Sherando enjoying unrivaled fortune in coaching longevity

Sherando head boys basketball coach Garland Williams finishes speaking to his team during a time out during the first half of action against Millbrook in 2016. Williams, entering his 20th season as the Warriors' basketball coach, is one of 10 coaches who have been with the school for at least 10 years. Rich Cooley/Daily

STEPHENS CITY – Multiple times during a discussion about the consistency within the coaching staff at Sherando High School on Wednesday, activities coordinator Jason Barbe paused mid sentence to knock on the wooden desk located inside one of the administrators’ offices at the school. He knows how lucky he’s been in terms of the coaching turnover within his athletic department.

As Sherando approaches its 25th anniversary with the upcoming 2017-18 school year, Barbe can say with pride that every single varsity coach will return to his staff from the previous year. It’s the second time in the last three years that Barbe has been able to boast that claim.

The reasons for such consistency among the school’s coaching staff vary depend on who you ask, as multiple factors often play a part in what keeps someone in the same place for an extended period of time. But at its fundamental level, Barbe said, Sherando’s coaching longevity is the product of Principal John Nelson’s emphasis on hiring quality teachers who are eager to offer their services  to the school in various areas.

“It’s not just our coaches that we have this long tenure in, it’s in a lot of the extracurricular student activities areas, and it’s because we’ve made it a priority,” Barbe said. “We believe these activities are solid, fundamental and vital for our students in their maturation process and they have a value. And because they have a value we’ve made it a priority to bring good folks in who feel the same way and have made it a priority of theirs to serve our kids for such a long time.”

Sherando’s ability to retain its coaches is a bit of a rarity in today’s high school coaching landscape.

Sherando head coach Pepper Martin offers an umpire a pair of baseballs during their April 18 game against Skyline in April this year. Rich Cooley/Daily

The area’s six local public high schools – which include Central, Stonewall Jackson, Strasburg, Skyline and Warren County – have combined for nearly 50 varsity head coaching changes over the last three years. Sherando has accounted for just one in that span, and Barbe added that Sherando’s run of consistency is also unmatched by its rivals in Winchester.

“I think for a long time Strasburg was in that same boat and then all those guys have kind of trickled out the last few years,” Barbe said. “But no, as far as I know we’re … one of the few that have been able to hold on to not just having bodies but quality bodies sitting in these roles for such a long time.”

Of the 14 individuals who hold head coaching positions for Sherando’s 16 varsity sports, 10 have been with the school for at least 10 years.

Three of those – Pepper Martin (25 years, baseball/wrestling), Patrick Anderson (24 years, boys soccer) and Garland Williams (20 years, boys basketball) – have been at Sherando for 20-plus years, while three more – Rob Kilmer (18 years, girls soccer), Rob Wright (16 years, golf) and Bill Hall (15 years, football) – have coached at the school for at least 15.

Barbe added that many of Sherando’s assistant coaches have shown a similar commitment to the school.

“The man we work for here in John Nelson (entering his 18th year as principal) is a huge reason why myself and other coaches and other teachers and other sponsors in the building have been here so long,” said Barbe, who is entering his 19th year as AD and his 25th year overall at Sherando. “It’s a good place to work. Folks are treated fairly. There are high expectations here for performance but also for the characteristics of doing right and treating people appropriately.”

Anderson said Thursday that the “quality of people” at Sherando has kept him coming back as the school’s boys soccer coach, and added that both Nelson and Barbe have shown trust in their coaches by allowing them the freedom to coach their respective programs as they see fit.

Martin, who like Barbe has been at Sherando since the school opened in 1993, said his longevity in the coaching business is the result of multiple factors – including, foremost, a supportive wife – but listed the school’s leadership as a major selling point.

“It starts at the top,” said Martin, who spoke highly of Nelson’s commitment to attending athletic events and praised Barbe’s willingness to place all sports on equal footing. “Speaking personally, we have an outstanding support staff.”

Many of Sherando’s coaches also have roots in the local area, and Barbe said the school has long held a strong feeling of “community spirit” that also runs deep within members of the coaching staff.

“It’s kind of nice to be able to coach in the area you grew up in,” said Martin, a Winchester native and graduate of John Handley High School, “because you can pass on some of the life lessons you grew up going through.”

The fact that the same faces have been preaching those lessons at Sherando for so long is certainly beneficial as well, and Barbe said the lack of turnover among coaches has enabled the community to place a high level of trust in leaders of the school’s athletic programs.

Anderson added that the student-athletes benefit from that consistency as well.

“I think the stability, the kids know that the coaches will be there and the consistency (has an impact) on kind of the outcome of the kids, not just based on winning but based on being good young men or women,” Anderson said.

If there is a downside to Sherando’s impressive run of coaching consistency, it’s that at some point it will come to an end.

Barbe said longevity in high school coaching is “absolutely” becoming a rarity, and Martin agreed that it’s becoming the “exception rather than the norm” that high school coaches remain for the long haul.

That’s why Barbe knocks on wood every time he speaks of Sherando’s fortunes. He’s trying to hold off the inevitable for as long as possible.

“There’s a negative here, and that negative is one of these days all these guys are gonna go out at the same time,” Barbe said. “I hope our community realizes how fortunate they’ve been to have this quality group because they’re not just here for a lot of years, they’re here for a lot of years being very successful and teaching kids not only how to play a sport, but how to excel in life.”