The 70- and 80-hour weeks brought Tripp Satterwhite plenty of joy.
They also caught up with him.
Health issues have forced the 43-year-old Carolina Forest athletics director from his post, with only PTO days separating him from his end date at the school. He is getting out of education, a profession where he became a rising star at a young age and then continued to impress after taking on the top athletics job with the Panthers in 2015.
“I’ve given a lot of time, a lot of prayer and a lot of consideration to my future,” Satterwhite said Thursday night. “It’s time for me to spend more time with my family and move on to something else. I’m excited for the other opportunities out there.”
Satterwhite, who said he has yet to lock down his next job, helped develop Carolina Forest into a model of overall athletics success. He made several dynamic coaching hires, but was also fully involved in the day-to-day operations of all of the Panthers’ varsity and sub-varsity sports programs.
He was a fixture at more events than he could count, typically running from one spot to the next to solve problems and keep things running as smoothly as possible.
The last 19 months, that was easier said than done. Satterwhite helped a school with more student-athletes than any other school in the district navigate COVID-19 protocols, potential exposures and other various safety measures.
Football coach Marc Morris, who preceded Satterwhite by a year at the school, often called his boss “the hardest-working man in Horry County Schools.”
Jason Cox, now the HCS athletics director after serving as the A.D. at Conway and Green Sea Floyds, said he understood why Satterwhite was stepping away, although that didn’t make the loss any easier.
“Tripp did an amazing job at Carolina Forest,” Cox said. “He’s raised the level there tremendously, as far as improving the facilities, improving his teams’ play. He’s an amazing guy and an amazing athletic director.”
Said Carolina Forest Principal Gaye Driggers: “If you go back and look at our athletic teams and how well they’ve done in the last five-six years, we’ve had steady improvement in all of them. It stems from the leadership of our athletic director.”
Driggers said the school is hopeful that the job posting on the Horry County Schools employment portal will produce results in terms of a full-time replacement before it closes on Tuesday. There will clearly be significant interest in a job of that magnitude. However, the timing of the opening may be a bit of a hindrance in that outside candidates may not be able to get out of their current contracts.
It may bleed down the applicant pool some.
Horry County Schools has used interim athletics directors at Carolina Forest, Conway, Socastee and other schools in the past and could elect to do so again. In the meantime, it’s been all hands on deck to fill Satterwhite’s duties.
“I have a lot of great people at Carolina Forest who have stepped up to try to make sure we don’t miss a beat for our kids,” Driggers said. “We want our kids to compete and our coaches to have what they need. … We’ll see what happens [with applications]. But we’re not just waiting around.”
That’s because it’s arguably the most intense athletics job in the district given more than 800 student-athletes and an overall enrollment base of some 2,900 kids.
Satterwhite, who was hired away from South View High School in North Carolina in February of 2015, oversaw much of that athletics growth, both in terms of participation and success. Football and boys basketball have both trended way up in recent years, and most of the school’s “non-revenue” sports have either set new standards come playoff time or at the very least kept the status quo.
What happens from here on, though, will do so without Satterwhite in charge. With three kids in Carolina Forest schools, he envisions being around as a parent and fan.
“You spend a lot of hours out there, a lot of time,” he said. “It’s a lot of energy. It’s fun. You enjoy it. But there comes a time when you’ve got to re-evaluate some things.
“As a kid on the sidelines, as an athlete and then as a professional, [sports is] all I’ve ever done. It’s not easy to walk away from it. But I’m at peace with it. It was absolutely the right decision, and there could be no other decision to make.”