Mills River – Luke Manuel is West Henderson High School’s principal, returning to lead his alma mater after sparkling there as a scholar-athlete a quarter-century ago.
“I’m very excited about the opportunity,” the 1995 WHHS grad told The Tribune. West earlier landed John McDaris as athletic director/assistant principal. He held both posts at North Henderson (NHHS). He succeeds Jeff Smith, who retired in late February.
Brandon Brooks is the West boys’ varsity basketball coach, as of May 26. The former Hayesville star player coached Tuscola JV boys.
Shannon Auten remains a principal, moving from West to overseeing Henderson County Early College and the Career Academy in the Innovative High Schools building at Blue Ridge Community College. Auten was West principal for four years, after five years as an assistant. She is hailed as an enthusiastic leader, encourager and motivator.
Her predecessor overseeing Innovative High Schools was Beth Caudle. Caudle follows Kim Henderson as Dana Elementary’s principal. Henderson is Hendersonville Elementary’s principal.
True Grit Truitt
Luke and Beth Manuel live in Fletcher. Their children are both transferring into West district schools. Truitt Manuel, a rising Falcon freshman, turned 15 last Thursday. Truitt at Hendersonville Middle School (HMS) was a strong-armed, star baseball pitcher and football quarterback. His sister Sawyer, a soccer standout, starts sixth grade in Rugby Middle.
Luke Manuel, 43, was a three-sport Falcon star. He was 3A male athlete of the year for all of WNC as a senior, honored at the WNC Sports Awards Banquet.
Manuel was Falcon athletic director and assistant principal in 2013-14, after serving as both at HMS in ‘08-13. He taught social studies in Hendersonville (HHS) in 2000-03, then at NHHS for five years where he was head football coach for four seasons. Manuel has a master’s in school administration.
Manuel was officially awarded the West principal’s post June 9. He starts the job July 1. He has been “back and forth” from West to Hendersonville Middle. He was HMS principal for six years — from 2014-15 through 2019-20.
He was principal of the year in 2018-19 for Henderson County Public Schools. Manuel is described by colleagues and his mentors as a superbly caring, diligent leader who pitches in on tasks and who listens and praises.
Justin Heatherly, East Henderson’s head football coach, coached football at HMS. He praised Manuel, his principal there. “His work ethic is phenomenal. If something needed to be done, he got results.”
Athletes On Campus
This week marks athletes’ return to campuses, pending a state go-ahead. This initial training for fall sports is without handling equipment, and under rules aimed at severely limiting the spread of Coronavirus germs.
“We’re getting athletics back — phasing it in, in a safe way.” He credits Scott Rhodes, de facto county-wide athletic director, and athletic trainer Dwayne Durham for forging health precaution protocols on school campuses.
A “gaiter” scarf fits around the athlete’s neck, and is pulled up over the face when nearing others, Manuel said.
Electronic scanner guns read body temperature to detect fever, a COVID-19 symptom. Local schools got scanners and sanitizing supplies, Manuel noted.
Conditioning is apt to be by running. The campus group limit is ten or fewer athletes and coaches inside each gym (main, auxiliary), and 25 or fewer outside per field.
During games, players need to avoid high-five touching, Manuel said, and instead might “do an ‘air fist bump.’”
Versatile Star Falcon
School board Vice-chairman Rick Wood, retired West Falcons basketball coach, said “Luke is one of the special ones. He earned ten letters at West, in three sports. He exhibited outstanding leadership qualities”
After wearing Bearcat red, Manuel is glad to be back in Falcon Blue. The model student-athlete was a swift Falcon quarterback, making snap decisions. In baseball, he was a prime base stealer, the left fielder for four years and on the 1992 state champs. He was a gritty power forward defender and rebounder.
Manuel said the Falcons “hung out. We gelled as friends, and teammates.”
West “teachers and coaches led me, to get where I am now,” he said. “They taught me values, and character. Core values I learned are commitment, hard work, teamwork, and communication. They held you accountable.” Manuel is described by what he admires his mentors for — foresight, patience and poise.
Conquering Stress, Unknowns
Dealing with adversity is more valuable than ever, in the pandemic. “Sports mirrors life — hard work, perseverance, and how to handle wins and losses,” Manuel said. “It takes reflection, to figure what to improve on. Students need to learn to respond to adversity. It’s always going to happen.”
He eases stress at work with a “friendly conversation, as reassurance things will be fine.” After any slip-ups at school, he is adamant “we’ll do better, next time” and avoid repeating mistakes. A delegator, he relies on “good people and trusting them. I know whatever situation arises, it’ll work out.”
That even goes for taking on the COVID-19 pandemic, and resulting rules and unknowns. Manuel believes in the “power of positivity.” He said, “We’re preparing to be in school” for a full day, but will adjust to schedules that emerge for studying in school and perhaps also at home.
Remote learning clicked at HMS in the last three months of 2019-20, Manuel said. “They did a great job with lessons. I’m very proud.”
He welcomes resumption of in-school learning. “You love to have students face to face with teachers. Learning from home, you don’t have the physical, social and emotional connection of the classroom.”