Coach working to build tradition

Through her junior year of high school, standout softball player Erin Taylor had every reason to believe she would be graduating from Northside Christian Academy.

She had attended the Charlotte parochial school all her life, including its day-care center when she was a mere 6 weeks old and her mother was one of the school's substitute teachers.

Debbie Taylor became a full-time teacher there in 1993 and helped establish a state-championship softball program in the 2000s, of which Erin was a big part.

Debbie Taylor said she was unexpectedly let go from her job as a teacher and coach last year. Now she and Erin are at First Assembly in Concord, coaching and playing softball, respectively.

Erin is playing her final season of high school softball before she goes off to play for the University of South Carolina as a walk-on.

As the Eagles' coach, Debbie is trying to establish the same softball tradition at the Concord Christian school as she helped build at Northside.

Debbie played a minor role in coaching the volleyball and basketball teams at Northside in the '90s. She became more serious about coaching when she started coaching junior varsity softball in 1998. She became the varsity coach the next year, and she helped the program transition from slow-pitch to fast-pitch in 2000.

In 2001, Northside won its first state championship, the 2A private/independent schools title. The star pitcher on that team was Jenni Syder, a transfer from Charlotte Vance, who now is First Assembly's middle school softball coach.

The Knights continued to pile up state championships, winning seven titles between 2001 and 2009. Taylor's daughters, Erin and Chelsea (a 2009 graduate) played on several of those championship teams. Her sons also came through Northside: Jonny graduated in 2007, and Ricky attended the school through his junior year.

At the end of the 2009-10 school year, in which she completed her only year as athletic director, Taylor said, she lost her job at Northside. She said there might have been a few minor disagreements with administrators.

Current Northside headmaster Tony Fajardo said he didn't work at Northside when Taylor's job ended there. He said it's the school's policy to not discuss personnel matters.

Even though she had 16 years of teaching and coaching experience, Debbie Taylor said, finding a job in late summer was impossible. Just as difficult was the decision Erin had to make about whether she wanted to return to Northside.

"I knew everyone there, and everyone knew who I was," Erin said. "I was friends with the same people for my entire life. I was terrified of leaving. I just didn't feel like it was home anymore."

Erin decided on First Assembly, and Debbie was tapped to be the school's assistant softball coach. She was named to lead the program when last year's head coach stepped down.

Debbie inherited a team that didn't win a game in 2010.

"I met with the girls" in the fall, Taylor said. "I talked with them to find out their comfort levels. Some of them said they didn't even play the same positions more than a couple games in a row. They were always looking for the quick fix."

Erin quickly became the team's most talented player. Her experience, vast in comparison to that of her teammates, has practically placed her in an assistant coach role with the team. She moved from middle infield to catcher so she could tutor the Eagles' middle-school-age pitchers, and she's leading the team with a .457 batting average.

First Assembly won its first two games of the season, then lost nine straight. The Eagles entered their last regular-season game Tuesday with a 3-10 overall record.

Without a permanent job, Debbie has been substitute teaching at a couple of schools, including First Assembly. She said she would love to stay on as First Assembly's coach next year and continue the rebuilding process she started this season, but whether and where she can land a permanent teaching job will dictate where she will coach next year.