For the second consecutive year, A.C. Flora has been selected as The State’s high school athletics Program of the Year.
The Falcons wrapped up that honor in a four-day span in mid-May when the program earned Class 3A state championships in boys tennis, boys soccer and boys golf. That capped off a year in which nearly every program made the playoffs. Five programs – girls swimming, girls cross country, girls tennis, football and boys basketball – finished in the final four of the state.
“Being named The State paper’s top program two years in a row really says a lot about what our kids and coaches do on a daily basis,” A.C. Flora athletics director Charlie Wentzky said. “It’s a huge honor and very rewarding. It shows directionally that we continue to move forward. Even though we had a great year last year, we had a better year this year. Maybe we can have an even better one next year.”
So what is pushing A.C. Flora to its string of high-level success?
Micah Kurtz is at the top of that list. The Falcons’ strength and conditioning coach is completing his seventh year at the school, and it’s not a coincidence the school nestled in the Forest Acres community is seeing success at the state level under his direction.
“Micah is one-third of the equation,” Wentzky said. “You have the kids, the coaches and then him. Our kids have fully bought into what he does. They’ve bought into his mentality. He’s proven time and again that he’s willing to work and the kids are willing to work for him. They respect him a lot.
“A lot of people will talk about what they’re doing and how hard they’re working, but our kids and coaches, along with Micah, do it. They work hard not for the attention, but they’re doing it because they know it’s going to make them better.”
Flora coaches echo the impact Kurtz has had on their programs. Football coach Reggie Shaw, who guided the Falcons to a spot in the Upper State final, said working with Kurtz makes his job easier.
“Micah has a huge impact on every sport at A.C. Flora,” he said. “His program maximizes every student athlete’s potential for success. It instills discipline, demands a strong work ethic, builds a foundation of strength and power, increases flexibility and mobility, and increases speed and agility. The program addresses every facet of athletic development which minimizes injury potential and maximizes athletic potential.”
Kurtz was the first person to develop a strength and conditioning program at Flora. He also serves the role of nutritionist for the school’s 38 athletic teams.
That allows him to do his work with great passion. He has a hand in all the programs, but he said he knows the coaches will be the ones judged on the won-loss record. He is one of the first people to offer a congratulations text to the coaches after a big win. When Kurtz witnesses the student-athlete succeeds, he feels like he has done his job.
One of the things he’s most proud of – and he was hesitant to mention it because he didn’t want to jinx things – is the Falcons haven’t had a player suffer an ACL injury the past three and a half years.
The fact A.C. Flora has over 500 kids participating in athletics shows the success of the program.
“We have two main goals for all of our strength programs – No. 1 is to prevent injury,” Kurtz said. “We’re going to do that by working on their mobility and stability and ability to absorb force. The second goal is to improve sport-specific performance by getting stronger, faster, more explosive and more agile. We tailor the program to each sport and what is needed.
“At this level, the main thing is to get our athletes stronger. They need to establish a solid strength base regardless of the sport they play.”
Kurtz’s work has been recognized locally and nationally. He was named the South Carolina strength and conditioning coach of the year in 2013 and 2014. The New York native also serves as the strength and conditioning consultant for the nationally ranked Oak Hill Academy basketball program.
“By me being linked to Oak Hill basketball a little bit, that has helped me make connections to schedule speaking engagements,” Kurtz said. “Add that to the success here with the A.C. Flora, it has made me more of a well-known strength coach in the area.”
Kurtz attended South Carolina as a graduate assistant, where he assisted Gamecocks strength and conditioning coach Billy Anderson. He got the job at Flora and thought that would be a stepping stone to moving back into college athletics, but he fell in love with his job.
“After finishing my seventh year, I think this is one of the best jobs I could ever have,” Kurtz said. “I’ve worked with a lot of great coaches who all understand and want their kids in the weight room. They trust me to do my job, so I don’t have a lot of people looking over my shoulder.”
Flora boys soccer won its first state championship in the 50-year history of the program. Coach Matt Barry feels Kurtz played a huge role in that success.
Nearly every player is in Kurtz’s weight lifting class the whole season, and the ones that aren’t – because of scheduling conflicts with other classes – meet with Kurtz before or after school. The team lifts twice per week after school starting in December and follows a training plan that Kurtz has in place for them. Once the season begins, the lifting is limited to a recovery type of lift on Wednesday.
The result on the field is a testament to how things work.
“Micah plays a massive part in the boys soccer’s team success,” Barry said. “As well as gaining strength, endurance and speed, Micah gives the boys confidence and mental toughness. The way he pushes the athletes in the weight room is outstanding. They feel they can take on the world when they leave the weight room.
“Flora athletics would not be what it is today without Micah Kurtz.”
Robert Weldon scores a hat trick in the second half as A.C. Flora defeats St. James 5-1 to claim its first boys soccer title in 50 years.
The Falcons defeated Hilton Head 4-2 after key wins by Zach Kirkland at No. 3 singles and Zachary Price at No. 5 singles.
Retiring coach Harry Huntley led the Flora boys to a 10th state title, with his son, Jennings, shooting a 68 in the final round.
FIVE FLORA STARS
A look at some of the Falcons’ top players this past season:
DENZEL JOHNSON, Football
He had 1,634 yards and 13 touchdowns as a WR, RB and KR. He had 44 tackles on defense. Signed with Clemson.
RICHARD KNEECE, Tennis
Senior caption was co-MVP in 2014 and won the Coach’s Award in 2015. Had 42-6 doubles record over three years.
JOSHUA HERNANDEZ, Baseball
The junior batted .368 with 5 home runs, 10 doubles and 2 triples. Drawing interest from USC, Clemson and others.
KARL GAMBLE, Basketball
The senior averaged 16 points per game, 9 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and 1.2 assists. He signed with Middle Tennessee.
DANIEL McCLAM, Soccer
He was the region player of the year with 19 goals and 12 assists. He finished his career with 61 goals and 30 assists.