North Gwinnett High School Principal Nathan Ballantine poses for a portrait in Suwanee Wednesday. Ballantine has been the principal at North Gwinnett for just three weeks and was a former Norcross High School assistant principal since 2006. North Gwinnett and Norcross will face one another in the Class AAAAAA state championship game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta Saturday. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)
SUWANEE — The school where Nathan Ballantine spent 14 years of his career, and where he met his wife, Jen, will be on the opposite sideline on Saturday night.
A month ago, Ballantine wore the silver and blue of the Norcross High Blue Devils, but as the new principal at North Gwinnett High, he’s a proud member of NG Nation and a participant in the planned White Out on Saturday night.
“The biggest question I’ve gotten is not anything about the school, my vision or dress code,” Ballantine said, “It’s, ‘Which team are you going to be pulling for?’ I’m going to pull for North Gwinnett.”
An avid football fan, Ballantine said it’s his routine to check the Saturday morning scoreboard each week for updates on all of the Gwinnett teams.
He just never expected to be in the spotlight of the Class AAAAAA state championship football game between his former school, Norcross, and his new school, North Gwinnett, where’s he’s worked for about a month.
As the games came to a close last week, after Norcross had a come-from-behind victory against Colquitt County, and North knocked off McEachern, Ballantine received a series of text messages, including some from Norcross Principal Will Bishop.
“I just cannott believe, that of all the schools that could end up in the state finals, it’s these two,” said Ballantine, who replaced Ed Shaddix as principal during the week of Thanksgiving. “I can’t believe I’m getting this attention. It’s not about me, it’s about the two schools, communities and players.”
Bishop said Ballantine is just one twist to the game as it guarantees a Gwinnett champion, and it’s a rematch of the teams’ September game that North won 36-17 in the opener of Region 7 play.
“Mr. Ballantine did great things while he was working at Norcross and I’m certain he’ll be an asset to North Gwinnett High School and their community,” Bishop said. “However, on Saturday night we’ll be on opposite sidelines cheering on our teams.”
Ballantine worked at Norcross since 2000, first as a science teacher and department chair, then an administrative intern before he became an assistant principal in 2006. He met his wife at the school where she taught for four years.
Ballantine called the predicament weird, fitting and very much mixed emotions because of the improbability of his job change happening within a month of the game, the talent level of each team and split loyalties.
“I love it,” he said. “But I hate it.”
Ballantine said he grew up with several of the Norcross coaches, knows a lot of the coaches’ wives and has watched many of their children grow up. Ballantine said he has a lot of respect for Norcross head coach Keith Maloof, and spent every day with many of the players.
“It’s an awesome experience and it’s a great problem to have,” he said. “I love Norcross and I love North Gwinnett. I can’t lose in this thing. I certainly want North Gwinnett to win it, but I respect those other guys because they’re my friends.”
He’s learning some of the school’s traditions, including the band’s drumline coming through the cafeteria at lunch on Friday.
Ballantine has already witnessed the community support, including some alumni who graduated 30 years ago buying T-shirts. North Gwinnett’s community sendoff is scheduled to pass through Suwanee at 5:15 p.m. on Saturday, while Norcross will also have a sendoff from the school between 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.
This is the second straight year a North principal is involved in a split allegiance circumstance. Last year when the Bulldogs played Grayson in the second round of the playoffs, Shaddix, a Grayson resident, rooted for North while the rest of his family supported Grayson.