Apex Friendship High School’s first athletics director will be Matt Clifton, a physical education teacher and assistant football coach at Holly Springs.
Clifton has experience with opening new schools in the southwestern Wake area, which made him an ideal candidate for principal Matt Wight.
Clifton has been at Holly Springs High since it opened and was the first athletics director at Holly Ridge Middle.
“Whenever you’re opening a new school, understanding the area that you’re serving is really important,” Wight said. “He knows the area, he knows the kids and he knows the community.”
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Apex Friendship will relieve overcrowding at Holly Springs, as well as Apex and Panther Creek High. Holly Springs residents have been the most vocal in opposing the new school’s district. Clifton’s ties to the Holly Springs community could ease some concerns.
He has served on the Holly Springs parks and recreation advisory board and been involved with his son’s youth baseball team. Clifton has been a football assistant each year and was also the school’s varsity softball coach until 2010.
“I’ve done things in the community that have established myself aside from teaching and coaching here,” Clifton said. “I think that I have a good rapport with the kids here and I think the ones that know me that are coming to the high school can hopefully understand that I’ll bring some of my personality to the school.”
The school will open next fall with only sophomores and freshmen and will join the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference. The school plans to eventually have more than 2,200 students, but could take its lumps in athletics in the first year as it fields varsity teams in all sports except football.
Clifton, who also spent time at West Millbrook Middle and Green Hope High, said that his softball teams are an example of why morale should be kept high. Four freshmen, including Wake County’s all-time leader in strikeouts, Erica Nunn, made an immediate impact and eventually helped the softball program to two NCHSAA 4A East titles.
“You’re going to have freshmen and sophomores playing against juniors and seniors in every sport except football. Sometimes they’re not physically at the stage of their development that they’re ready for that. I think the morale of the kids and getting them to understand that there is going to be some growing pains is something we need to focus on,” Clifton said. “Having gone through it here, one of the things even the coaches need to understand as they come in, is that as the school grows the talent grows.”
Clifton doesn’t plan to coach at the school immediately. He plans on being a bus driver for multiple teams to help with the teams that won’t have a certified driver for activity buses.
“The biggest thing is getting the right people in place – the coaches, the booster club started – because the people are going to drive everything we do,” Clifton said. “Things are going to come up that are out of your control and you’ve just got to be able to deal with those things. But if you put the right people in place form the get-go it gives you some help and it allows you to not be so overwhelmed.”
Wight said that the school’s mascot and colors will be announced soon and that he’s been working with a panel of future Apex Friendship students on the topic.
“I think that’s a good way to go,” Clifton said. “That helps get a little bit a buy-in from the kids that are coming, so that they feel like they have had some decisions in what’s happening.”
Wight also said the mascot name will be unique. The top 20 most-used mascot names – like Eagles, Bulldogs and Tigers – were eliminated immediately.