SALEMBURG — Before basketballs bounced on the gym floor at Lakewood High School, Darren Hulen led students through warm ups. As an educator, Hulen has a lot duties when it comes to teaching physical education and health. But in several months, he’ll have one of the most challenging jobs at the school — athletic director.
James Lewis is retiring as AD at the end of the school year after 13 years in the role, for family reasons.
“It’s a lot of hours,” Lewis said. “That’s one reason why I’m kind of passing that torch.”
His daughters, Paige and Emily, are products of Lakewood High and made a decision to continue their education at East Carolina University.
“I have the greatest wife in the world,” he said about Denise. “I spent a lot of time out here and a lot of hours. She never complains and takes care of the homefront. I tell her that she did a good job raising our children.”
Lewis will still be leading the Lakewood Leopards on the gridiron as head football coach.
“I always thought I wanted a son, but I got 50 sons during football season every year,” he said with a chuckle.
Hulen will take over the AD spot in the summer after teaching at the school for more than a decade. He is currently a health and physical education teacher, indoor track coach and assistant football coach. Prior to Lakewood, he taught at Union High School for 14 years and in Fayetteville for one year. He’s now in his 27th year as a coach and teacher.
“I know he’s going to do a good job,” Lewis said.
He’s up to the challenge, which includes a lot of daily demands such as scheduling, assigning referees for every game and making sure students are academically eligible to play.
“Most people don’t realize the time you have to put into it,” Hulen said.
During the transition, Lewis will assist Hulen if he needs it. As the new AD, Hulen wants to build upon what Lewis has established.
“Coach Lewis has always inspired our coaches to teach the fundamentals of sports and sportsmanship,” he said. “We want to make our team as viable as possible. Winning is important, but so is being a student-athlete. That’s what we strive for — for each one of our kids that come out for our teams to be a student first, then an athlete. With those two combined, hopefully it’ll make a great person down the road.”
Prior to Lakewood, he taught at Union High School for 14 years and in Fayetteville for one year. He’s now in his 27th year as a coach and teacher.
Hulen attended East Carolina University and is a Lakewood High graduate and enjoys coaching where he grew up.
“It’s kind of fun coaching against people from the other districts — Hobbton, Union and Midway,” he said. “The size is one good thing about Sampson County Schools. A lot of people think that smaller schools don’t have some of the same options of the larger schools.”
For Hulen, some of those benefits include a close-knit community where coaches and athletes may live next to each other.
“It makes a difference,” he said.
Like Hulen, Lewis is also fond of the area. With more than 30 years of experience with Sampson County Schools, Lewis is looking forward to continuing his time at LHS by teaching physical education.
“I enjoyed the interaction with the kids,” Lewis said. “It’s still about education, but you get to see them out of the classroom in a different setting.”
He’s been the head football coach for 20 years. After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, he taught and coached at Union High School under Bill Miller for 11 years before returning to his alma mater. The late John Blanton was the principal at the time.
“I told Mr. Blanton that if I got the job I would be here for 19 years,” Lewis said. “That would give me 30 years and I would retire — unless y’all fire me before then.”
He’s already gone one year past that promise and plans to spend a few more there.
“It’s my alma mater and I always wanted to come back home,” he said. “It’s a great community and a great school. I feel that we have a great mix of kids here. There’s a lot of socioeconomic backgrounds. They all interact and get along together.”
During his time at LHS, Lewis has overseen improvements such as new field house, track, soccer field and press box. Soccer, cross country and indoor track programs were also added. The school also won the Wachovia Cup three times through the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, which is awarded to the school with the best program in the conference.
“There was a lot of community support,” Lewis said. “The field house was the first big project that I was a part of. The community got behind it and backed it. The county helped us and we built a nice field house on the football field. We’re proud of that.”
Some of the other improvements include concession stands and nearby bathrooms.
“We have a strong booster club and they’re very supportive and help our athletes,” he said.
Principal John Goode said Lewis is an outstanding example of what an AD and coach should be.
“He’s provided a valuable service to Lakewood High School in his capacity in that role,” Goode said. “Darren Hulen is very capable and we anticipate a seamless transition. I think Darren will do a good job taking over the duties as athletic director.”
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.