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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Coach Mark Dragoo watches as his CSAS Patriots take on Rockwood on Coach Mark Dragoo Court on the campus of Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Having helped build the Arts & Sciences athletic programs from the ground up, Mark Dragoo is retiring after 33 years as the school's athletic director.

The memories abound for Dragoo, who helped coach varsity cross country, soccer, boys' and girls' basketball, track and tennis for a school which was originally intended to only have intramural sports.

The Patriots won TSSAA championships in boys' and girls' track, boys' cross country and in boys' and girls' tennis while the boys' basketball team twice finished as the state runner-up under Dragoo in 1991 and 2007.

"I am so very grateful to God that he led my wife Julie and I to CSAS," the 63-year-old Dragoo said. "To have the opportunity to grow and build was special. The coaches, administration and I all helped build CSAS athletics. I was able to work with so many good athletes along with so many good families and coaches.

"CSAS is my family and has been my life. I loved what I did and where I did it."

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Mark Dragoo retiring from CSAS

Dragoo was hired as CSAS' athletic director in 1989 by Buzz Nembirkow, who shared a love of basketball.

"Buzz was the director of the school and I had seen where he had been with the United Nations School in New York City, so I called him and welcomed him to the city," said Dragoo, who at the time coached at Brainerd Baptist. "He was a big Kansas Jayhawk basketball fan and they had just won the national championship in 1988 so we started talking basketball. That led to him inviting me over and asking me if I had any interest in becoming CSAS' athletic director and boys' basketball coach."

Upon Dragoo's arrival, CSAS only had two varsity sports: varsity soccer and basketball.

In 1990 the Lady Patriots had a volleyball team which made for one of the school's first signature moments in athletics. After having two head coaches quit the team — the first just one day before the season and the other three days into the job — Dragoo made a masterful hire.

"I went to my son's first grade teacher who I knew was a great athlete and loved sports," Dragoo recalled. "It turns out she loved volleyball and had played it. Her name was Marilyn Griffith. She took the job and that team went on to win the district championship. They beat GPS, Notre Dame and Baylor. There was no classification at the time so we beat everybody. She had a great group and was so good with them."

Because the school only went through the 11th grade when it first opened, the boys' basketball team had played a varsity schedule with a roster made up entirely of freshmen and sophomores, finishing 3-18 the season before Dragoo took over.

In Dragoo's first season the Patriots won 17 games and in his second season — which was CSAS' first senior class — the varsity boys' basketball team made a remarkable run to the Class A state championship game in a 25-win season. He went on to claim 558 wins which included a 77-game district win streak from 2005-12.

"I can always remember the captain of the first team I had. His name was Carlos Pride," said Dragoo, who has coached Carlos' two sons Troy and Chase. "My wife and I shared one car at the time and Carlos found out and started giving me rides home from practice.

"One day as he is driving me home I asked him how did he think things were going. He told me, 'Well last year we were terrible and we didn't believe it would ever get any better. But then you came in here and told us we are going to do this and that and be much better.'

"Carlos said he wasn't sure if I knew what I was talking about, but then they started winning and they all really bought in and believed they could be great."

The 1991 CSAS boys' basketball team had tremendous talent, which included three Division I signees, but it was that team's dedication and desire that paid the biggest dividends.

"My best players on that team would ride their bikes to our gym and climb in a window to get in extra court time," Dragoo said. "I would go down to the school to check on something and I would hear the basketballs and they would be in there playing. There was no alarm at the school then. I would have let them in any time, but a lot of them didn't have phones. Those guys were so dedicated and did not have any distractions."

Over the years Dragoo has been the greatest advocate for CSAS sports and been on the sidelines for so many big moments. He has impacted the lives of hundreds and thousands of student-athletes.

"It was always bigger than basketball to him," said former CSAS standout Todd Landsen (class of 2016). "His goal was to teach us how to become stronger men. He has poured his heart into this school. Outside of basketball, I feel like CSAS itself wouldn't be what it is today without his leadership."

The sacrifices he made to help the school's athletic programs come to form have been remarkable. In one school year he helped coach five different sports because without his efforts the teams would have folded as no one else was interested in coaching.

"My wife has been the backbone to all of this," said Dragoo, who was able to coach sons Zach, Will and Tyler. "She was so patient, kind and supportive. She ran concessions, helped at the gate and did whatever we needed to help us. She loved the kids and I couldn't have done any of this without her."

Dragoo plans to spend lots of time in retirement with his nine grandchildren. He will still assist the Patriots varsity basketball team with his son Zach who surpassed the 100-win mark as head coach last season.

"I want to give back still. I love this school and it will always be a part of me and our family," Dragoo said.

Contact Patrick MacCoon at pmaccoon@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @PMacCoon.

 

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