Three Richmond Hill High School varsity head coaches have stepped down. Two of the spots have just been filled.
For softball, Alex Gray is replacing Jodi Reagan. For boys’ soccer, Robbie Flanders is replacing Wade Wright. For tennis, Coach Pat Paruso has stepped down but a replacement has yet to be selected.
Reagan and Wright were both forced to step down due to the policy within the Bryan County school district that states a member of administration can not coach an athletic team. Wright was just named vice principal at RHHS while Reagan is taking the vice principal job at Carver Elementary.
After interviewing several candidates, Athletic Director Jimmy Hires appointed Gray on Monday.
Prior to now, Gray was the RHHS softball JV coach. He has also been an assistant varsity and head JV coach at Lowndes High School. In 2002, he was the assistant coach at Valdosta State University. That same year, VSU were the conference champions and region runner-ups. He played collegiate baseball at both VSU and Young Harris Junior College.
Gray plans to retain his RHHS duties as head JV girls basketball coach and head golf coach.
"I’m very excited about this opportunity," Gray said. "I think Sean (assistant coach Strickland) and I will take it to new level of competition. We have a lot of good young players coming up and hopefully be able to go far in Region 3-AAA. I expect a lot out of these girls and hope to continue what Jodi started last year."
Reagan, who is also stepping down as assistant girls’ basketball coach, is ending a decade of coaching. Last year was her first as head coach. She previously was the assistant RHHS softball coach and slid into the position when Allen Cox was promoted to an administrative position.
Last season, Reagan turned what was supposed to be a rebuilding year into one that saw them finish second in Region 3-AAA while setting an all-time high for RHHS batting average, ERA and fielding percentage.
"I’m going to miss it," Reagan said. "When you’re with girls that long, you become like family as they grow up and mold into better athletes. It’s hard to let go, but I’m anxious to watch the team next season."
Reagan said she will be in the stands and has put in a request to keep the scorebook in order to remain close to the team.
Meanwhile, Wright is ending 13 years of coaching. He is also giving up his role as assistant football coach. He has coached RHHS boys’ soccer for the last four years.
"I regret that I won’t have the time necessary to spend with the guys by taking on my new role, but I’ll still have an opportunity to watch them," Wright said. "I told one of the kids the other day that I keep preaching to them to reach high and be the best you can be, and now it’s time to practice what I preach. This is an exciting opportunity for me and I look forward to moving on and testing myself in this new position."
The RHHS boys’ soccer team has been state contenders each year of Wright’s tenure. This past season, the team made history by being the first team to go undefeated in Region 3-AAA play while making it to the second round of state.
"To me, winning and losing is just part of the game – it’s the journey with the kids that was so fun," Wright said.
Flanders has been Wright’s assistant for the past two years as well as the JV coach and assistant football coach. Prior to that, he spent one year as a soccer and football coach at Windsor Forest High School. In addition, Flanders, 30, said he has been playing the sport himself since the age of four.
"This is exciting but a little nerve racking because Coach Wright had such a great run and created a great program over the past four years. I learned a lot from him and I’m up to the challenge. I’m inheriting a lot of good soccer players and walking into a program that is already at a high level, so I just need to keep it going in the same direction."
As for the tennis, Paruso is stepping down after 18 years of coaching tennis. He will still be a teacher at RHHS. He said he hopes the program will retain the momentum that has carried them deep into state so many times over the last several years. Last season was one of many during Paruso’s tenure that has seen a final four appearance at state.
Hires said a replacement has yet to be named.
Paruso said he takes a lot of pride in building the RHHS tennis program and said it has been a Cinderella story of starting it from scratch to where it is now.
"Richmond Hill is a state powerhouse in tennis, but it wasn’t always like that," Paruso said. "It started out pretty dismal. We started out with no courts at all and having to bus the kids. They played at the rec fields for about 13 years. It took about five years to get the program off the ground, and the program has been strong ever since."
"The challenges for this point forward are perhaps for younger legs and more modern methods. I got the ball rolling and they have the blessing of a jumping into a successful program with some great players. And I’m there to help. If the boys fall short of the final four this coming season, then something’s wrong."
Coaching is not the only change this coming season as Region 3-AAA has a new line-up of schools that RHHS will play. Region 3-AAA is now RHHS, Baldwin, Burke County, Liberty County, Thomson, Washington County and West Laurens.