As new Northview Academy principal Greg Clark poured over the dozens of resumes he’d received for the openings in the school’s athletic department, one thing became clear.
He’d need special people to head up the burgeoning Cougars programs, which begin freshman play this fall, but won’t compete in TSSAA-sanctioned varsity athletics until the fall of 2015.
“We had a lot of applicants we sorted through, and a lot of interest,” Clark said Friday in the cavernous hall of the sparkling new school. “A lot of people were interested in coming and starting their own program and seeing it through.
“(But) we feel like with these people having the ties to the county they’re going to be with us for a while. They’re committed to stay with us, and that’s what we were looking for too. Not somebody that just wanted to come and go. Somebody’s got to come and put their stamp on it.”
That’s why Clark knew he had exactly what he was looking for in his final choices for the school’s varsity basketball positions.
Clark has named Brooke Wilhoit and Cory Harkleroad to spearhead Northview’s boys and girls teams as they build for the future.
Wilhoit, 28, was a member of the 2002 Sevier County Bearettes state championship team. Since then, she played out an exemplary collegiate career at ETSU before jumping into the college coaching ranks.
There she spent three seasons as an assistant at Wofford College and Kennesaw State before returning to her alma mater, ETSU, where she’s coached as an assistant the past two years.
Harkleroad, 32, played his middle school hoops at Northview before excelling under Bill Duncan and Randy Moore at Seymour High. After obtaining his degree from Carson-Newman, where he also worked in sports information, Harkleroad embarked on a coaching career.
He started out as an assistant at Northview Middle and then worked a five-year high school stint under Moore with the Eagles. Following Moore’s move to Halls, Harkleroad coached a year at Boyds Creek before returning to Northview as the head boys and girls middle school coach.
“Obviously Cory is familiar with some of the players, he’s a good, young coach and can grow with the program, and he’s excited to be here,” Clark said. “And Brooke’s pretty much the same deal. She has ties to the county, she wanted to be here, she’s excited about coming back and she can also grow with the program and take it to where it needs to be to be competitive.
“The kids will like them,” the principal continued. “They’re good people in terms of character, and we’re excited for them to get started. I think it’s a great opportunity to them, and I’ve very appreciative to both of them for taking the jobs.
“They’ve got good personalities, they’re postivie and energetic, and if kids like you they’re going to play harder for you.”
Harkleroad a Cougar at heart
In coach Harkleroad, Clark found a leader that was both deserving of a shot and already familiar to many of the players that will be attending Northview Academy.
Having coached at Northview Middle many players will have played for Harkleroad, or against him — in the case of the Catlettsburg players.
But don’t think Harkleroad’s planning on playing any favorites.
“About a week ago, I went and met with the Catlettsburg kids before I went to Northview,” Harkleroad said. “I wanted to get acquainted with them and see how many are interested (in playing). I met with them and had a good turnout as far as number interested in coming out, and I went to Northview last week.
“A lot of kids (at Northview) were excited,” he said. “Being familiar with me helps the transition be easier, but it’s going to be different for them too. There’s going to be more competition. It’ll be a challenge for them, but I think everything’s going to work out”
In fact, it’s a similar situation for the Catlettsburg kids as what Harkleroad himself went through when he went to high school.
He attended Northview for middle school before going to Seymour High School, where he blended on a team with players from Seymour Middle.
“I told the Catlettsburg kids and Northview kids, everybody’s basically starting anew,” Harkleroad said. “Everyone’s on equal ground and getting a new shot. It’s just like going to any high school.
“(But) when they see the facilities and the new gym, everybody’s going to be excited to get to work. And the ones that work hard and earn playing time will be the ones that play.”
As for the group of players he’ll have at the Academy, Harkleroad is excited to get to work.
“We’ve got a good group to start with,” he said. “Our kids at Northview that we had and the kids from Catlettsburg (have potential). I’m very excited.
“Growing up in this community and playing ball at Northview when I was in middle school, just to have the oppunity I feel very blessed and fortunate. For Mr. Clark and Dr. Parton (to hire me). I’m thrilled for the opportunity.”
Though he’s never been a head coach at the high school level, Harkleroad was an assistant on some successful teams at Seymour under coach Moore, and he’s already been seeking out advice from respected local coaches.
“I’ve talked to other county coaches (including former Pigeon Forge coach Jonathan Shultz and SCHS coach Ken Wright), and … they’ve been very welcoming to me as far as offering advice and things like that,” Harkleroad said. “I think once you get the kids out here it’s all about effort and just wanting to play.”
Wilhoit steps down from college, steps up for community
As for Brooke Wilhoit, she’s taken an entirely different path to her first head coaching gig.
After a Hall of Fame career at Sevier County High School, Wilhoit was an all-conference point guard at ETSU. She then went directly into the collegiate coaching game, where she had stints at Wofford and Kennesaw State before moving back to East Tennessee State.
Now she’s taking a step down from the college to step up as a head coach in the prep ranks, where she’ll build the Lady Cougars program from scratch, and she’ll be doing it back in her hometown.
“(It’s) the opportunity to be back home,” Wilhoit said Friday. “This is a wonderful place. The people, just everything about it, is wonderful. And I couldn’t feel more blessed to be back and part of the community.”
As for the basketball side of things, Wilhoit is obviously raring to go.
“Everything is brand new,” she said. “That’s one of the greatest parts of it, but it’s going to be one of the biggest challenges as well. We’re having to start from scratch. We don’t know what to expect or what’s going to happen, but we’re going to get in here and work as hard as we can to make the best of it.”
Wilhoit said that with the team being brand new, she’s hoping the community will be ultra-supportive.
“I feel the excitement of a new school,” she said. “(And) I feel like it’s needed, and I hope the community is going to be behind us with support. It’s super-exciting to be here from the beginning.”
Wilhoit said she plans to sculpt her team into a picture of hard work and hustle.
“I think with my experiences as a player and as a coach — in high school and at the collegiate level — I want to be known as a team that’s going to out-work you,” she said. “We might not be the most talented at first, but we’re going to out-work you. We’re going to come in here everyday and we’re going to give it everything we have. The intensity level is going to be turned up at all times.”
Wilhoit said she’s excited to be working with Brock Lambdin, the coach at Catlettsburg, who will handle the middle school girls program.
“I’m super-excited about the opportunity (to coach), and the opportunity to work with Brock Lambdin, who’s been known as one of the best coaches around here in this area for a long time now,” she said. “He’s going to be at the middle school, and I couldn’t ask for a better person to be at the middle school to help with building a foundation for this program.”
Both Wilhoit and Harkleroad expressed a thankfulness to Clark, Director of Schools Jack Parton and Mike Helton, supervisor of special projects, for the opportunity to start the basketball legacy of Northview Academy.