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A winning pair: Inaugural Athletic Director of the Year and 2023-2024 Coach of the Year named

Union County Public Schools recently named its inaugural Athletic Director of the Year and 2023-2034 Coach of the Year. Athletic Director Mike Hart from Weddington High School and Coach Phillip Apple from Piedmont High School stand out for their achievements. They continue to excel in their current roles, serving as inspiration by consistently demonstrating their dedication to excellence.

Mike Hart: A decade of athletic excellence and leadership

In the last decade, Mike Hart has been a solid leader as the athletic director at Weddington High School. A Weddington High graduate and a University of North Carolina Charlotte alumnus, Hart's commitment has elevated the school's athletic programs.

"When I was a student, Carole Alley, the athletic director at the time, allowed me to assist her. She's been my role model and mentor for many years," he said. "Everything I've learned, I've learned from her. She built the foundation that I've continued."

Under his guidance, Weddington High teams won 23 state championships and four Wells Fargo Cups, showcasing the school as an athletic powerhouse. Beyond scores, Hart has improved facilities and boosted the athletic booster club.

Recognized as a Certified Master Athletic Administrator, Hart earned the 2022 Athletic Director of Excellence award from the North Carolina Athletic Directors Association, showcasing his professionalism and mentorship. Known for attention to detail, he sets up coaches for success and mentors new athletic directors.

Hart's impact extends statewide, earning respect for his connection with students and maintaining high standards. 

"I want our student-athletes to always lead with integrity. We follow the rules. They are there for a reason, whether we like them or not. I want my student-athletes to hold themselves accountable and to do the right thing even when others aren't looking."

Phillip Apple: Coaching with purpose and impact

Apple, coach at Piedmont High School, stands out for his impact across various sports, which include boy's tennis, girls’ basketball, boys’ basketball, girls’ soccer and boys’ soccer. With degrees in accounting and biology, he brings analytical thinking and scientific insight to coaching. 

"This award is a culmination of hard work by my student-athletes and myself. I coach good kids and am surrounded by a great community," he said. "I am so proud and honored to be considered the 2023-2024 UCPS Coach of the Year."

Starting as an assistant coach for Thomasville High School's girls’ basketball team, Apple secured state championships before joining Piedmont High. His achievements include four Coach of the Year Awards for girls’ basketball and the 2023 Tennis Coach of the Year. 

Apple's coaching philosophy focuses on creating an environment for athletes to flourish, be challenged and have fun while developing life skills.

"Coaching is an opportunity to connect with kids on a different level. You get to mentor a little more and hopefully be an example. It's a way to shine something into their life that isn't a textbook," he said. "Some of the best teaching I do is not in the classroom but when I walk off the field after a practice or a game."

He emphasizes that high school sports can shape character by instilling humility and teaching resilience. As UCPS Coach of the Year, Apple encourages coaches to help athletes see that sports lessons extend beyond scores, developing teamwork and valuable life skills.

Hever Delgado, a senior soccer player, credited Coach Apple for pushing him to improve, a significant factor in earning him the regional player of the year honor. 

When asked what three words best describe his coach, Hever answered, "A great man."