By Earl Vaughan Jr.
Left to right: Gray’s Creek football coach David Lovette, baseball coach Jeff Nance and basketball coach Jon Grimes stand beneath banners in the Gray’s Creek High School lobby. At right is the newest, the Level 2 School Honor Program Award from the National Federation of State High School Associations. At far left is the original Level 1 banner from the NFHS. In the middle is the 2020 Exemplary School Award presented by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association to the school with the best total program in the state, including academics, athletics, facilities and community support
The nation may still be reeling from the effects of COVID-19, but that hasn’t stopped the coaches at Gray’s Creek High School from bettering themselves and improving the way they connect with their student-athletes.
Earlier this week, the National Federation of State High School Associations announced Gray’s Creek is only the fourth high school in the nation to reach Level 2 status in the NFHS School Honor Program.
The Bears earlier became the first school in the nation to reach Level 1 status in the NFHS program, which recognizes schools that have had at least 90 percent of their coaching staff complete online courses dealing with a variety of subjects related to the sports each coach is involved with at Gray’s Creek.
In addition to sports specific training, the coaches receive instruction in areas like first aid, heat illness, concussions and student mental health and suicide prevention.
Gray’s Creek athletic director Troy Lindsey has promoted the NFHS School Honor Program with his coaches since its inception.
“The short answer is it’s all about the kids,’’ he said.
The teaching profession routinely asks teachers to pursue professional development and learn new skills and strategies for the classroom. Lindsey said it only makes equal sense to do the same for coaches, since the athletic arena at the high school level is an extension of the classroom.
Lindsey said some of what the coaches learn is a refresher of lessons they were taught in college, but some things are new, including dealing with social media and relating better with parents and students in a world that is rapidly changing.
Gray’s Creek boys’ basketball coach Jon Grimes said coaching isn’t the same as it was 20 years ago. “The kids have to deal with so much more,’’ he said. “They’re growing up a lot faster than they used to. It helps us provide leadership to the kid, helps build values.’’
Grimes thinks building relationships with today’s high school athletes are more important because today’s students don’t automatically trust a coach as an authority figure.
Bears baseball coach Jeff Nance remembers doing everything he could to follow his coach’s instruction when he was in high school. “Today’s kids are wanting to know more about why,’’ Nance said. “It’s more of an individual deal with the travel stuff and the AAU stuff.
“When you’re playing team sports and you’re requiring somebody to put their trust in your hand and vice versa, I don’t know that they feel comfortable in that area sometimes.’’
Nance feels the NFHS courses have given the entire Gray’s Creek staff greater confidence in what they are doing trying to relate to the 21st century high school athlete.
“I think it’s made us more relatable to the kid,’’ Nance said. “I just hope they understand we are trying to better ourselves to give kids a better experience in high school athletics.’’
Football coach David Lovette said some courses, like concussions, heat illness and using CPR for sudden cardiac arrest, are important to all coaches and need to be re-taken regularly to keep everybody as current as possible.
“It’s a commitment for us to get better and take better care of our students,’’ he said. “I just hope we continue to build on it and make things safer and better for our kids.’’
The courses are especially beneficial for first-year coaches like Stephanie French, who is in charge of the Gray’s Creek cheerleaders.
“I feel like it’s making me a better coach, in addition to the sports specific training they also provide,’’ she said.
French is no stranger to the coaching staff at Gray’s Creek. Her children attended school there, and she’s been impressed with the way Lindsey promotes the overall improvement of the coaching staff.
“Our coaches at Gray’s Creek are multi-dimensional,’’ she said. “They are not just physical education teachers. They really do look out for the best interest of the kids on and off the field or court.
“If we are building better kids in all aspects, those are better adults. They are going to go on and keep spreading what they’ve learned in our school throughout these relationships and experiences.’’
There is one more level a school can attain in the NFHS program, Level 3, but now that the coaches are slowly beginning to return to more normal schedules, Lindsey plans to give his coaches a break.
“When they get acclimated to this new sports calendar, we’ll start a push for Level 3,’’ Lindsey said.
He hopes to reach the final level by the end of the current school year.
“I’m lucky,’’ he said. “I’ve got great coaches.’’