BOONE — When it came to hiring a new boys’ basketball coach, Watauga High School Principal Chris Blanton thought outside of the box, but stayed inside the walls of the school.
Watauga girls’ basketball coach Laura Barry was hired to coach the boys’ team at the Watauga County Board of Education meeting held May 6.
Blanton said that Barry would pull double duty for the Pioneers since she will remain the girls’ coach. She has coached the girls’ team since May 2016 after leaving an assistant coaching position at East Tennessee State University.
Barry replaces longtime Watauga boys’ basketball coach Rob Sanders, who led the Pioneers to a 13-13 overall record, 7-7 in the NWC last season. Watauga reached the state 3-A playoffs, but lost to Southwest Guilford in the first round.
“I have no doubt that she has the ability to coach the boys’ team,” Blanton said. “I think she’ll do well. Laura has proven through her collegiate coaching experience, through her high school coaching experience and also through her playing career that she is capable and has the basketball knowledge to do well.”
Barry, who met with both teams before the announcement, knows that it is not the norm for women to coach boys’ teams, but also noted that it is fairly common for men to coach girls’ teams. Barry feels that the boys’ team at Watauga is coachable, no matter what the coach’s gender, and will react positively.
“For me personally, it isn’t a barrier,” Barry said. “As far as coaching guys and girls I think there are differences, but I don’t think there is any oddness or challenge off the top from my angle. For the guys, some of them may have never been coached by a female, so they’ll have to get used to a little different voice, but I don’t think it will take them long. I’ve got a lot of faith in them that they’ll be excited just to be coached hard. Any good player wants to be coached and I told them that I promised to do that and to push them and I think that’s what they want.”
Barry said the bigger challenge would be coaching both the boys’ and girls’ teams. The good news for her is that the teams play all of their regularly scheduled games at the same sites.
But being the head coach of one team can be challenging enough. Barry knows she might spend twice the time at Lentz-Eggers Gym than before, but looks forward to the challenge of handling both programs.
“I’m not worried. I think it will be a stretch in a new direction,” Barry said. “There will be a lot more on my plate than last year. I think that will be the harder part for both of these groups of kids to swallow than my gender.”
“I told the guys that I wouldn’t have taken this on and standing in front of you if I didn’t think we could do it,” Barry added. “I have confidence that it will be great for everyone involved. It’s going to take a lot more time on my part, but it’s a lot of business as usual with everybody else in the program.”
Blanton said that being the head coach of both programs is a lot to ask of one person, but he feels Barry is up to the task.
Barry will retain varsity assistant coach Kim Prior and junior varsity coach Kalie Eppley with the girls’ program. She will work on building the boys’ staff, but was not specific about who that might include. Blanton said finding a strong assistant coaching staff was important to help take some of the burden off Barry.
“We are asking a lot and it takes a special person to do both, but we certainly feel like Laura is able to do it,” Blanton said. “She’s shown a commitment to player development through her ‘Peak’ program she’s implemented and she puts in the work and puts in the time. She’s going to have to lean on her assistant coaches for some things. It’s going to be demanding, but I know she can handle it.”
Barry led Watauga to a 17-10 overall record, 10-4 in the Northwestern Conference, and a second straight berth in the 3-A state playoffs last season.
In the 2017-18 season, Barry led the Pioneers to a 22-5 overall record and a 13-1 Northwestern Conference record and a conference championship. Watauga reached the second round of the state 3-A playoffs before sustaining a 46-45 loss at Cuthbertson.
During that season, Watauga swept traditional NWC power and former 4-A state champion McDowell for the first time. The Pioneers also beat former 3-A state champion Hickory three times during the season and beat Freedom, the defending 3-A state champions.
Barry played collegiately at North Carolina, where the Tar Heels won two ACC championships and reached the Final Four. She was an assistant coach at Alleghany College and St. John’s University before coaching as an assistant at East Tennessee State for two seasons.
“No doubt, we want to have a winning program,” Blanton said. “She also instills the character and the values that are important to the kids. She is a great person and a great coach. I think she’ll do a wonderful job with the program and will continue to do a wonderful job with the girls’ program.”