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Wildcats name Cavey's replacement

POSTED: May 28, 2014 12:00 p.m.
Adam Wynn/Barrow County News

Apalachee High School has selected Union Grove’s Matt Allen to replace Mike Cavey (pictured) as the new softball coach for the Lady Wildcats.

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With the recent departure of former Apalachee softball and baseball coach Mike Cavey, the Wildcats have been sent scrambling looking to replace two key positions at a crucial point in the season for preparation and building for next year’s teams.

In Matt Allen, who was approved by the Barrow County Board of Education Tuesday night, the Wildcats have at least one of those answers.

"I feel like it would be beneficial for the softball program to have a head softball coach who can focus on softball 12 months out of the year," Apalachee athletic director Ralph Neeley expressed. "I know during spring and summer most girls are playing travel ball, and we could debate this and both sides be correct, but a couple of things pop into my mind about why we should have two separate coaches."

One of those reasons was fundraising.

"Fundraising is huge for us here," Neeley acknowledged. "When a coach is trying to raise funds for two programs, he gets pulled pretty thin.

"Plus, we don’t want to be in this situation again where we have to fill two coaching slots with one teaching position," Neeley added, referencing the difficulty in trying to fit together all of the pieces. "This is hardly Coach Cavey’s fault. This has happened in the past, and we’re trying to avoid it happening again."

Allen, a former assistant softball coach at Union Grove High School in McDonough, also spent some time as the head softball coach at Stockbridge High School. As of this morning, he is the new softball coach for Apalachee High School.

"We would like to have a coach who can solely focus on their program…without having to be pulled in two different directions," Neeley added.

Parents of softball players will have a chance to meet Allen at a Thursday night parent meeting at Apalachee at 6 p.m. where they will get to look over the new coach’s biography and ask him any questions they may have regarding the season coming up. There will also be discussions regarding the summer schedule.

While the official announcement is still young, many parents and boosters have already taken the opportunity to voice their input in regards to the hiring process as Neeley asked many of them what they wanted in a head coach.

"If I asked them for five things, the first two talked about helping raise their children. They want somebody who is going to be morally strong, has strong character and have the willingness to invest the time, emotion and caring into the children, and I think those go hand in hand with sports," Neeley explained. "If there’s a coach who’s looking to build a résumé and build an ego, they’re not going to do well here."

According to Neeley, who knows Allen from their joint time at Union Grove High School, the incoming softball coach fulfills those requirements.

"I’ve worked with Matt for the last five years at Union Grove, both in basketball and softball. We’ve been associated with each other through the county longer than that. What you’re getting is someone who is willing to roll up his sleeves and get to work. He’s very blue-collar, just like this community.

"He knows what work is," Neeley said. "He knows what success is."

Now that the softball position has been filled, Neeley says he can focus more of his attention on finding a suitable replacement for Cavey’s other position as the head baseball coach. That search is also nearing an end, though, as Neeley hopes to name a successor to Cavey in the next week.

"We want to move very quickly, but we can’t move so quickly that we can’t make the right decision," Neeley stated. "With softball, we feel our softball girls should be working right now. Baseball should be working right now, but we still have eight months until their season, so that gives us a little leeway."

Ronnie Miller, a baseball assistant under Cavey, is also filling in as the acting baseball coach for the time being so as to let the baseball team still work under some sort of supervision. The softball team, however, had no such person. Still, Neeley is shooting to announce a baseball coach quite soon.

"If we don’t have a baseball coach in place by June, I don’t think we’ve done our due diligence," Neeley stated rather bluntly. "If we haven’t named a new baseball coach by June, then I have dropped the ball.

"We are closer than we were two weeks ago, but we’re not as close as we are in softball," Neeley added. "We have had a great response, which is a compliment to what Cavey has done here. We’re still interviewing. So the interest to that has been great."

With May’s final day coming this Saturday, that leaves very little time for much additional vetting of candidates. In all likelihood, Apalachee’s front office has narrowed the search for a new baseball coach dramatically from more than 60 résumés to just a few notable applicants.

"How many of those are legitimate candidates? At least half, probably more," Neeley mused. "It seemed like for a week there I couldn’t get away from the phone because of interested coaches calling about the job."

The most difficult aspect of the hiring process has been filling the teaching vacancies, though, as there are no physical education slots.

"I’m confident we can find a good coach with the teaching fit, but that’s the challenge. If we had a PE slot, that number wouldn’t be 60, it’d be 160, but we don’t. We have special education math. That kind of limits your pool, but we’re moving in the right direction."

The new baseball coach needs to be someone who is a certified special education math teacher, and that whittles down the list of potential applicants drastically.

In addition to finding a solid educator, though, Neeley is looking for someone who can win.

"We need someone who has had successful experience. Who knows how to win," Neeley listed. "Coach Cavey’s comments to me were that he built a good program, but he couldn’t get them over the hump. How do we get over the hump? We need someone who’s been there. Who’s done it."

Former Apalachee assistant coach Ryan Hill is making a transition, as well, to Lanier High School, Region 8-AAAAA’s newest member. Most likely, the Longhorns considered Hill’s familiarity with their new region when he was hired, along with his credentials as a successful assistant coach.

According to Neeley, geography was hardly a consideration when the Wildcats went looking for their new leader in either position.

"If you know how to win, you know how to win no matter what region you’re in. Intelligent coaches know level of competition. When intelligent coaches know level of competition, they find ways to compete and defeat," Neeley explained.

"That’s not a prerequisite."

Neeley also went on to say that Hill had signed on at Lanier before Cavey’s resignation, meaning that he was no longer an option for Apalachee. Had he been, Neeley implied, Hill may have been a very attractive candidate to replace Cavey in either vacancy.

No matter who joins Allen as a coach on the diamond next season, the excitement level for Apalachee’s baseball and softball programs seems to be on the rise with every coming day.

"Our girls were one win away from Columbus last year. Our baseball team seemed to lead the world in one-run losses," Neeley joked. "The potential is there. We’re close. We really are."



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