Recapping a whirlwind two years at Springwood

Published 10:30 am Saturday, December 3, 2022

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WEST POINT — The head of school and athletic director at Springwood School talked about the whirlwind of activity they have experienced at the school the past two years at Thursday’s noon hour meeting of the West Point Rotary Club. Kim Baylis and Joey Burch were the guest speakers at the club’s weekly meeting, held in the conference room at Capital City Bank.

A Connecticut native, Baylis graduated from college in Virginia and was in missions work in Europe following the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union and the coming of freedom to the former nations of the Warsaw Pact. She was in Hungary when she discovered her real love was being an educator. She continued doing mission work in western Canada and Mexico before getting into education in her native Connecticut. She was on the administrative side of education back in her home state.

“I was at a school that was a lot like Springwood,” she said. “The classroom size was such that you could help students on a one-on-one basis,” she said. “I liked it that the school was based on Christian values.”

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After spending time in three very different countries and then being back home again, she still found the urge to move on to another opportunity. Springwood turned out to be the perfect opportunity for her. On her first visit to the Lanett school, she fell in love with the campus.

“It’s such a beautiful place,” she said. “It reminded me of being at summer camp. When I talked to the staff, I found out we had much in common. They were excited to be there, were given to hard work and committed to helping students in a one-on-one basis. I found that their interests matched mine.”

She was there for a year before the head of school position came open. She had made such a strong impression in her first year she was approached about being the head of school. “I decided to take it because of the faculty and the students,” she said. “There were so many challenges coming out of Covid that I wanted to make sure we would be on the right course.”

Baylis says one of her biggest goals is building a culture of commitment at Springwood.

“We are super busy every day,” Baylis said. “My major goal since May is to build a team of administrators and teachers that are 100 percent committed to the growth and development of our students. I am so excited to have administrators and teachers who have joined our team because they want to be here to serve the students. I believe we have the right team in place to help make our school stronger and better.”

Baylis majored in history in college and knows Springwood has some history to celebrate.

“We want to celebrate the founding of our school and to recognize those who were involved in it,” she said.

The school is now a half-century old.

“We want our students to have the best learning experience,” she said. “Last year we had 228 students. We are up to 250 this year. We can individualize school learning and help each student on a one-on-one basis.”

Joey Burch wears three hats at Springwood. He’s the director of academics, athletic director, and head football coach. He’s originally from north Alabama and had over 30 years coaching football before coming to Springwood. He spent his first year on the academic side as an assistant coach.

He had no idea he would be the head coach or that Springwood would transition to eight-man football at the end of last school year.

Burch was left to pick up the pieces after two coaches departed Springwood before the 2022 season. At the time, he didn’t have enough experienced players to have 11-man teams on either offense or defense. He then looked at the eight-man option even though he had never seen an eight-man football game.

“I had only seen it on video,” he said. “We were struggling, but I wanted something our kids could get excited about.”

The difference between eight-man football and 11-man football is that two tackles and a skill position player are removed from the offense. Each team has five guys on the line and three in the backfield.

Burch went into the season not knowing what to expect but was guided by a saying attributed to John Maxwell: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

“We needed to put a plan in action,” Burch said. “Our kids had been told a lot of good things in the past that did not come to pass.”

Burch started with only a handful of players but got more guys interested in coming out by the actions he took.

“We gave our weight room a new look by rearranging it and painting it,” he said. “I wanted them to see something new every day they came. I stayed late to do the painting. More guys got interested in what we were doing. We then gave our dressing room a complete makeover. We tried hard to give them something to believe in. It was all about showing them that somebody cared.”

The dressing room improvements involved taking out some walls, putting in a new floor and installing LED lighting. It ended up being a tremendous improvement from the smelly old room that was there before.

A core group of players turned out for eight-man football, but Burch saw a need to change the culture of Wildcat football. “We told them the we had high expectations of them and that we would hold them accountable,” he said.

Players learned some basic things like never missing practice and to always be there on time.

“We had a great group of seniors this year,” he said.

The Wildcats started the season with 22 players, 14 of them getting lots of playing time. By contrast, some of their opponents brought in 35 to 40 players.

“We got off to a great start, winning our first four games, but then we had five key guys out with injuries,” Burch said. “We lost some games but stayed competitive. Some guys had to step up for us to do that, and they they did. We talked to them about the importance of finishing what we started.”

The Wildcats won enough games to not only make the playoffs but to play in the state championship game. Nobody had given them a chance to do that when the season started.

In the semifinals, the Wildcats beat a team they had lost to in the regular season. In the championship game, the fans were with them in a big way. “They were so loud we couldn’t hear the snap count,” Burch said.

The game went back and forth throughout with Springwood losing a game that could have gone either way.

For taking a team little was expected of to the state championship game, Burch was named The Valley Times-News’ High School Coach of the Year.

“We appreciate the support we have gotten from our local media,” Burch said. “The players liked reading the stories about our games and seeing the pictures.”

Two of his players, Caden Cook and Jonathan Johnson, will be playing in an upcoming All-Star game. Both could continue playing football at the college level.

Burch wants to build on this year’s success by getting more guys at Springwood to go out for football. There’s also the possibility of getting guys to transfer in from other schools.

“We had a good season,” Burch said. “We have a five-year plan to improve everything. We want our kids to be successful in whatever they do. I am enjoying what I am doing at Springwood. Our coaches did great jobs this year, and our players did, too.”

Burch is from north Alabama and a Crimson Tide fan. “I lived there for 33 years,” he said. “During that time if anyone told me I would be moving to near Auburn one day I would have told them they were crazy,” he joked. “But it’s all right. I like being in this part of the state.”