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May 10, 2014

Former star takes over Christian Heritage boys basketball

Christian Heritage’s new boys basketball coach is familiar name.

The school hope Tyler Watkins succeeds as a high school coach just like he did as a player.

The former Christian Heritage basketball standout accepted the position around a week ago and ended the hiring search a little more than one month since the school posted two openings, this one and the girls basketball coaching vacancy. Watkins replaces Anthony Moseley, who resigned after two seasons due to health issues.

“We had some great candidates for the job, guys with years of experience,” Christian Heritage athletic director Preston Poag said. “In the interview process, he’s just a sharp guy. I talked to the Shorter coach and he talked for a while how much he means to their program. He’ll come in and be a no-nonsense coach and will teach fundamentals. We’re excited to have him.”

Poag declined to give Watkins’ salary.

The school is still in the process of hiring a replacement for girls coach Heather Lowery, and the baseball coaching position is open as well after Noah Stokes announced his resignation earlier this week.

Watkins graduated from Christian Heritage in 2007 with tons of accolades from the basketball court. He holds two school records (career points, 3,689; career assists, 805) and was named The Daily Citizen’s 2006-07 All-Area Boys Basketball Player of the Year. In his four seasons at Christian Heritage, the Lions reached the Tennessee Association of Christian Schools championship all four years and won twice.

Watkins has the chance to coach his alma mater, something many would love to do.

“It’s kind of weird how the Lord works,” Watkins said in a phone interview Saturday with The Daily Citizen. “I thought I’d be at Shorter and then heard about the (Christian Heritage) job and called about it. Our family is excited and it happened so quick. The biggest thing about me is Christian Heritage changed my life. When I left, I was a different person than when I started. That’s from an athletic, spiritual and academic perspective. I just want to give back to a school that gave me so much.”

In college, he played two seasons with Shorter University in Rome after playing for two seasons with Trevecca Nazerene University in Nashville, Tenn. The Dalton native and resident became a graduate assistant during the 2011-12 season and transitioned next season to a full-time assistant role. He graduated in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in sports management and earned a master’s degree in early childhood education in 2012. Poag said Watkins will teach at the elementary level but did not specifically know which subject.

“I feel like I’m smiling all the time,” Watkins said. “I have all of these things that are my decisions. I get to build the staff and work with the kids. ... The biggest thing is we want to get the right people working with the kids, and help them reach their dreams of hopefully playing college basketball.”

Aside from his playing accomplishments, Watkins’ coaching career also is filled with success.

Shorter, an NCAA Division-II program, once was a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics school as part of the Southern States Athletic Conference. With Watkins as an assistant, the men’s basketball team finished the 2011-2012 season 34-3, holding the No. 1 ranking in the NAIA coaches poll, and reached the national semifinals. In the 2012-2013 season, as part of its transition to the NCAA, Shorter won the National Christian College Athletic Association national championship.

“Tyler has been an integral part of our success here at Shorter,” the school’s head coach, Chad Warner, said in Christian Heritage’s press release announcing the hire. “I am so happy for him and Christian Heritage. They are truly getting one of the best.”

Christian Heritage missed the state playoffs in each of its first two basketball seasons competing in the GHSA. The school began competition in the GHSA in 2012 after spending the previous five seasons in the Georgia Independent School Association.

“I saw them play a team camp last year at Shorter’s summer camp,” Watkins said of the Lions. “I saw some of the younger players in the program.

“All you have to do is drive by the school and you can see big things going on there.”

Formerly the Christian Heritage middle school boys basketball coach, Moseley had surgery in 2007 to remove pancreatic cancer — and with it, his spleen and three-quarters of his pancreas. While he felt fine during the 2012-13 season, he suffered a blood clot “in the area where my pancreas was,” Moseley said in a previous interview with The Daily Citizen, and doctors had him take blood thinners and other medications.

After resigning, Moseley said he often was fatigued due to the medications, was “just trying to make it through the season” and had to leave practice numerous times.

Poag said a decision will be made shortly about the girls basketball position. Lowery coached for 14 seasons and her accomplishments included leading the Lady Lions to the GISA Class 2A state title game in 2008 and the semifinals of the same tournament in 2012. The Lady Lions were 241-135 in Lowery’s 14 seasons as head varsity coach, with five GISA state playoff appearances and three GISA Region 4-2A championships.

Before Christian Heritage’s five-year GISA tenure, the school competed in the Tennessee Association of Christian Schools. Lowery and the Lady Lions won three region championships and made three state appearances in that association. At the beginning of Lowery’s tenure, Christian Heritage was part of the North Georgia Association of Christian Schools, which she said didn’t have a state tournament.

He added there are three candidates being considered but declined to say who.

Since posting the two openings, the school’s baseball coach also became available with Noah Stokes’ resignation. Poag said the school is beginning the interview process. Stokes, the father of current senior baseball player Jake Stokes, coached Christian Heritage for 13 years and started the program as a middle school team in 2002. He also was athletic director from 2001 to 2005 and started the school’s football program.

“He’s meant a lot to the program,” Poag said. “He’s done a lot for the school. Not only has he been a baseball coach but also an AD and assistant football coach. He’s been a good friend of mine. ... I’m glad he got to finish out with Jake’s senior year.”

Jake Stokes signed an athletic scholarship last week with Cleveland State Community College and will continue his baseball career. The elder Stokes led Christian Heritage to the GISA Class 2A state playoffs each of the five seasons in the classification, won the Region 4-2A title once and reached the GISA state semifinals once. In 2013, the Lions’ baseball program became the school’s first to reach the GHSA state playoffs.

“I’m proud of what we were able to start,” coach Stokes said. “I started because my son, Jake, was in kindergarten. I didn’t want kids to leave because the school didn’t have successful sports programs.”

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