Athletic and activities directors in Gwinnett County carry a heavy load, and Mark Karen was one of the busiest.
That’s why his loss hurts so much at North Gwinnett.
After weeks of pondering, Karen accepted an athletic director/assistant principal position at Hilton Head (S.C.) High School late last week and left a major void at his previous high school in the process. In addition to serving as the AD at North, he also was the head coach in girls soccer and girls cross country as part of a more taxing coaching load than his Gwinnett peers.
He didn’t plan to leave North, but a soccer tournament in South Carolina this past spring created a relationship with Hilton Head’s soccer coach, who later suggested that Karen apply for the AD vacancy.
“I kind of applied on a whim, just for the heck of it,” said Karen, who is up for board approval tonight in Hilton Head. “I wasn’t planning to go anywhere. … When I was there and we were playing games, it was a nice campus, a nice location, another great school system. It’s a AAA school with 1,200 to 1,400 students. It’s a neat community. It has a nostalgic feel.”
Karen spent most of June considering the tough decision to leave Gwinnett County, where he has lived since he was a fourth-grader. The Parkview grad eventually decided to take a chance on the new job at Hilton Head, where he will be strictly an AD/AP and won’t have any coaching duties.
He’ll miss that part of it, as well as the people at North, where Karen has coached for 11 years and has been AD for the past five.
“When you’re dealing with kids, sooner or later when you leave coaching, there’s a group of players you don’t want to leave,” Karen said. “There’s never a good time to leave. You’re always leaving a group of kids behind you don’t want to leave. So I’ll miss coaching those cross country and soccer players. And I’ve developed some great relationships at North and in the school system, the county. It’s hard to walk away from that.”
North hasn’t made any decisions on how to fill any of the three roles previously held by Karen, who guided the Bulldogs to their best overall athletic success since moving to Georgia’s highest classification. Some of the greatest accomplishments came from teams he coached.
Karen won the 2009 girls cross country and 2010 girls soccer state titles, and his final North soccer team finished as state runner-up. He had a 160-52-4 record in soccer (83-20 in region) with three region titles. His last nine teams made the state playoffs.
In cross country, the Bulldogs won region the past two seasons, made state nine of his 10 seasons as head coach and won the program’s first county title last fall.
“I’m going to miss North Gwinnett tremendously,” Karen said “I’ll miss the teachers and coaches and I’ll miss coaching the kids in soccer and cross country.”