When the county decides to build a new school, one of the last things considered is how the athletics landscape will be affected. The inception of a new athletics program is quite an undertaking, though, as the coaching staff at Explorer K-8 is finding out firsthand in the first month of existence. Middle schools in Hernando County have volleyball, football, softball, track, golf and a pair of basketball programs, and all of these teams had to be built from scratch. That would have been enough to deal with, but there is much more. Children are nervous enough when starting at a new school, and that is without the idea of trying out for a sport. Drawing interest in the fall sports in particular was difficult since the coaches had no clue who would be attending Explorer.
"We knew we'd have this problem," athletic director Chris Ridenour said. "The county did a decent job of getting the word out before the end of last school year, but the numbers are still a little down."
Once Ridenour was put in place by the administration, the next step was the hiring of coaches. Ridenour, a former coach at Fox Chapel Middle and Hernando High, acknowledges the difficulty of being an athletic director at a new school.
"If you take over at another program, you don't deal with the same issues," Ridenour said. "Here, we have to worry about getting uniforms for all of the sports, while they already have the set they used from years before at other schools."
It takes an enthusiastic attitude and personality to jump into a program like this, regardless of the sport. This is the trait Ridenour looked for in his coaches, and from football coach Frank Hynes, a former Hofstra player and a coach at J.D. Floyd K-8, to David Cross, a former high school cross country coach, every hire is focused on instilling fundamentals.
So, how does a group of new coaches hurdle these obstacles? According to volleyball coach Katherine Lovett, the key is sticking together and forming relationships.
"It's not just the coaches that are tight-knit here already," Lovett said. "All of the teachers who teach electives are getting a reputation for being a nutty group."
Lovett's volleyball team was the first Bobcat team to compete in 2008. Unlike the football team, which has a month to prepare for its season, the volleyball team practiced for only a week before its first game. Since most of the players have little or no experience playing the sport, Lovett had no clue what to expect.
"You just don't realize how much goes into (coaching) until you have to do it," the 1995 Hernando High grad and volleyball player said. "So much time goes into it when you only have a few girls with experience on the court."
Success on the playing field isn't expected the first time around, but Ridenour looks at cross-county school Challenger K-8 as an example of how to change that. Challenger is only in its fourth year of existence but the Gators already lead the way in most middle school athletics. Eventually, that is Explorer's goal.
"Because this is a new school, and we all chose to be here, there is an overwhelming response to everything we do," Ridenour said. "Every staff member at this school is invested in our success."
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