Column: Heart of the Mustangs

Over the past 10 to 15 years, coaches have come and gone at Meadowcreek as frequently as the athletes at the transient high school.

Loads of coaches have jumped for jobs at more successful schools, leaving the Mustangs after short stays and leaving the athletic programs rebuilding year after year.

Through all that time, Darlene Werhnyak hasn't left. Even when she officially retires later this month, she's not going anywhere.

That's great news for Meadowcreek.

"I have a lot of unfinished work to do," said Werhnyak, who is retiring after four years as athletic director but will continue to work half-days next school year. "As long as (Meadowcreek principal) Dr. (Angela) Pringle wants me here, I'd like to be here."

Werhnyak certainly deserves some time off. She's worked 32 years in education, the last 14 at Meadowcreek and the previous 16 at Sweetwater Middle.

The county's first female AD puts countless hours in with the Mustangs' sports teams, attending nearly every function and helping in any way possible.

"(Darlene's) dedication and leadership exceeds any expectations I've ever had of an athletic director," Pringle said. "She's so passionate about everything she does. She wants every student at Meadowcreek to have a fair shake. She truly cares."

Werhnyak's passion has fueled an improving Meadowcreek program. Participation is up in nearly every sport from what it was prior to run as AD, and star athletes like Chris Allen and Brittany Hall are opting not to transfer.

One of the state's top senior women's golfers, she has gathered numerous donations to outfit the Mustangs' teams with clubs and clothes. A master fund-raiser, she helped the school get a football fieldhouse, an indoor batting cage and a track storage facility.

She also has hired coaches in recent years who want to stay at Meadowcreek.

"What I'd like to be remembered for is that I have a true pride and caring for the school," Werhnyak said. "I want people to be proud to go to school at Meadowcreek and proud to teach here. We're working to change that and I think we have."

So why does she love Meadowcreek so much?

"We're the underdogs, we always have been," she said. "It just hurt me to have people make fun of the school for being so diverse. We didn't have the money other schools had and it hurts me for the kids. Being the underdog is more of a challenge but when you achieve things, it's more rewarding."

Will Hammock can be reached via e-mail at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays.