University City

Northside develops athletes and students

Northside Christian Academy was founded in 1961 offering kindergarten through third grade and enrolling just 44 students. This year it is celebrating its 50-year anniversary and embracing the changes it has gone through.

The school now has more than 550 students who compete in a variety of varsity sports, including basketball, track and field, cross country, baseball, volleyball, wrestling, soccer and softball.

The Knights have come a long way in 50 years, and athletic director John Brooks has been around for more than 30 of those years to see many of the changes unfold.

Brooks started at the school in 1975 and was its athletic director for 13 years before leaving for Central Cabarrus. After five years away, Brooks returned as head football coach in 1992 and has been at Northside ever since, eventually becoming athletic director again.

"I've seen changes, and I like the direction we are headed," Brooks said. "We have gone to school uniforms, which I think has been real positive. The last couple of years, we have been putting a greater emphasis on achieving excellence in every area, and I think we are on the right track with that."

The athletics program was created after Northside moved from its original campus on Old Concord Road in 1973. The school quickly grew much bigger than it is today, and its staff and facilities were not equipped to handle the sudden surge.

"We found it was better for us to be more of the size that we are now. That is what worked for us. We have a great student-teacher ratio, and our extracurricular activities and sports seem to prosper the way it is," Brooks said.

With the student body gradually growing, Brooks and head of school Tony Fajardo are reshaping the athletic department. There have been some good years athletically and some bad, but by attracting the right kind of coaches, the Knights think they are setting themselves up for years of success.

New head baseball coach Brian Larsen is an example of the type of coach Northside is going after.

"Tony and I spoke, and it became apparent that we wanted the same things," Larsen said. "He wants to change the culture of the school's athletics, and I have experience with a similar situation in Florida. It will work great for both of us."

Brooks said culture change is about more than just wins and losses on the field. One of his main beliefs, he said, is that most all coaches should be on the school staff, around the kids at school and concerned with all aspects of the student-athletes.

"It is all about the kids, and I really believe that," Brooks said. "High school athletics is more about the relationships you develop with these kids. That is the most important thing. It's not about the wins and losses as much as it is about helping shape our kids into good students, good athletes and good people.

"Sports won't be the livelihood for most of our kids," he said. "We are out to develop well-rounded, good kids who are good in the classroom and on the fields."

Early next year, the Knights will begin to look for a football head coach. The program last competed during the 2009-10 season under the guidance of former NFL and Carolina Panthers player Brentson Buckner.

The football program is a priority, but the school plans to start it slowly, playing a year of middle school or JV football before bringing back a varsity team. Brooks and Fajardo know the type of coach they will go after and believe their staff is shaping up to follow exactly the model they are after.

"My goal has always been to find the best Christian coaches we can and let them do their thing," Brooks said. "I know that we have that in basketball, we have that in baseball now, and I think we are set across the board.

"The thing is that nobody is assigned to come here. It is nobody's neighborhood school. Once we get everything in place, it will attract more kids who know they can be successful here."

The boys basketball team, coached by former NBA player and UNC Charlotte legend Byron Dinkins, is a good example of this. Dionte Adams, a talented 6-7 forward, is one of the best juniors in the state and is drawing interest from more than 35 schools, including Miami, Clemson, Tennessee and St. John's.

The team finished 29-3 last year and is attracting other players who will play in college.

"We are getting the kids that want to come here and getting the parents involved with the everyday happenings at school. That is the best way to build a successful program and something we are building the right way," Brooks said.

"We want to be successful in athletics, but we want to shape good kids first."