by Becky Kimbrell-Norris
WAKE FOREST — Chris Straits wants the word to get out: As Franklin Academy’s new athletic director, his plan is to develop a level of congruency across the middle school and high school programs.
“I am also trying to get our intramurals to a level where it becomes a feeder program into our middle school program and consequently into the high school,” Straits said.
“And having our high school women’s soccer coach instruct our soccer intramurals is one of the first steps,” Straits added.
Straits was officially selected this month to take over the athletic director position after Ninon Hentz resigned from a three-year career with the Patriots to get back to teaching.
During Hentz’s tenure, the Patriots joined the North Carolina High School Athletic Association as a member school and increased their playoff presence in almost every sport.
“I genuinely missed being in the classroom and interacting with the students on a regular basis,” Hentz said.
“My other reason was purely selfish and it was all about the time commitment,” Hentz added. “I have a 2-year-old granddaughter with whom I love spending time. During track out, it was difficult to get away for any length of time and I just don’t want to miss this time with her and her future sibling.”
Hentz provided invaluable leadership at a time when the school’s program needed to take the next step in growth, said Franklin Academy principal David Mahaley.
“She has established a high mark for both our coaches and athletes to attain,” he said. “The expansion and recognition of our athletic program across the state is due in large part to her efforts over the previous years.”
Straits enters his first year as a school athletic director, but he has plenty of sports directing experience to draw from. He directed sports for the Salvation Army in Raleigh for almost four years. He was also the sports director for two years at the Kerr Banks YMCA in Wakefield. Additionally, he served as a youth minister and youth pastor at Bunn Baptist Church.
The programs at the Salvation Army and YMCA both offered instructional athletics and Straits was responsible for registration, payments, securing coaches and organizing teams, practices and games.
“I have a number of years running athletic programs from a recreational perspective, but this is my first experience from the scholastic side,” Straits said.
Mahaley said Straits’ prior experience with youth athletic programs will provide good leadership for his new role.
“Chris enjoys working with families and the community to help build a strong program for our young people,” Mahaley said. “He is detail oriented and works to ensure things run smoothly.”
Last year, Straits coached the Franklin Academy Middle School basketball and baseball teams. This year he will also be in charge of the middle school athletics and will coordinate the intramurals for grades 4-6.
“My main goal is to bring a unity to the athletic departments between the middle school and the high school,” Straits said. “I am looking forward to having the coaches work together so students will know what to expect when they make the jump from middle school to high school athletics.”
Navigating new waters
Straits’ new role has come with a few challenges.
“The tricky part is making sure you are aware of all of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association regulations,” he said.
This season Franklin Academy will make the change from the Carolina 12 1A/2A Conference to the North Central Athletic Conference where they will join other 1A charter schools. East Wake Academy, Kestrel Heights, Raleigh Charter, River Mill Academy, Roxboro Community School, Voyager Academy and Woods Charter will also be a member of the NCAC.
Research Triangle Charter is also proposed to join the league in a couple of years.
Some of the advantages to joining the new conference, Straits said, are the partnerships with schools of similar academic focus and athletic structure.
“A disadvantage is the changes to some of the developing rivalries, which were part of the old conference,” he said.
“While we will miss some of the competition from our previous conference, we look forward to the opportunities our new conference alignment brings us,” Straits said, “as well as any non-conference competitions we may be able to maintain.”
Straits is currently searching for a middle school tennis and baseball coach and someone to lead the high school baseball team.
“The coaches here are fully capable and I am willing to help and do whatever I may need to do,” he said. “I trust our coaches to produce not only great athletes but model citizens.”