Program of the Year: A.C. Flora, soaring to new heights

Special to The StateJune 21, 2014 

KIM KIM FOSTER

  • A.C. FLORA’S 2013-2014 STATE TITLES

    The Falcons claimed titles in baseball, basketball and golf

    Baseball

    The Falcons became the first 3A team to win three consecutive state championships with its sweep against Hartsville. It was the program’s fifth state title since 2001.

    Boys Basketball

    The Falcons won the 3A title for the first time since 1986. All but one of their playoff wins came on the road, and their average margin of victory in the postseason was 10.4 points.

    Boys Golf

    Coach Harry Huntley has created a dynasty in Forest Acres with five championships in a row, seven in eight years and nine in the past 12.

  • Brunson steps down

    A.C. Flora boys basketball coach Leon Brunson resigned from his position earlier this week to take an administration coach with Richland School District One.

    This comes three months after Brunson led the Falcons to their first state championship since 1985. The Falcons defeated Darlington 51-42 to win the title in March. The Falcons finished 20-9 on the season.

    Brunson has been the coach at A.C. Flora for the past four years. He previously was the coach at Hunter-Kinard-Tyler.

    Chris Dearing

As the calendar turned to 2014, A.C. Flora athletics director Charlie Wentzky knew the fortunes of his athletics program were about to become brighter.

He was not aware of how bright.

The Falcons captured state championships in boys basketball, baseball and golf and played for another (boys tennis) in a two-month time frame. That success has earned A.C. Flora The State’s Athletic Program of the Year for the 2013-2014 school year.

“It’s been a fun year to be AD and watch the success our kids have had,” the third-year AD said. “It really helps us that we’ve had a very good run of athletes the last couple of years. We’ve got very good head coaches and very good assistant coaches.”

There are a number of reasons for the recent success at A.C. Flora. Obviously, the athletes have to be there, but they are helped by a Richland School District One policy that allows coaches to work outside of the district. This has allowed Wentzky and principal Rick McClure to search for the best coaches possible without having to tie it into a teaching job.

Only eight of the 22 varsity head coaches at A.C. Flora work in the district with only five of those being on campus daily. The freedom to pick coaches that specialize in their sport has been helpful.

“We can go out and hire the best possible candidate and don’t have to say you have to be able to teach this certain subject,” Wentzky said. “Without that, we would have a hard time filling our coaching holes in a lot of our sports. If our district didn’t allow us to do it that way, that would be 14 head coaches we would have to find in our school or district. Our kids wouldn’t get the great coaching they get now. ”

McClure has been on the job for eight years and has been involved in the process of hiring all but three of the current head coaches.

“The character and quality of coaches we have shows a strong group of men and women that do a terrific job with our young people day in and day out,” McClure said. “It’s critical to our success to be able to hire coaches that don’t necessarily teach in our school to help out with the 580 students that participate in athletics.”

The dedication of those coaches is second to none according to Wentzky.

“I wouldn’t take our head coaches or assistant coaches for any other staff in this area,” he said. “I think we have great coaches all the way through. When you get people that put them second and their job first, you’re going to have success. That’s what our coaches do.”

Success has been the norm for baseball and boys golf in recent years. The baseball team became the first Class 3A school in South Carolina to capture three consecutive baseball state championships. Andy Hallett has won five state titles since 2001 and the program is a contender each season.

The job by Harry Huntley with the golf team has even been more remarkable. The Falcons have won five straight Class 3A state championships, seven of the past eight and nine of 12.

“They expect themselves to be in the top two or three every year,” Wentzky said. “You win so many in a row, I think the expectation becomes you’re going to win it again. What some people might not realize is it’s never easy to win one much less three and five in a row.”

While those programs have been the mainstay on campus recently, boy’s basketball won its first state championship since 1986 under the direction of Leon Brunson. Not many people outside of the Falcons’ gym were predicting the 28-year drought would end this year.

A.C. Flora lost a home region game late in the season by 18 points and looked to be struggling down the stretch. They finished second in the region before embarking on a playoff run that saw them win their five games by an average of 10.4 points per game.

They beat two No. 1 seeds on the road before winning the Upper State by two points. The Falcons then beat Darlington 51-42 in the final.

“To watch what basketball did was about as rewarding as anything to watch,” Wentzky said. “You didn’t know where our season was going to go. All of a sudden, everything clicked for them, and the next thing you know, they went on a run. They looked like they were the UNLV Running Rebels of the early ’90’s at times.”

The most stunning aspect of the run is that there was no crossover of athletes among the three state champion teams. For a school with an enrollment of 1,320, it’s an amazing feat they had so many different athletes win a gold medal.

“It’s a pretty diverse group where probably 70 percent of them play just the sport that they play,” Wentzky said. “That is more special for us for a school our size. We rely so much on athletes that need to play multiple sports.

The success was not limited to the state champions. Eleven of the 22 varsity sports finished in the top eight of their respective classifications. That type of success carries over from one sport to the next.

“You saw some teams have success and all of a sudden you see the kids go from we think we can to we will,” Wentzky said. “These kids started to get hungry. We have a very athletic group, and not only that, but they’re hard working and buy into what their coaches ask them to do. They’re very dedicated.”

That leaves Wentzky in a very promising position for years to come.

“I’ve been able to sit back and watch all of it from afar, and it’s been special,” Wentzky said. “It’s a testament to the coaches and kids we have. They deserve all the credit.”

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