Prep Baseball: Small to lead North Rowan

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 3, 2017

By Mike London

SPENCER— East Rowan graduate Tommy Small is returning to Rowan County.

Small is only 29, but he’s already been the head baseball coach at Mount Pleasant High for four winning seasons.

He was announced as North Rowan’s new coach by AD Ben Hampton over the Christmas break. He replaces Aaron Rimer, who resigned in October after being hired to lead the program at 3A power Topsail.

“It was always in the back of my mind that if I got the opportunity to coach in Rowan County, I really wanted to do it,” Small said. “When I heard about Coach Rimer leaving for the coast, I got in contact with the people at North Rowan really quick. We set up an interview, and I was fortunate enough to be hired.”

Small’s connections with North Rowan go back a long way. Bill Kesler, the former North Rowan head coach, coached Small in travel ball when he was a youngster.

Small played football and baseball at East, graduating in 2005. He wasn’t a star athlete — “just a stocky, short guy,” as he modestly describes himself  — but he was a student of the game. He soaked up  knowledge from his baseball coaches at East, especially Allen Wilson and Brian Hightower.

“I learned from Coach Wilson how to be a player’s coach, and I believe that’s what I am,” Small said. “From Coach Hightower, I learned the importance of being detail-oriented.”

After graduating from East, Small’s next stop was Pfeiffer. He was on the baseball team. The coach of the Falcons in those days was Mark Hayes, and Hayes changed Small’s career path.

“I’d gone to Pfeiffer thinking about studying sports medicine,” Small said. “Coach Hayes told me that I might make a great coach, and that steered me toward wanting to teach and coach. Those turned out to be the things I really loved.”

Small’s degree from Pfeiffer is in physical education. He broke into the teaching ranks at Mount Pleasant and got a chance to coach the jayvee baseball team.

When Mount Pleasant head coach Bryan Tyson stepped down during the 2013 baseball season to accept the position as athletic director for Cabarrus County. Small was elevated to varsity coach in mid-March and steered the Tigers to a 14-11 record.

The next three seasons, Small’s teams went 17-10, 13-9 and 16-8.

“Coach Tyson was a great influence on me, the life lessons as well as the baseball lessons,” Small said. “We had some successful teams at Mount Pleasant.”

Small has an 8-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son. When the Smalls welcomed a third addition to the family seven months ago, he believed it was time to leave coaching and focus on his family. He stepped down at Mount Pleasant.

“The baby came in June, but by August I was really missing baseball,” Small said. “My wife understands me. She’s been a basketball coach herself, and she understands how I feel about baseball. She was very supportive when I talked to her about pursuing the North Rowan job.”

Small’s wife has a height advantage. Courtney Nyborg Small was a basketball star at Elon. She’s 6-foot-5 and set some school shot-blocking records.

The Smalls live close to Central Cabarrus High, where Courtney teaches English.

Small has been teaching this year at Southeast Middle School in Salisbury, although he had no coaching duties Then the North Rowan job opened up. Now he’s looking forward to getting back on the diamond.

He’s already conducted a few voluntary workouts and has met players. Two of  North’s key returners, pitcher/outfielder Joe Harrison and all-county outfielder Henderson Lentz, are currently playing basketball.

North won the 2A Central Carolina Conference last season with a 9-1 record and went 17-8. A lot of fine players graduated, including  workhorse pitchers Brandon White and Noah Gonzalez and sluggers Jake Pritchard, Robbie Monroe and Holden Lanier.

“The program is in good shape — it’s not like Coach Rimer left the cupboard bare,” Small said. “We’ve got some good players back and I’ve been impressed by the young players. I’m excited. We hope to hit the ground running.”

This spring will mark the last of four baseball seasons for North in the CCC. The Cavaliers will move back down to the 1A ranks next fall.

Small has been on the football coaching staffs at Mount Pleasant and has experience coaching several positions. A fullback and defensive end at East, he’s been a head jayvee coach for the Tigers and he’s coached receivers, linebackers and defensive line.

“Football at North is something we really haven’t even talked about yet, but I’m guessing I will help,” Small said. “At a small school, you need everybody.”