Tripp Satterwhite joined Gaye Driggers in the front entrance to Carolina Forest High School on Monday afternoon, his first meeting with area media having wrapped up moments before.
The Panthers’ soon-to-be athletics director impressed his new boss by recognizing another person in the lobby as a former American Legion teammate from the mid-1990s. But while the principal and three others in the hallway were paying Satterwhite compliments for his memory, the decor of the entryway displayed the task he’ll most likely be charged with in the coming months and years.
Carolina Forest, one of the fastest growing schools in the state the last two decades, has multiplied into a 2,100-student school where the arts programs dominate not only headlines, but interest. Several fliers for the school’s upcoming production of “Fiddler on the Roof” were within eyesight of that get-together. The show is expected to do well with ticket sales – like most others the school’s arts department has put on in recent years.
Meanwhile, the Panthers’ sports programs have been hit and miss, both in terms of success on the field and those watching the games.
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“I would think in just talking to coaches and administration, a lot of students are shared, in the arts as well as the athletics,” Satterwhite said. “I think you’ll get more athletes coming down the pipe as you excel in athletics.”
With the addition of lacrosse this spring, Carolina Forest now supports every South Carolina High School League-sanctioned sport. Add in the school’s prestige in its auditorium, a highly recognized band and even a robotics team that over the weekend won a regional to advance to the national competition in St. Louis, and its no surprise that Driggers has been asked before if it was possible for athletics to keep up with that sort of pace.
“That has happened with the fine arts program over time,” said Driggers, a former coach herself. “That didn’t happen all of a sudden. … What I’m looking for is that same thing to happen within our athletics.
“I don’t know that we’ve had a tradition for the athletic department as a whole for a very long time. I think we’re on the right track to doing that. It’s not anything that anyone before now has not attempted to do that.”
Regardless, Satterwhite’s experience at a pair of larger schools – in addition to his non-sports administration work, Driggers said – contributed to him getting the job. At South View (N.C.), where he intends to work until May before joining the Carolina Forest staff full time, Satterwhite has served both as the athletics director and assistant principal.
Before that, he was the athletics director at Lumberton (N.C.), which as of the latest filings is slightly bigger than Carolina Forest.
On Monday, he said winning would help attendance, but that growing interest from the outside in has to be a priority. Maybe more influential than wins and losses, though, the student-athletes at Carolina Forest aren’t second-generation Panthers, meaning the area's ties to the school are still relatively thin.
Satterwhite believes he can help change that.
“We want to create a culture where everyone wants to come Carolina Forest, to all the games,” he said. “I think, again, the foundation is there.”
Said Driggers: “I think we’ve been missing that ingredient there that Tripp can bring to the table, get our community in here to support our sports program as a whole.”