By any measure, it is difficult for a school sport to win a title, especially Coach of the Year. For any school to win more than one in a season leaves one in awe. But to win four Coach of the Year awards in a single season may be unprecedented.
Yet that is exactly what has occurred at Haines City High School. Chris Dolan (soccer), David Schafer (baseball), Ladrede Akins (girls basketball) and Ralph Harris (girls softball) did exactly that.
All the coaches (with the exception of Harris, who was out of state), plus Assistant Principal Al McDaniel and Athletic Director Michael Styles, pointed to one person behind the school’s success.
“It starts at the top, with Mrs. Braiman,” said McDaniel; Sue Braiman is the school’s principal. “It’s her expectations. It starts in the classroom, with the students, teachers and coaches.”
It also means trusting those she has appointed to also take the lead, according to Styles.
“She’s given me the liberty to hire the right people,” said Styles, who added that all four coaches came highly recommended.
In addition, she set high standards, all the coaches plus McDaniel and Styles agreed.
“I had been out of coaching 20 years,” said soccer coach Dolan. Yet when he was persuaded to return, he was greeted with a team that had an accumulative grade point average (GPA) of 3.0. That in itself is something to be proud about, but there was also something additional about that distinction. “I had (students from) seven nationalities.”
While the school district requires only a 2.0 GPA, that is not sufficient for Haines City High School students, who find the inner motivation.
“The students worked on their own initiative,” said Akins, girls basketball coach, who of the four coaches, has been at Haines City longest, 13-going-on-14 years.
Plus the school and the coaches said they are taking a long-range view.
“The coaches are developing programs, not for just this year, not just for next year, but for longevity,” said McDaniel.
Another contributing factor everyone agreed was the presence of a strong booster club for each sport.
“You see it at each and every one event, and you sure saw it this year,” said Akins.
“That’s the key,” added Schafer. “It takes a community of school and parents. Each of us has a good support staff.”
This has not always been the situation, particularly of recent note, said Akins. Haines City was formerly a “powerhouse” in varsity athletics. After Ridge Community High School was spun off, however, Haines City sports went into a decline. However, its revival was not too far off in the making, and in addition to Braiman, one other name cropped up, and often: Robin Wagman.
“The things these coaches have in common with Robin,” said Styles, “is they are disciplinarians, they run a tight ship, and they are not going to accept anything less than the very best.” He added the school’s sports program is in a blessed situation.
It is more than that, said Akins. “We take the talent we have and we ‘go to the mat.’” By that she meant the coaches do more than just “coach.” They also are teachers in the school of life, and they are passionate about achieving excellence.
“If they (students) see it in you, they’re going to give you 120 percent,” said Akins.
To that, Schafer added one other aspect.
“It’s not (necessarily) the hand you’re dealt,” he said. “It’s playing the hand you have.” Schafer should know. He brought a team that went from last to first under his tenure.