By Trey Williams
Former Unicoi County baseball coach Chris Bogart took over for Michael Smith as the Blue Devils athletic director this summer.
Smith had succeeded Doug Cooper in 2011, two decades after Cooper had taken the reins.
Whether or not Bogart will provide similar longevity, his era could get off to a fast start. Unicoi County returns a healthy number of proven athletes and the middle school programs are also in high cotton.
“I’m excited,” said Bogart, who played baseball for the Blue Devils (class of ’89) and Tusculum Pioneers (class of ’94) and was the Unicoi County head coach (1999-’04) after four years as Charlie Baxter’s assistant. “I think we’ve got a really good foundation in all of our sports. We’ve got a good volleyball corps coming back, a lot of seniors and some talented volleyball players. Obviously, football is terrific – what Coach (Drew) Rice has been doing. With the other fall sports, cross country’s got a lot of runners this year and we’re working on building our girls soccer program.”
Bogart will be working with two new head coaches in basketball. Former middle school boys coach Jordan Simmons has taken over for John Good and former North Greene boys head coach Brandon Broyles has succeeded Kerri King with the girls program.
“We have two new basketball coaches,” Bogart said. “So that’s always interesting. But we’re excited about both of ‘em. Obviously, Jordan is one of ours, being a Blue Devil – and taking over the program he played in. And he’s got a ton of talent back.
“They had a great summer. It was fun to watch them play this summer. They had a lot of success. And then Coach Broyles is coming on and we’re excited about him and the experience that he brings.”
Bogart, of course, noted the baseball team’s sectional run this past season. Coach Chad Gillis played for Bogart when they went to the state tournament in 2000.
The Blue Devils won 2-1 at Loudon in the sectional in a game that began on Friday and was completed on Saturday.
“John Corn started on Friday night and finished it on Saturday,” Bogart said. “We had to spend the night in Loudon and didn’t have anything, didn’t have clothes, didn’t have toothbrushes. Everybody went to Wal-Mart and bought toothbrushes and toothpaste. It was a great time and showed a lot of heart from that team and we went to the state in 2000.
“It really showed we were a tough-minded group. My brother-in-law, Dustin Stiltner, caught a kid stealing – their leadoff hitter – late in the game to actually kind of seal the win.”
Unicoi County has an excellent catcher in rising junior Valentin Batrez, as Bogart, a former catcher, will enthusiastically attest.
“Valentin is already generating a lot of interest recruiting wise,” Bogart said. “With me being a former catcher and having played here and coached here, I’ve got to see a lot – we’ve had great catchers in our program. He’s tremendous. He’s right there with any of them. He’s as good as anybody that’s been back there for us.”
The Blue Devils have another rising junior generating college interest in 6-foot-6 Lucas Slagle. In fact, Slagle would almost certainly have an opportunity to play football, basketball or baseball beyond high school, although many see baseball offering the highest ceiling at this point.
“Lucas is a special athlete,” Bogart said. “I was over at the football scrimmage Friday night, and just watching him run and make some catches – I mean he runs as well as most of the DBs and better than the linebackers. And you see him on the basketball court and what he does. I was actually talking to a basketball coach about him the other night. His ability to rebound is ridiculous, the way he gets to balls and figures things out. And obviously he’s a stud in baseball on the mound and at the plate.”
Bogart, who also fondly recalled getting to the state tournament his junior season thanks to a sectional victory at Kingston, said community support has remained consistent throughout the decades.
“It really is kind of a dying breed – that close-knit community,” Bogart said. “And we all rally around the same teams. All roads in Erwin lead to Unicoi County High School and I love that. The community support is amazing for all of our athletic teams.”
Bogart also appreciates having Smith as a sounding board.
“Coach Smith did amazing work and I was fortunate to work with him as our AD when I was principal,” Bogart said. “He just kind of had it down to a science. He’s clued me in and helped me out with stuff already.”
And it sounds like Bogart has already got the gist of it.
“For me,” Bogart said, “it’s just making sure our coaches have what they need in order to be successful.”