Editor’s note: This concludes a two-part series about Crestview High School Principal Dexter Day's vision for the Bulldog athletic program.
CRESTVIEW — A white football jersey with a red 41 hangs on display in Crestview High School Principal Dexter Day’s office.
Forty-one is Day’s old number. It’s also the number worn by his older brothers, Greg and Gary.
“The greatest memories of playing baseball and football at Crestview High School are the Friday nights and coming in (to Jack Foster Stadium) to the roar of the crowd,” he said. “When they play that fight song, it means something to me. It’s not another song — because they played it for me and my team.”
Day was part of a class that helped turn the football program around, barely missing the playoffs his senior year, at a time when just one team from each district went to the playoffs.
He laughs when he recalls his high school days and admits to spending some time in the principal or assistant principal’s office.
While he might not have seen himself one day becoming top Bulldog, he did flirt with a career in education.
“I was in the Future Teachers of America,” Day said. “Do you know why I was in there? Because there were all girls in there.
“I was the only guy in there. I knew how to play that card.”
Kidding aside, Day draws on past experiences as a student, teacher, coach and administrator when evaluating the Bulldog athletic program.
Making the grade
These days, Day says he likes the direction the Crestview athletic program is headed in.
“I’d say we are a B and we are moving up,” he said. “We are getting the quality coaches in here like (football) Coach (Tim) Hatten that are doing an excellent job. We’ve got the soccer people coming in and doing an excellent job with girls soccer.
“Coach (Tim) Gillis is the rock in baseball. Coach (Greg) Watson and Coach (Kathy) Combest are awesome in basketball. Both (the boys and girls) teams were in the playoffs (in 2014) and we are on the upswing there.”
For the most part, Day is pleased with his coaching staff across the board, but he says one team still struggles to find the right coach to provide stability and build a winner.
“I’m sitting here pulling the rest of my hair out because nobody wants to step up and take this job and is qualified,” Day said. I’m not talking about just any Joe off the street. I’m talking about somebody that knows softball and is committed to a year-round program.
“I’m not just talking about during the season. I’m talking about someone that will work during the summer and getting these girls involved in some kind of travel ball and playing tournaments in the summer. That’s going to get them the exposure for college because they are going to come see them.”
When Crestview becomes competitive in softball, the school will have a grade A athletic program, Day said.
Softball coach qualifications
The ideal softball coach can teach at Crestview High School as well as coach the team, Day said.
Currently the school has openings for certified teachers in English, math and the culinary arts.
“We want somebody that is committed to the program just like all our other coaches,” Day said. “We need someone with a passion for that softball program because it’s a sleeping giant. We had a guy bite on it and you know what he listed first?
“All of his football coaching accolades. I don’t need a football coach to coach softball. I need a softball coach to coach softball.”
Day said he’d take the softball job himself if not restricted by his position as principal.
Forty years ago, Congress passed a law requiring equal opportunities for women in college athletics. In recent years, Title IX has filtered down to the high school level.
Day’s daughters, Lauren and Hannah, were both athletes at Crestview. Lauren ran track and cross country and Hannah was a standout on the volleyball and softball teams before settling into softball her senior year.
Day says he is committed to opening athletic doors for Crestview's female student-athletes.
“It (Title XI) throws opportunities for students and responsibility for us to make it happen,” Day said. “It’s not if, it’s when it’s going to happen because we have to do the same thing for our girls as we have for boys because we have to get our numbers up.
“To do that, we opened up flag football; now we could go to the playoffs in flag football. And we are talking about having beach volleyball now and increasing those numbers. We have to do it because girls want to play and they are great.”
A tour of Crestview's athletic facilities indicates administrators, coaches and boosters' efforts for Bulldog athletes.
From tennis courts on the campus' north end to the baseball diamond on the south side, Crestview High School has some of the top resources for the athletes in Okaloosa County.
However, there is one venue that, after more than 40 years, needs expanding.
Crestview's gym is still functional as a playing venue, but with a listed capacity of 570 it is no longer big enough for a school with close to 2,000 students. This past season the boys basketball team was forced to move the region final playoff game to Northwest Florida State College because the Crestview gym didn’t meet state seating requirements.
Day doesn’t see a solution to the problem in the immediate future.
“I think it is an issue and it has to be addressed because now the fire marshal is coming down here and it’s a numbers crunch,” Day said. “I’m responsible for this school and when we get to 570-some-odd people we have to close it down because when it comes to this school it all funnels through this office right here.
“I don’t see that there is any capital outlay money through the district because it has been cut to nothing almost.”
Day said he would like to work with Crestview business leaders to come up with a way to help fund the gym's expansion.
Expectations moving forward
Day understands that most teams won’t make the playoffs every year, but he does have standards to which he will hold Crestview coaches.
“I just want my coaches to go out there and coach their players and work them,” Day said. “You have to work diligently and get them to do the best they can. And that’s all I want them to do.
“If they win, they win. If they lose, we will talk about it. I want them to compete and get the students to do their best.”
Randy Dickson is the Crestview News Bulletin’s sports editor. Email him at email@example.com, tweet him @BigRandle or call 682-6524.