In many ways, Dalton’s newest high school is still taking form. The Dalton Academy opened last fall as part of the Dalton Public Schools system.
Its athletic programs are in their infancy, too, but you wouldn’t know it from the start of the boys soccer program.
The team won its first seven games, 10 of its first 12, and as of mid-March was in contention for a region championship in its first season.
The same can’t be said for every program at The Dalton Academy. Rough patches are common for programs starting from scratch, often with players that have little or no experience.
Building successful athletics programs at the school isn’t just about the wins and losses, but boys soccer head coach Rury Alvarez will take the wins, too.
“We have a lot of players that don’t have the experience that some of our guys have, but what they do have is a lot of heart and will to win,” Alvarez said. “I think that’s one of the biggest reasons we’ve been able to have the success that we have. They work hard.”
That hard work is required of the players — and their coaches.
The Dalton Academy opened its first year by offering volleyball, cross country, basketball, soccer and track.
“It’s always a challenge anytime you are starting a new school and new programs,” said Rhett Parrott, the assistant principal and athletics director at The Dalton Academy. “We have a lot of buy-in from the coaching staff and students. They work real hard together to pull together as a school and create these programs.”
The other programs haven’t enjoyed immediate success like the boys soccer team has, but that isn’t the only measuring stick used to evaluate growth in an inexperienced team, said girls basketball and track coach Debra Pourquoi.
“You always want to go in thinking you’re going to win,” said Pourquoi. Both the girls and boys basketball teams finished winless in their 2021-22 campaigns. “The biggest thing is keeping them motivated. Sometimes you have to look beyond the wins and losses. Even the small steps are huge.”
Neither the girls nor boys basketball teams had an upperclassman, and not many players had much experience playing organized basketball. The teams aimed toward building a foundation for future successes.
“It was an opportunity to give these girls exposure to a game they maybe hadn’t had exposure to,” Pourquoi said. “We came in this year with a new outlook. We have a new school, new name, new administration, everything. It helped give them a fresh outlook on everything. It set a standard on how it’s going to be going forward.”
The soccer programs have the benefit of the players having a little more experience. Scattered on the boys and girls rosters are a few players who have been involved with club and travel teams.
That was a benefit for Alvarez, himself a former travel coach. Three members of his roster had played under Alvarez before.
Though Alvarez’s team has had plenty of early success, he measures those other signs of program growth, too.
“What we have created here is a family,” Alvarez said. “We win together, we lose together.”
It’s that sense of building camaraderie and togetherness that is important for athletes — win or lose — said Parrott.
“I’m just proud of the way that our student-athletes have continued to compete,” Parrott said. “We’ve seen progress. They keep their heads up and work hard, so we’re super excited to see what the future holds for them.”
At a new school, often a whole new group of students gets an opportunity to be involved.
“This gives that opportunity for some of those students that normally would not get involved to become involved in sports and athletics,” Pourquoi said.
The school is looking to add sports when it makes sense.
The school’s smaller enrollment most likely leaves larger team sports like football out of the question, but Parrott said the school encourages students to ask for any team they want to be a part of.
“Our student voice is important. We want to know what programs they would like to have, and we would like to be able to provide those,” Parrott said. “Of course you have to have enough team members to build a team, so for some of that stuff we are limited.”
The school also doesn’t have the necessary facilities for some sports, like baseball.
The volleyball and basketball teams share a gym with Dalton Junior High, which is next to The Dalton Academy at the former Dalton Middle School campus next to Heritage Point Park.
The soccer teams will play games at the newly-constructed turf field next to that campus, but the teams started play this season at the field at Dalton’s Lakeshore Park while construction was wrapping up.
“We’re sharing facilities right now, but a lot of credit goes to the coaches for being flexible and doing what they needed to do,” Parrott said.
As Alvarez’s team continues to impress in year one, he hopes the on-field success can generate excitement in the school’s hallways and classrooms.
“We’re already developing a culture where we have school pride in The Dalton Academy,” Alvarez said. “We want to let people know who we are.”