From left to right: J.I. Burton girls basketball coach Jared Coffey, softball coach Jim Holdway and volleyball/girls tennis coach Laura Potter. (George Thwaites photo)
NORTON — J.I. Burton recently hired three new head coaches for the 2013-14 school year. On Tuesday night at the Norton Elementary School gym, the Raiders athletic department formally introduced them.
Jared Coffey was presented as the new head of the J.I. Burton girls basketball program. Laura Potter will be heading the volleyball and girls’ tennis teams. Jim Holdway was unwrapped as the new softball coach.
Coffey, who left Wise Central a year ago to take over the Patrick Henry boys basketball program in Washington County, was thrilled to be back.
“I really missed being in the coalfields. It’s different over there on I-81,” said Coffey, a Virginia-Wise graduate who previously served as an assistant coach under Glynn Carlock Jr. at Graham and under Robin Dotson at Wise Central.
Coffey, who was head girls track and field coach at Central, follows Melissa Short’s two seasons as Lady Raiders head coach. Short’s run followed that of Mike Goforth, who led Burton to the 2011 Group A state title.
Coffey admitted his immediate predecessor inherited a tough gig.
“They always say you never want to be the guy who follows that guy. You want to be the next guy after that,” he quipped.
The Norton volleyball and softball positions opened up with the exit of longtime Burton coach Jon Bright, who is now coaching both sports at Narrows High School in Giles County.
Potter, a Wise County native who attended Virginia-Wise and Radford University, served as varsity girls tennis coach at Union this past season. She has spent the last four seasons as a middle school coach and varsity volleyball assistant under Lady Bears coach Kim Mathes.
“Kim has been my mentor. She is the end-all and be-all for me in volleyball. I can’t say enough good things about her,” Potter said. “She knows how to run a program. She knows how to nurture the girls. She knows how to teach them and make them fall in love with the game.”
While Coffey and Potter are career educators with teaching positions in the Norton City Schools, Holdway comes to Norton purely as a coach.
Holdway, whose daughter, Kaylla, was an ace pitcher at now-defunct Powell Valley, served as an assistant softball coach under Paul Clendenon and Travis Turner. He also spent some time as an assistant coach at Virginia-Wise under Tori Raby-Gentry.
“When this job came open, I threw my hat in the ring. From what I’ve been told, a lot of people up here wanted me,” Holdway said. “I’m excited about being here. They’ve got a lot of good talent and good kids up here. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
In addition to his experience as an assistant, Holdway has worked with young players from all over Wise County as the head coach of summer traveling teams for over a decade. At least eight of his former players went on to play softball at the college level.
Burton has experienced success in all four sports affected by the new hires. Coffey’s jokes aside, the girls basketball position remains the one most likely to come under intense public scrutiny this year.
Fortunately for Coffey, Wise Central was a great training ground for learning to live with high expectations.
“Had I known this job was going to be open within a year, I wouldn’t have left (Dotson) to coach at Patrick Henry. But you never know when another head job is coming open, and I really wanted to be a head coach,” Coffey said.
“I really like coaching girls better than I like coaching boys. If you can get girls to buy in, and you can structure it, I think it’s easier to win with girls than with boys,” he said.
All three coaches can expect to share athletes at the tiny Group A school, which begins its first season of membership in the Cumberland District this year. All three agreed that they’ll need to be on the same page with regard to establishing discipline and structure in their respective sports.
“All the traditionally strong girls programs — like Floyd County and Gate City — you can see that carry over from season to season,” Coffey said. “A coach doesn’t need to spend his or her first month getting kids back to where they need to be.”