he could lead an athletic program.When Oak Grove High School presented Smith with such an opportunity, the Ledford alum found he was embarking on something that hadn’t been done in Davidson County in half a decade. Oak Grove in August becomes the first brand new high school to open in the area in more than 50 years, leaving Smith tasked with creating an athletics program from scratch.
With such a daunting challenge ahead, Smith found there wasn’t much to go on as far as advice was concerned.
“East Davidson is the last new high school to open around here,” Smith said. “There is no blueprint for it. You just do research around the county and schools of people who know a little more of what to expect. This is new for everybody. You’re just doing your due diligence and checking off checklists and doing everything before sports and school starts. I’m just trying to cover all my bases.”
Smith has spent the past six months molding a sports program from the ground up; hiring coaches he feels will help create a winning culture, purchasing equipment, fundraising and overseeing the final construction of new athletic facilities. His days are hectic and he finds the beginning of the school year closing in, but the process has been as smooth as he could have expected.
Smith realized early on that this wasn’t something he could do alone.
“I think learning how to get the right people in the right places is a big part of it,” Smith said. “Nobody can do it by themselves. We want to build a culture where we’re supporting each other and helping each other out. That’s part of what we’re doing. I can’t take credit for this. I’ve learned so much from the people I’ve been able to surround myself with.”
One advantage Smith brought with him to the job was a familiarity with the area. He graduated from Ledford in 2001 following an illustrious two-sport career with the Panthers. He credits his time spent with Ledford coaches like Dickie Cline as laying the foundation for his post-high school life.
“[Coach] Cline taught me how to be a man,” Smith said. “I learned a lot from him; how to be a coach, how to be a man. I learned from a lot of great coaches along the way. Gary Whitman (Lexington High School), Kevin Gillespie (Page High School), Chuck Henderson, Chris Adams, they’ve all played a part in me getting to where I am now.”
Smith received a football scholarship to Elon University and graduated with a degree in business administration. Having grown up in the Wallburg area, Smith knows there is rich pool of athletic talent coming to Oak Grove.
“I’m very familiar with this part of the county,” Smith said. “It’s exciting and right down the road from where I grew up. I think we’re pulling from a great demographic of kids in the Midway/Friedberg area. The athletics at the middle school has been very successful and I’m looking forward to growing that at the high school level. We definitely want to start our own traditions here. We’re looking to make this home and create our own culture.”
Oak Grove Principal Scott Dalton saw Smith as an outside-the-box thinker who could lead the athletic program to new heights.
“I think he brings an approach that will help us build something special,” Dalton said. “There are a lot of challenges any time you start something from scratch. We choose to see it as an opportunity to create customs and traditions. Our goal is to build a culture in all areas, from the classroom to athletics. We want to create a school our community can be proud of. He was the best candidate for the job and it was an easy decision.”
Oak Grove High School, which will only have freshmen and sophomores this upcoming year, plans to offer varsity sports in everything except football. Smith realizes his athletes are faced with competing against older kids, but he still wants them to compete and grow, both on and off the playing field.
“We’ve told our coaches that if they’re keeping score we want to win,” Smith said. “We also see the reality of the situation and we’re not going to judge our coaches as much on wins and losses as we are on is the program improving and character development. If you’re doing things the right way and you believe in the process, the wins will be there. We want to get better from day to day, week to week.”
Dalton also sees the situation as an opportunity. “I choose to look at that as a chance for kids to get varsity experience and some other kids now have a chance to make some JV teams who might otherwise not been able to do so,” said Dalton. “It’s a chance to also find some late bloomers and some diamonds in the rough.”
Oak Grove was placed in the Central Carolina Conference, setting up an ideal situation for some pretty big crowds. The Grizzlies join local schools East Davidson, Ledford and Thomasville in a conference many fans, and coaches, have been clamoring for.
“I definitely think that coming into the CCC is going to help with not only building rivalries but having everybody close to home,” Smith said. “It should help to draw some pretty good crowds with these natural rivalries. Naturally, it’s going to be great to have some good friendly rivalries. It’s good to have a conference where we’re not all spread out. People want to see these rivalries. I think the kids are excited.”
Dalton said the conference formation was long overdue.
“Eight of 10 teams in league are in the county,” said Dalton. “We have more natural rivalries as some people are comparing it to the good old days. It should create bigger crowds and better environments. When I was coaching I always wanted to see this happen.”
With August quickly approaching, Smith finds there always is something to do. From getting the new athletics website up and running to fundraising, Smith moves from one project to the next.
“It hadn’t slowed down any,” Smith said. “I thought it would have slowed down a little with me being here based out of the middle school but it hasn’t. I always feel like what’s next? Something comes up every day, every week. A lot of the stuff I do is hurry up and wait. It’s been a relatively smooth process even though I don’t have anything to compare it to. I’ve loved going out and getting to know our vendors and sponsors, ordering equipment, getting to know our coaches and putting together a staff that I look forward to putting together a culture with.”
Smith said he hopes to offer varsity and junior varsity in baseball, basketball, swimming, golf, track, cross country and golf, but that will depend on the number of kids who turn out. Football will move to varsity in 2018, and Smith would like to add lacrosse at some point.
Oak Grove gave Smith the challenge he coveted. Now the real work begins.