Staff Photo: John Bohn Paul Callis has been a swimming coach at Shiloh High School for eighteen years, he is moving on to become swim coach at Collins Hill High School. Callis posses for a portrait next to a Shiloh swimming and diving team photo dating back to his first year as coach during the 1995-1996 season.
Paul Callis slowly packed his classroom at Shiloh High School last week.
The process was interrupted quite frequently.
As Callis opened a drawer or a box, he found old pictures or results from past swim teams that drew up memories.
"It's tough. I remember old faces and names," Callis said. "It's been kind of fun to go back and revisit some of the stuff you haven't thought about in a while."
After 18 years as the Shiloh swimming and diving coach, Callis has plenty of fond memories of the program he built. He's leaving the Snellville school to become the assistant swim coach at Collins Hill.
"It was a tough decision, but the opportunity at Collins Hill was the main thing," Callis said. "It's just a new challenge. Eighteen years is a while."
During his nearly two decades at Shiloh, Callis had one of the most consistent programs in the county. Shiloh reached the state meet every year, including seven top-10 finishes. The program had nine years with all-state honors and 12 years of county all-star selections. He was named Gwinnett County Coach of the Year in 1998 and 2001.
"Paul has done an amazing job of keeping swimming alive and well at Shiloh. His enthusiasm and love for the sport of swimming makes him one of the most respected coaches in the state," Mill Creek coach Rick Creed said. "Shiloh is not only losing an outstanding teacher and coach, they are losing one of the best advocates for swimming in the state."
Callis was a state champion and All-American swimmer at Westerfield (Conn.) High School in 1987. He was a four-year letterman at the University of Tennessee and a member of the 1989 SEC championship team.
Two years after Shiloh won the 1994 state championship and graduated a star-studded team, Callis took over as head coach. He rebuilt the program, pulling athletes from cross country, soccer, football and baseball to compete in the pool.
"We really didn't have a lot of club swimmers once those guys left," Callis said. "We were kind of left with the high school crowd. It was a couple of dicey years there with not a lot of talent, but enough to keep it rolling. We caught fire again in the early 2000s."
In 2000, the boys and girls teams returned to state prominence when they placed in the top 10. The boys were fifth and began a run of five straight top-five finishes, a feat only three other high schools teams in Georgia had accomplished at the time.
"Only one of them was a year-round swimmer, so we really just stuck it together with all these different kids from the football field, the soccer field," Callis said. "We just told them to sprint. You can get a high school kid to swim two laps fast no matter where they come from."
The Generals' run was led by the 200 freestyle relay team that never placed lower than third in its five-year run and collected All-state and All-American honors.
"We became a sprint team and were proud to win county in those sprint relays and make all-state and All-American times in those relays," Callis said.
Callis led Shiloh to success despite a small roster of about 30 swimmers. Opposing schools like Brookwood, Parkview and North Gwinnett had rosters with double, sometimes triple, that amount.
"Coach Callis has the ability to take inexperienced swimmers and coach them up to compete at a high level. His relays always perform well," Creed said.
Callis had at least one member of the swim team qualify for the state meet in all 18 years he was at Shiloh, although the streak was nearly halted in 2008 when just one diver qualified.
"If you're going to run a program, you have to try to finish every year at state," Callis said. "Otherwise, once the kids lose sight of state, then the next year it becomes easier not to make it."
Callis will take that winning attitude to Collins Hill, where he will coach alongside his friend, Jenny Weaver, who has been the Eagles' head coach for 13 years. Callis also will get the opportunity to coach his son Jacob, 14, a rising freshman at Collins Hill.
"It was hard to leave here because I put so much time into the program," Callis said. "At times, I thought the program would go away. I'm proud that we kept it a viable program. It's set up to continue that way. I hope they keep that ball rolling."
Shiloh coach Paul Callis was known for taking athletes from other sports and turning them into successful swimmers and divers. The following are some of the athletes he converted.
-- Emily Geiger, class of 2000, was a cheerleader until her junior year when Callis convinced her to start swimming. Geiger won county and all-state honors and set Shiloh school swim records. She became the women's team captain at Georgia Southern University and is now the assistant swim coach at Norcross.
-- Jacob Tzegaebge, class of 2007, was a football player who tried swimming and diving his sophomore year and was a county champion diver and a state level swimmer under Callis. Tzegaebge went to Georgia Tech and was named 'Mr. Georgia Tech' in 2011.
-- Javier Prusky, class of 2012, almost dropped off team to focus on his studies. Callis convinced Prusky that he could succeed at both. Prusky made the state swim team and was Shiloh's Valedictorian. He is now at Syracuse University.
-- Ben Taylor, class of 2012, was a baseball player until his junior year. Taylor was county 100 backstroke champion and is now swimming in college at the Queens University in Charlotte, N.C.
-- Nick Bingham, class of 2010, was a 6-foot-4 defensive end of the football team, who had never swam a race in his life when he joined Callis' team his junior year. By his senior year he represented Shiloh at the state championship in the 200 free relay with the fastest split on the team.
-- Robert 'Hoss' Iseley, class of 2004, was a student with cystic fibrosis. By his senior year 'Hoss' made the county championship and scored one point, which was his career goal. Shiloh gives out its annual 'Hoss' Iron-Man Award to the swimmer that overcomes the most odds to achieve success.