PITTSBORO — A familiar face is set to lead Seaforth High School athletics this fall.
After 15 years at Northwood High School — 11 as one of its athletic directors — Jason Amy is leaving to …
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PITTSBORO — A familiar face is set to lead Seaforth High School athletics this fall.
After 15 years at Northwood High School — 11 as one of its athletic directors — Jason Amy is leaving to become the AD at newly constructed Seaforth in Pittsboro, scheduled to open its doors to students at the start of the 2021-22 school year in August.
“We’ve got to do it right because this is creating a legacy,” Amy told the News + Record. “When we say ‘We Are Seaforth,’ it means we are going to have our own identity and everybody will know Seaforth athletics as one of the premier sports programs.”
Seaforth’s identity became a little clearer on April 20, when the school unveiled its mascot during its virtual “Vision of Seaforth” presentation. Moving forward, they’ll be the Seaforth Hawks.
Amy has a long track record of leadership and dedication to student-athletes, acting as a health/physical education teacher, varsity wrestling/women’s golf coach and athletic director during his time at Northwood.
On Monday, he was named the 2020-21 Big Eight Coach of the Year in women’s golf, where he helped lead Northwood to a conference title.
His hiring at Seaforth means that Cameron Vernon, Northwood’s co-AD for the last five years alongside Amy, will become the school’s lone AD, a job that comes with plenty of responsibilities.
Those additional duties contributed to Vernon deciding to step down as Northwood’s head women’s basketball coach after 12 years, a somewhat surprising move after the program’s recent success.
“It was tough, but I think the girls understand,” Vernon told the News + Record. “After I told (the team), it’s been a huge relief off my shoulders because I would have had too much going on in my life. And I just think that I needed to step back and take some things off my plate so that I could focus my attention on my family, on the AD role, on my teaching. Because coaching alone, even in high school, is a full-time job.”
As co-ADs, Amy and Vernon have helped foster a community around Northwood athletics, Amy said, creating a student-first environment that transcends the on-field results.
“We’re in charge of basically upbringing these student-athletes, teaching them sports skills and teaching them lifelong skills that will benefit them forever,” Amy said. “We want the same thing the parents do and that’s giving student-athletes the opportunity to excel in the classroom and on the field, on the court, on the mat or whatever sports they want to play.”
Vernon has taken Northwood women’s basketball — and women’s sports — to new heights.
While he’s coached for 12 years (13 if you count his one year of J.V. basketball) his last two seasons have undoubtedly been some of his best, featuring both a Sweet 16 appearance in 2019-20 and a Final Four appearance this past season. He’s won back-to-back Big Eight Coach of the Year awards.
This year’s Chargers not only made it to the state semifinals, becoming the first-ever women’s sports team to do so at Northwood, but also completed the team’s second-ever undefeated regular season (11-0).
Next season, the Chargers are expected to be just as dominant despite losing a couple of key pieces to graduation and transfers. This is why Vernon’s decision to step down, in the middle of a such great run, might have come as a shock.
For him, it was inevitable.
While his teams were having some of the most successful seasons in program history, Vernon said it became harder and harder to feel excited about entering a new season, especially after the 2019-20 Sweet 16 year.
“I don’t know what was going on with me, it’s not the kids or the parents, it’s just not looking forward to going to practice every day,” Vernon said. “I was not looking forward to workouts, it was almost feeling like a job, whereas the past 12 years, I felt excited, looking forward to that part of my day to work with the girls, workouts, game preparation work and skill development.”
He has 4-, 6- and 8-year-olds at home, which made it increasingly more difficult to leave them in the evenings to come to practice.
Vernon thought about stepping down prior to the 2020-2021 season, but with the COVID-19 pandemic likely making it tough to replace him, he felt it wouldn’t be fair to put the school or his team in that position.
Then came Amy’s hiring at Seaforth, thrusting Vernon into the lone AD spot and making it tough to keep coaching alongside his other duties.
Now is the perfect time to move on.
Last week, Northwood officially named Kerri Snipes — a former player and four-year assistant coach under Vernon — the new varsity women’s basketball coach. Vernon said he couldn’t be more excited for her.
“I’ve always wanted to run my program like Carolina, so it’s exactly what I was hoping to do: find somebody to step in who played for me, who knows the kids, who knows the culture,” Vernon said. “She’s played basketball her whole life, she knows the game, she’s all about teaching fundamentals and developing relationships with the kids. She’s going to be outstanding. She’s a perfect fit for the job.”
Vernon’s focus fully shifting to the AD job will allow him to give his time and energy to other programs at the school without worrying that he’s giving too much attention to the women’s basketball team.
“Part of me is excited because now there are some things that I want to incorporate into Northwood,” Vernon said. “I’m excited to help lead our coaches and to be more available to them than I have in the past.”
Amy, who has been an integral part of Northwood athletics for nearly two decades, appears excited for a fresh start at Seaforth, the first new high school the county has constructed since Northwood opened its doors in 1972.
However, becoming the AD at a brand new school is much different than taking the job at one that’s already established.
This semester has been a whirlwind for Amy, who’s having to balance his duties at Northwood and Seaforth until the end of the school year. One moment he’s working sporting events and coaching for the Chargers, the next he’s ordering equipment and putting together coaching staffs for the Hawks.
“There’s not a lot of sleep,” Amy said, laughing.
Amy is also being tasked with drumming up interest in Seaforth athletics, sending out surveys to determine what sports they’ll have next year, among a plethora of little things that come with starting programs from scratch.
As of now, the plan is for Seaforth’s student-athletes to participate in varsity sports starting this fall, along with some J.V. sports, despite the school only hosting 9th and 10th graders this year. Amy cited younger students at Northwood and beyond who are “phenomenal athletes” as one reason why they should be given the chance to play against varsity competition.
“They deserve the right to play sports at the highest level and we want our kids to compete,” Amy said. “If we’re not allowing them to compete, we’re doing an injustice to them.”
While the exact numbers are unknown, based on those Amy has already gathered, Seaforth is likely to offer all of the same sports that Northwood does, even niche ones like lacrosse and swimming.
Some sports, such as football, will have combined J.V. and varsity seasons. The Hawks’ first four football games will count as J.V. games, while the rest will be varsity.
If Amy’s goal is for the Hawks to create an identity to resonate across the county, it might not take long.
Seaforth will immediately become familiar with its Chatham County counterparts as it’s slated to be a member of the Mid-Carolina 1A/2A Conference alongside Jordan-Matthews and Chatham Central.
While taking on a project like this hasn’t been easy, Vernon agrees that Amy is the man for the job.
“There are some athletic directors in the state ... who have concentrated on football or basketball, those sports that bring in gate revenue,” Vernon said. “But (Amy) is always focused on the collective program as a whole and his philosophy has always been, ‘If all of us do well, it benefits each one of our individual programs.’ … He’s just someone that’s really good to work for.’”
Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.