Looking to continue to close the gap on the state's largest class of Division II competition, Chattanooga Christian School has hired Tony Decker as its first full-time strength and conditioning coach.
Decker spent the past four years as director of speed, strength and conditioning at Coastal Carolina University, where he oversaw all 19 men's and women's athletic programs. He has more than 30 years of experience working in a similar capacity at the collegiate level.
"Being competitive with the biggest schools in Division II is a totally different animal," CCS athletic director Daniel Russell said. "Look across the D-II landscape, and all the other schools have strength and conditioning coaches who that's their sole job. That's the standard to be competitive in this league.
"We had more than 130 applicants, and our top 10 choices all had collegiate experience. Tony separated himself from that group because of his background in handling all men's and women's sports. He has worked closely with football programs but will also make our student-athletes better prepared to compete against the best teams in the state in every sport."
Decker's collegiate experience includes five years at Temple University in Philadelphia, where he oversaw workouts for a football program that produced 17 players who went on to play in the NFL during his time. He has also worked at the University of Virginia and the University of Delaware, where he was named college coach of the year by the National Strength and Conditioning Association in 1998.
Decker was familiar with CCS from a two-day clinic he led on the campus in 2014.
"My wife and I fell in love with the Chattanooga area during that trip, and we said if there was ever a chance to move there and work, we would love to look into it," Decker said. "The school and the people we met were just awesome to work with, so we are very much looking forward to getting there and getting started with this great opportunity.
"For anyone who's competitive, your energy and determination feeds off those times when there's a promising challenge placed in front of you. CCS is a special place, and we're in agreement that the vision is more than just on field; my job is to develop the student-athlete physically, mentally and academically.
"From my experience, the best time to really lay the groundwork for a young athlete is between the ages of 12 and 16. I noticed in college that the kids who had a strength coach in their high school program were a step ahead of everyone else. I'm excited to be a part of that challenge."
Decker has been a certified strength and conditioning specialist and certified club coach with the United States Weightlifting Federation since 1991.
CCS competes in the largest D-II classification in every sport except football, in which the Chargers currently are classified in DII-AA. That's one class below the largest in that sport, and CCS has about 20 students fewer the enrollment total that would mandate a move up to AAA, in which they would compete against powerhouses such as Baylor, McCallie, Brentwood Academy, Ensworth, Knoxville Catholic and Montgomery Bell Academy.
CCS administrators and coaches have discussed a long-term plan that would include the football program eventually joining the state's largest D-II classification. That included an 11,000-square foot athletic training facility — The Powerhouse — that includes a weight room, coaches' offices, team meeting room and athletic training offices. Every other football program in DII-AAA has at least one strength and conditioning coach, a point Russell said helped CCS realize the need to create that position on its staff.
To gauge how wide the competitive gap is in football, the Chargers have played both Baylor and McCallie each of the past three years and are scheduled to open this season against those teams. They have yet to beat either one.
"We're at full capacity in terms of how many students our school can hold," Russell said. "We wouldn't be able to pack 20 more kids into our school unless we build on. We want to make sure our current students have the best possible facilities and coaches and keep an eye on the future in terms of when we would feel comfortable making the jump up in football class.
"We'll continue playing Baylor and McCallie because they're the benchmark. That's how we can tell how much further we have to go before we're ready to move up to AAA in football.
"Facilities was a big need, but we have closed that gap and now our coaching staff, which includes bringing Tony on board to oversee the strength and conditioning program, fills another need and allows us to push the gas pedal for all sports now. Every coach on our staff now has experience as a player or coach on the college level and with college recruiting, which can help us springboard to the top of D-II in athletics."