by Cliff Mehrtens

HUNTERSVILLE – SouthLake Christian Academy has reshaped the role of its athletics director.

Joe Haney, the school’s new AD, takes a more comprehensive view. He doesn’t coach a team – by design – and instead makes sure every squad receive attention and resources. It’s similar to managing a business, which Haney did for more than two decades before arriving at SouthLake.

Haney, who was hired in mid-July, said his role also involves being “a mentor for the coaches.”

“I want to help grow these coaches into being leaders, both on the field and their off-field strengths,” Haney said.

The Eagles athletic program is ripe with 36 teams totaling hundreds of students playing varsity, junior varsity and middle school sports. Haney said about 85 percent of SouthLake’s 300 or so high-school students are involved in a school-sanctioned sport.

The small private school’s athletic program grew under Rich Landis, who was the AD since 2005 and the school’s baseball and football coach from 2002 last June. He coached several sports in the early years, when the staff was smaller and resources were thinner.

SouthLake has been a state contender and won N.C. championships in various sports. The baseball team was state champion in 2011, and the past two football teams reached the semifinals.

But SouthLake’s athletic program has grown steadily the past few years, enough that there are plans for new facilities and upgrades.

“As we witnessed that growth, we were struck by the many parallels between SouthLake and the evolution of athletics and its administration at small colleges,” said Wayne Parker, headmaster at SouthLake.

“It became apparent that if SouthLake athletics were to continue to flourish and expand, we needed an athletic director whose primary responsibility was a global view of our athletic programs for all sports, and whose primary tasks included hiring, mentoring and actively supervising the coaches who impact our young people on a daily basis.”

Enter Haney, a Denver native and East Lincoln High alum. Haney coached baseball last season at Southside Christian School in Greenville, S.C., after working nearly 22 years in sales management at Cintas Corporation.

What attracted him to SouthLake?

“It was a combination of my love for working with young people in a sports-related manner and sharing Christ with them,” Haney said. “And having that business experience and reaching out to the community to attract resources and support for the program.”

Haney, hired as the school year was beginning, didn’t have much of a transition period. The dozens of duties that ADs normally attend to swarmed Haney – scheduling, officials, volunteers, transportation, equipment, etc.

But, as Parker said, SouthLake’s new model prevents Haney from the day-to-day distractions of coaching a team or teaching in the classroom.

Parker said the plan formulated in 2010, and the ideal AD candidate would have the desired business/management experience with an athletic/coaching background. Haney was a three-sport athlete in high school, played baseball at Wake Forest University and coached youth baseball for several years.

Haney said he’s spending a lot of one-on-one time with SouthLake coaches.

“A de-brief, I like to call it,” Haney said, laughing. “We talk about what’s happening with their team logistically, but more importantly, what direction they’re heading in terms of mentoring their own players. And, where they are spiritually. I gain so much insight from them.”

Haney’s also made a point to attend as many athletic events as possible, not just the high-profile ones.

“One of the goals we set at a recent coaches’ meeting was to have a competitive, well-balanced program where all the sports have the necessary funding, the resources and the facilities,” he said. “I make sure they know that every sport is important.”

Parker said additional land has been purchased for expansion. Plans include artificial turf on the football/soccer field this winter, a new fieldhouse and a new athletic complex that will include a second gymnasium, a bigger baseball field and additional practice fields.

Haney will be overseeing that growth.

“It has been a long, but well thought-out, process,” Parker said, referring to the new AD role. “One made in the best interest of our school and our student body.”