For 16 years, Mick Harper wore both hats and did it with style.
As the first head softball and baseball coach — now retired as baseball coach as of two seasons ago — at Chapel Hill High School in Douglasville, Georgia, he juggled two varsity sports programs while trying to establish school tradition, which was both taxing yet ultimately rewarding.
“When we started up we had a lot of chain link and some grass and a little bit of dirt,” Harper recalled of the program's humble beginnings.
It’s that journey that made winning a Class 5A state softball title in 2015 all the more special.
“It’s taken so many kids previously to build the tradition. So many coaches and parents and players to be able to build the program where you learn to win and you expect to win and the work ethic to make something like that happen,” Harper said.
It’s hard enough coaching one varsity sport, let alone two, particularly two programs that are brand new.
“You’re basically fundraising and doing field maintenance 10-11 months out of the year,” Harper said. “You’re running two fields, two different groups of kids. It’s a lot of paperwork and nitpicky stuff other than just the on field part of being a coach.”
The facilities took a long time to come together, due in large part to the aforementioned fundraising.
“(We had) to build the fundraising base to get the money up so we could actually have real dugouts and batting cages and quality equipment. So that’s something we were proud of.”
Building a brand new varsity program means starting with a base of ninth and 10th graders. While the players were raw, Harper also enjoyed the opportunity to mold their abilities.
“You can kind of train them up, but there were some bumps in the road to begin with, being able to compete with a lot of larger schools with older kids. Early on I think that helped me learn a lot about the game and about developing talent.”
Putting players first is what Harper believes has been key to his and Chapel Hill’s success.
“My success comes from having really, really good players. You’re only going to be as good as your players are. Coaches can develop players, but so many times coaches want to take credit for it when the credit needs to be given to the parents and players and teachers and Sunday school teachers all wrapped into it. It’s really a community that develops these winners.”
Through his longevity, Harper feels he’s been able to establish a strong culture at Chapel Hill so that players know what the expectations are.
“I think staying in the same place for a long time makes that easier. The juniors and seniors can let the freshmen and sophomores know, ‘Hey if you act like that you’re not going to play no matter how good you are.’ But then they could also say, ‘Hey if you’re good enough and you act right, no matter how young you are or how old you are, you’re going to play as long as the character goes along with the ability.”
Harper had some advice for any coach in a similar situation.
“Don’t base your happiness on wins and losses. Base your happiness on the development and character of your kids. I’ve found myself feeling much prouder of seeing a player a decade out of school with a great family, a terrific job, and living a successful life than just putting on a state championship ring. They both are pretty special but seeing young kids turning into adults and parents and successful business people and being able to count them as peers at times and watch them develop in their life is unbelievable.”