VYPE: For all schools, it was a very challenging year when it came to completing sports seasons in the midst of a pandemic. How did you accomplish this at Second Baptist School?
WALKER: The high school athletic world was not exempt from the impact of COVID-19. While it's been a hard year, it was totally worth it! In June/July 2020, our school began creating detailed plans to help us prepare for the upcoming school year. We thought through every possible scenario, from no on-campus athletics to full games. Remote workouts and leadership academy concepts were included in the plan, as we worked through all the options for a year of unknowns.
Our Director of Performance Nick Mascioli was instrumental with our summer 2020 strength and conditioning program. We worked hard to keep the number of student-athletes in the weight room at one time to a minimum and did as much as we could outside. Consequently, SBS successfully ran a summer strength program for 65 student-athletes. On top of that, our head coaches put in extra hours to offer multiple sessions for skills workouts to accommodate smaller groups of athletes being on campus at one time.
This year, the challenges we faced because of COVID-19 refined and sharpened our coaching staff and reminded us daily to focus on our mission of equipping students to think critically, live biblically, and lead courageously to impact the world for Jesus Christ. Despite limitations, we faced the challenges together, and that ultimately strengthened us.
VYPE: You had to weigh the options at one point. What was the value that you saw from your position in continuing athletics safely at all levels?
WALKER: Kids need exercise and a place to play sports. Interscholastic athletics faced a reality that kids were going to find a club or park or outside program to train with, or we needed to put in the work and provide them with opportunities to work with coaches on our campus. In-person education was our highest priority. We knew we needed to be organized, disciplined and efficient in all areas to keep as many students on-campus for as long as possible starting in August. Once school started and we received the fall sports start date, we turned our attention to hosting football, volleyball, and cross country events. My team got right to work counting seats in the gyms and stadium, exploring live streaming options and digital tickets. Time and time again, coaches stepped up and volunteered to serve in any way possible as we worked through challenges that came with hosting athletic events like the flow of traffic in and out of locations to transportation to competitions. Thanks to these efforts of so many, we successfully navigated nearly 400 athletic events during the 2020-2021 school year.
VYPE: From canceling games to everything involved with this year, what is your biggest takeaway as an athletic director?
WALKER: My biggest takeaway is the importance of community. Second Baptist School does an excellent job living in community with one another. Varsity football games typically consist of children of all ages and their parents all around the stadium. It's a family event, for sure! Pep rallies usually have all four corners of the gym packed, including the second-floor track. These events are vital to our community and maintaining fellowship with one another. Despite all the restrictions in place, we used this opportunity to be creative and stay connected with one another. I think we achieved this goal remarkably well!
In fact, last spring (2020) when our school was entirely off-campus along with every other school in the nation, we offered webinars for the community on athletic topics with celebrity special guests such as Cecil Shorts III, Andy Pettitte, Joey Wendle, and Matt Painter, to name a few. Fast forward to fall 2020 when we began hosting games on campus. Under the leadership of our Head of School Dr. Don Davis, and following the example of Second Baptist Church, we worked hard to allow spectators at games. When most of the surrounding schools were not allowing fans or limiting attendance to 25% or less, we pressed forward to get as many people as possible into events. We started with two parents per athlete and a small student section, and we eventually expanded to a limited number of tickets sold online and this spring, we have not limited attendance at any home athletic events.
VYPE: Your coaches, how proud of them are you for managing this pandemic the way they did while still continuing to have the teams and athletes find success in their respective sports?
WALKER: I am so proud of the SBS athletics department personnel, coaches, trainers, and facilities crew. The entire process of running the department could have been overly taxed with all the extra efforts required to sanitize, appropriately space people, and limit attendance. However, our staff came together and was willing to do whatever was necessary to provide an excellent athletics experience for our student-athletes and their families. Despite all the changes, SBS claimed four team district championships, two state runner-up teams, and several district, area, regional, and state individual championships.
VYPE: How big a role did the SBS community play in the success of athletics this year, especially the parents?
WALKER: Second Baptist School parents are incredible! They are so supportive and appreciative of the way our school navigated the pandemic. I received many emails and phone calls from parents who were thankful for the extra effort given by the school, the athletics, and the arts departments during this time of crisis. SBS was one of the first schools in the city to step out in faith to deliver in-person education to our students. Our goal was to be on campus with as many students as possible for as long as possible. Our theme this year is #SBStogether. We made it through the school year! And our parents were with us every step of the way. We did this together!
I am so thankful to Dr. Young, Dr. Davis, and the rest of the Second Baptist School and Church leadership teams who understood from the very beginning the importance of Christian education and its impact on children's lives.
GRANT WILSON DOESN'T HAVE A LOT OF DOWNTIME.
Since his freshman year, the Second Baptist School senior has balanced running cross country, playing basketball, and running track in the spring. That's 12 letters he has earned in his high school career.
In May, Wilson was named the male winner of the 2021 Golden Eagle Award, which is a top honor given to a senior male and female athlete.
Get to know Wilson better in this VYPE Q&A.
VYPE: What has it been like being at a place that really embraces the multi-sport athlete?
WILSON: Honestly, I couldn't imagine myself playing these three sports anywhere else. The Christ-centered values that Second Baptist School continually pours into the student-athletes is simply unmatched. The team building and bonding experiences I've had are exceptional, and I truly would not be who I am today without the love from my coaches and team. After each sports season ended, I was sad, but I was also looking forward to the next sport and the next challenge ahead.
VYPE: What has been your biggest challenge being a triple-sport star, and what has been your biggest success?
WILSON: My biggest challenge was last year in basketball when our team was young and struggling to win games. I was tempted to quit, but I didn't because I knew I was important to the team's chemistry and overall success that we were able to have this year. My biggest success, however, was being able to bring down my 5K time over two minutes from freshman year to senior year.
VYPE: What would be your advice to Second Baptist School freshmen or incoming students?
WILSON: I'd tell them exactly what I have been told throughout high school, which is to cherish each moment, in class and with fellow classmates because time flies so quickly. I can still remember my first day of freshman year, and everyone was so much bigger and smarter than me. It's crazy to know that in four short years I've grown so much physically, spiritually, and mentally. I'd tell them to stay focused in class and to make goals for themselves for them to accomplish in the future.
Athletic Director Mike Walker describes why Grant Wilson was chosen for this year's Golden Eagle Award, saying, "Coaches took notice of not only his overall contributions to three SBS Athletic Programs, but also for his work ethic, character and ability to raise the level of those around him. He certainly has collected some accolades along the way, competing at the state level in three different sports." He continues to describe Grant's character, saying he is a leader at SBS, starting up the African American History and Culture Club. Overall, says Walker, "Grant is a competitor. He showed up every day with great effort and enthusiasm. He put in the extra work and is deserving of this honor."