By his own admission, Derrick Heberling wasn’t exactly sure what he wanted to do when he stepped down as Hebron Christian’s head boys basketball coach a little less than a year ago.
All he knew is that he was looking for a new challenge, and it didn’t take him long for him to find it as the area director and Brookwood school director for NG3, a program designed in partnership with local churches to facilitate character development and small group mentoring in local schools.
The Lebanon, Pa., native and 15-year coaching veteran, including 11 years in Gwinnett County, recently spoke with staff writer David Friedlander about the NG3 program, how he came to be involved with it and whether he misses coaching, among other subjects
DF: When you stepped down at Hebron last February, you mentioned that one of the reasons you were doing so was to spend more time with your wife and your two kids. Has the new job afforded you the chance to do so compared to coaching?
DH: It did. Yes. This is a full-time job, and what’s really cool is that it allows me more time with my family, and it also allows me to take my work home with me. My wife (Brooke) teaches here (at Brookwood). She’s a language arts teacher and has been here for seven years. My kids go to Brookwood Elementary right across the street, so they can walk to school. The kids then also — because what we do is we do the character development — we parlay that into community service.
DF: So take us through the timeline of the past year. Is this the job you had in mind when you left Hebron or was this just a case of serendipitous timing?
DH: So I resigned (last) January and we were in the middle of the first (round) of the (state) playoffs. I tell the guys after we lose out to Greenforest (Christian) in the Sweet 16, and I had no idea what I was going to do. So I just thought, ‘Hey, I’m going to just step down. I’m going to go to an assistant coach role.’ I talked to Geoffrey Pierce over at Grayson about possibly coming over there. I talked with (Brookwood boys head coach) Daniel (Bowles), and maybe I could come over here and (coach) ninth grade. Then all of the sudden, Coach (Eddie) Martin’s wife (Melinda) tells me about NG3, and the very next day, my pastor tells me about NG3. And he said, ‘Well, Brookwood’s open.’ So I said, ‘OK, I’ll take a look. I’ve never thought of full-time ministry as a vocation for me, but I’ll give it a shot.’ … So I started this basically in June, and have jumped in it full tilt.
DF: So please explain exactly what NG3 is.
DH: NG3 stands for ‘Next Generation,’ and what we do is three things. We do character development. We do community service. And then we do positive change.
DF: Since you’re based out of Brookwood, do you work primarily with high school-aged kids, or are there some younger kids involved?
DH: We work with high school-aged kids, and we work primarily with sports programs. Football is one of my main sports. We work with basketball and baseball. We also work with volleyball, softball, and we worked with band this year. (Brookwood band director) Dr. (Laura Moates) Stanley is unbelievable. So we’re working with guys and girls high school age, but then we’re also trying to get these high school-aged kids to go and pour into middle school and elementary schools students (as mentors). That’s where the community service comes in.
DF: Since you mentioned that you never thought about the ministry as a full-time profession, how big an influence was the church on you growing up?
DH: Faith has always been in my life. … In the school system, it’s kind of difficult because of the separation of church and state. But being able to use it as a platform of going into the schools and doing character development and being a character coach and being able to use that regardless of what faith we are, we can all agree kids need more character. Then they also need some adult in their lives who say, ‘Hey, I’m willing to take time and energy and love and pour into you.’ We just feel like that is the very best way to show people love, and then we can talk about our faith through that process.
DF: As much as I’m sure you’re enjoying this new career, do you miss coaching at all?
DH: You know, that first week of basketball — I spent 15 years now coaching — that was difficult for me as everybody was pumping (basketballs) up and getting practice together, that was hard for me. And I miss the preparation, the game planning, for a Friday night and then going out there and you get the first two plays, and the game plan is kind of scrapped a little bit. Then, you’re starting to make those adjustments throughout the game and at halftime.
DF: With that In mind, I have to think you’re enjoying seeing the good start your old team at Hebron has gotten off to so far this season.
DH: A great (former Northern State (South Dakota) coach) Don Meyer quote is just (about) leaving a place better than when you found it. … That’s what we tried to do at Hebron — just really have that worker’s mentality. That underclassmen group that were eighth graders when I got there are now juniors. Sam Hutto, Scott Gabel and Zach Calvert, (current Hebron coach) Brandon (Johnson) is doing a great job over there. (Hebron athletics director) Taylor (Davis) hit a home run with that hire.
DF: Are you at least coaching on a rec league level these days to keep busy?
DH: I said I wasn’t going to back into coaching. Now all fo the sudden, it’s 7- and 8-year-old basketball with my son., which is really, really cool. ... I think every coach gets into coaching to influence that next generation, but how often is it that we’re game planning, we are (arranging) busing, schedules, everything like that. Now I get to do character development — what we all want to do. And the really cool part is, when I meet with head coaches like (Brookwood baseball coach) Titus (Martin) and (Brookwood football coach) Philip (Jones), I just get to ask them, ‘Hey, what’s something you’ve always wanted to do?’ Whether it be character development or community service. So with Philip, we were able to create that Golden Helmet leadership group, and we’ve been able to use it now with baseball, the same concept. We’ve even taken that up to North Hall (High School) now with their football team.
DF: So explain that, if you would, for our readers. What exactly is the Golden Helmet program?
DH: That was something Philip created before I got here. He had a true feeling of wanting to get back to that kind of character development. We want to create leaders out of that. So when I first to on this role with NG3, I met with Philip and said, ‘Hey, … I’ve had this idea of creating these leadership units. So we’ve gotten these 10 guys I’ve been (working with) weekly … and I said, ‘Can we take it a step further?’ And we’ve really worked with the entire group. It really kind of created that decentralized command of helping a head coach that has so much on his plate and creating that player-led team that we know is the true winning team mentality, rather than a coach-led (mentality).
DF: Since you mention that one of the reasons you got into coaching was to have an influence on kids, I have to has who had some off the biggest influences on you growing up.
DH: You look at (Mill Creek boys basketball coach) David Allen and it’s awesome his start here (at Brookwood as an assistant coach) and coming back here and winning the Deep South Classic with Mill Creek was really cool. I was over here that night and got to see that. I think of so many awesome people and teachers and administrators that you just look at. I look at my wife, who just loves kids, outside of their normal teaching or coaching responsibilities, it’s just really awesome to be able to emulate that and keep it simple. I don’t care if you score five touchdowns on a Friday night, I love you the same. Let’s go grab a hamburger and let’s talk about life and how we can use lessons from the athletics (and incorporate them) into your world.
DF: Were there any specific coaches that were among your major influences?
DH: There was a basketball coach by the name of Gary Bouchette. I was a soaking wet, 125-pound freshman, and he’d take me in the weight room, and he was probably around 6-foot-4 and 230 (pounds), and we would lift (weights) every day together. It was less about the lifting and getting stronger and more about that relationship. Man, he just loved kids.