Vernetta Head, who has a 13 year-old son attending Sutton Middle School, said it is important to her to have North Atlanta High School provide information on its athletic programs. (Photo by Dyana Bagby)
Vernetta Head, who has a 13 year-old son attending Sutton Middle School, said it is important to her to have North Atlanta High School provide information on its athletic programs. (Photo by Dyana Bagby)

By Dyana Bagby

Vernetta Head’s 13 year-old son, Harrison, is academically inclined — he favors chess and robotics over basketball or football.

But Head wants the Sutton Middle School eighth-grader to be well-rounded and to be more physical. So she attended the Nov. 18 meeting of the North Atlanta Parents for Public Schools held at SMS to find out what options are available to him when he heads off to North Atlanta High School.

“We have had a talk about it and I said, ‘This year, you will play a sport,’” she said with a smile. The first semester Harrison ran cross country; now he is training to play lacrosse.

Approximately 50 parents attended the Wednesday afternoon meeting titled, “Sports & Team Spirit in Our North Atlanta Cluster.”

On hand to talk about what is offered at North Atlanta High School and at SMS were Dwike Leonard, SMS athletic director; Scotty East, NAHS sports booster board president; and Andre Regan, NAHS athletic director.

“Sports will help our students learn coping skills,” Leonard told parents. “We are trying to develop the whole child.”

At SMS, students can participate in sports such as basketball, football, cheerleading, track and field, softball, soccer, cross country, golf, volleyball, tennis and wrestling.

NAHS offers students cross country, volleyball, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, tennis, football, baseball, swimming and cheerleading. NAHS athletics must also be compliant with Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination based on gender, said Regan.

Future sports at NHSA could include anything from fencing to gymnastics. And while gymnastics may become a team through Georgia High School Association, the water polo club at NAHS would remain a club, for example, Regan explained.

Parents asked if NAHS ever could have a full-time athletic director. Regan said he still teaches classes and that working as an AD accounts for probably 3 percent of his pay. The NAHS principal did him the opportunity to teach fewer classes, but having a full-time AD means the loss of a teacher in the classroom.

Other high schools, such as River Ridge, do have a full-time AD, giving them an advantage on the courts and fields, Regan said.

“We’re competing against a different element,” Regan said.

Sports has a lot to do where students go to high school, said Scotty East, booster club president of NAHS, which means it is important to provide an attractive athletic program.

One way the NAHS Booster Club is doing so is by recently building a collegiate-level weight room for use during the off-season as well as paying for someone to properly train students on how to use the weights, East said.

The Booster Club also runs a website,, that is the place to go to find out information on the 20 sports teams, he said.

“They are really working hard to make sure this high school is not a stand-alone entity and rather to give it a family feel,” Head said of the NAPPS presentation. “So when it is time for middle schools students to go to high school, NAHS is their choice and they are not going there just because they are in a cluster.”

Head, a former SMS student and also graduate of the former North Fulton High School, said it is also important that the school system focus on academics and athletics — and she believes the schools are hitting a home run.

“When I was in middle school, the high schools didn’t come to us. There was no interaction between middle and high schools,” she said. “Now they are working to have successful students and successful student athletes. That’s important to me.”

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.