One of the worst kept secrets in Rock Hill became public Thursday, Jan. 10 when Legion Collegiate Academy named Strait Herron its first athletic director and head football coach.
The rumors started about a year ago and had intensely percolated since Herron announced his retirement from “public education” on the field immediately after South Pointe’s upset loss to Daniel in the second round of the 4A state playoffs in mid-November, 2018.
Todd Helms, the director of athletics and new schools for the company that oversees Legion Collegiate Academy, said two names were at the top of Legion’s list when it began brainstorming principal and athletic director candidates over a year ago. The two names both sat behind Helms during Thursday’s press conference, Herron and Legion’s new principal, Dr. T.K. Kennedy.
“In any organization to be good, you’ve got to have a good set of plans and a good product,” said Helms. “But to be great and to separate yourself from the pack, you’ve got to have great people. Legion is no exception. Through all the interviews and the due diligence, the cream always rises to the top and those guys are sitting behind me today.”
Herron became retirement eligible in February, 2018. He wanted to coach one final group of seniors and had already decided he would step aside when the Stallions lost to Daniel. Herron left South Pointe following a seven-year stretch in which the Stallions won 102 games and five state titles, including a stretch of four state championships in a row.
Herron made clear after the Daniel game that he was retiring from public school education, not from coaching. Thursday’s press conference clarified what he may have meant in that moment. Herron choked up when talking about his departure from South Pointe.
“I’ve had a flawless transition, although tough emotionally,” he said. “Dr. Conner, Adam Hare, the coaching staff, players, I miss them. I really do.
“But this new direction in my career is gonna be awesome. I cannot wait. I can’t wait to build those relationships with new people. It’s gonna be incredible. I know this is where I’ll be for the rest of my career and I plan to take this and turn it into the best possible situation for students and families and athletes that we can have.”
Legion is the newest charter school in York County and is scheduled to open in August, 2019 with spots for 600 students. The school’s sports teams -- they’ll be called the Lancers -- will join the South Carolina High School League. So far, the school has 325 students signed up for the 2019-20 school year.
The students’ day is split into two halves at Legion, with one half spent on academics and the second half spent in athletic practice. The choice is made by the student and its family, though it could also depend on sports team practice schedules. Legion students will also take online courses, and there will be a heavy emphasis on earning college credits while still in high school.
Legion plans to field football, soccer, baseball, golf, tennis, swimming, basketball, softball, lacrosse, cross country and volleyball teams.
As a charter school, Legion’s student body will not be limited to any specific school district lines, but its athletes will, per SCHSL rules. Those zoning lines will be determined by wherever the school acquires or builds a physical location, which it hasn’t yet done. Legion project coordinator Jack Frost said Legion is close to finalizing its temporary home for the near future, as well as a long-term, permanent home. The school is currently based out of its enrollment center, located at 1348 Ebenezer Road, suite 101, in Rock Hill.
The new school will have a one-year waiver from SCHSL transfer rules as it becomes a full-time member of the league. SCHSL transfer rules would then go into effect for Legion during the 2020-21 school year, but Legion will not be part of Rock Hill District 3’s athletic transfer rules that were imposed within the district by Northwestern, Rock Hill and South Pointe.
Even though its physical location isn’t yet set in stone, the Lancers will play sports this coming fall, including football. School organizers are working to fill out the first football schedule, while Herron’s to-do list includes hiring a football coaching staff, in addition to coaching staffs for other sports teams. Herron won’t teach any classes at Legion.
Legion will become Pinnacle Charter School Management Group’s third school in South Carolina. The group also runs Oceanside Collegiate Academy and Gray Collegiate Academy. Helms had previously reached out to Herron about coaching at Oceanside, which is located near Charleston. The timing didn’t work out in that case because Herron wasn’t eligible for retirement from the public school syste yet.
But when Helms again called Herron, about Legion in this case, the timing was perfect.
“There’s too many coincidences for there not to be something out there at a higher level taking care of me,” Herron said.