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South Georgia challenge leads Pemberton from Knox Catholic

The challenge of competing within the boundaries of South Georgia football tradition was too much of a temptation to pass up for Mark Pemberton.

As first reported on Farragut First Edition,, The Knoxville Catholic head football coach who led the Irish to its first-ever state title with his 15-0 team last fall, resigned at KCHS last week. The move comes after seven seasons at Catholic featuring six region titles, two state title game appearances and a 78-11 overall record.

Next stop, West Laurens High School, a new school in Dublin Ga., about 130 miles southeast of Atlanta, where Pemberton will assume both the football head coaching and athletic director duties.

“Any time you put seven years into a program, sure, it was tough to leave,” said Pemberton, whose overall head coaching record is 137-50.

However, “I felt like this was a better opportunity for my family and myself,” he added. “I’ve always wanted to be in South Georgia football, so here’s the opportunity. It’s a pretty high level, a lot of outstanding football teams down there, the fan base is tremendous. The administrations are geared toward athletics. They understand that football’s the engine that drives the train. It all points toward football down here.

“If you’re a competitor and a coach who wants to be at the top level of high school football, then this is one of the areas to be in.”

As a “new” school, Pemberton praised West Laurens’ facilities. “The stadium ... 100-yard regulation [practice] field with a track around it. Fantastic dressing facilities, huge weight room.”

But back at Catholic, Pemberton said he wants “to make sure they get … a quality coach for the Catholic kids ’cause they deserve it. If there’s any way I can help in the process, that’s what I’m doing.”

Pemberton’s first team, which finished 7-5 in 2002, “Got to the [state] semifinals in the private league, which got us off to a tremendous start,” he said. “Jump-started the program immediately.

“Of course, we reached the state championship game the second year [2003]. It sorta steamrolled from there.” Catholic moved from Division II (private) to Division I Class 3A (public) beginning with the 2005 season.

His Irish compiled a 59-1 regular season record from 2003-08.

“Just all the kids who played there, that’s who I’ll remember the most,” Pemberton said. “It probably won’t be any certain game or anything of that nature. Just all the kids who made a commitment and sacrifice to play, and did a great job for us.”

As for making more money at West Laurens, “We’re coming out pretty good on that end of it,” Pemberton said without elaborating. As athletics director, “That’s a new position for me. We’re excited about that, too.”

Pemberton said the current “plan” is for him to stay on as KCHS physical education teacher through the end of April.

Catholic athletic director Jason Surlas said the move was “absolutely” shocking when quoted just hours after Pemberton informed KCHS principal Dickie Sompayrac of his decision with a “letter of resignation” during school hours Tuesday, March 31.

“Coach Pemberton will be missed ... put the football program on the map, and we’re very grateful for that,” Surlas said. “We also understand that that’s the nature of the business. We’re excited for him and the opportunity, and wish him the best of luck.

“It’ll be hard to replace him.”

About the new KCHS coach “There’s no timetable,” Surlas said. “There’s certainly not going to be a rush to it.”

However, Surlas added, “it’s very important to get a coach in here before the end of the [school] year so he can get some time and get to know his players a little bit. Even more so to learn a lot more about his system.”

“We’ve already posted the position on the TSSAA Web site.”

Surlas said KCHS spring practice dates — usually held in May — are not set.


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