Phil Dorn is named athletic director of new Destin High School
With 39 years of coaching experience and 13 as an athletic director, Phil Dorn is the new athletic director at Destin High School set to open in August.
After looking at several applicants, Principal Christine Cruickshank said Dorn’s experience and vision for athletics and the community is what sold her.
And it has been “relief,” Cruickshank said since she made the hire.
“He’s got so much experience and background that I can look at him and say, 'Can you?' and he just runs with it,” she said.
“He can take the lead on anything athletic and then some,” she said, which frees her up to concentrate on curriculums.
“So that means we are going to be able to open with a nice balance of everything. To me, that’s exciting,” she added.
Dorn’s first day at Destin High was Monday, and he hit the ground running.
“Right now, we’re walking down the dirt road with our pockets empty,” he said. “The biggest challenge right now is to put the right people in place to run the athletic programs and finding workable facilities for our student athletes to practice and compete at.
"But we’re going to use as much of the Destin community as possible,” Dorn added.
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Destin High is located in what was Grace Lutheran Church on Commons Drive, but is being renovated to house the school.
The school doesn’t have a campus gym yet or campus stadium, so everything will be off campus for now, Dorn said.
“So, to set that up, that’s the biggest challenge. Safe places to practice and play ... and scheduling as well,” he said.
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Because of the timing of the startup of the school, Dorn said they will not offer football because of spring training and such.
However, the school will offer several fall and winter sports.
In the fall, there will be boys and girls golf, cross country and swimming.
In the winter, the school plans to have boys and girls soccer as well as basketball.
“We’re definitely going to try and get those up and running … and finding a facility for those,” Dorn said.
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In the spring, there will be boys and girls track and field, baseball and softball, as well as tennis.
Dorn said by the fall of 2022 they hope to have football, with plans of starting spring training in 2022.
Because Destin High is a startup, the first year it will not be a member of the Florida High School Athletic Association and will not be active in the state series. Dorn said a school has to be up and running for a year to become a member.
Nevertheless, “all our sports will play full schedules,” he said. “Our goal is to make it as quality and quick as we can.”
Since coming on board this week, Dorn has been driving door-to-door trying to find fields, tracks and facilities for the student athletes.
“All kinds of great ideas are being knocked around. We’ve got a great school board that is very aggressive and great to work with,” he said.
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Dorn said when he was a college coach they would do satellite camps in different areas that got his players out in the communities.
“We’re going to be doing that. We’re going to be out competing in different places in Destin and show the community that we have sports and we’re competing,” he said.
Eventually, Destin High hopes to build facilities on campus.
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But for now, the student athletes will be out in the community.
“The greatest thing about Destin High School is going to be a great, great community identifier for our kids and our families,” Dorn said. “The church and school are the two things where people gather at the most in a community to do things together and come together.
"My goal is that one day we’ll have all our activities here and we’ll be that Destin place that people come to watch sports and see kids in the community,” he added.
How Dorn ended up at Destin High
Dorn, a certified athletic administrator, was AD and head football coach at Fort Walton Beach High School from 2016 to 2019. He resigned in December 2019 after his wife, Lee Ann, was severely injured in a boating accident.
Since then, Lee Ann is doing much better but still has one more surgery to go, bringing the total to eight.
During 2020 and the pandemic, Dorn said it was a time of reflection.
With everything that happened to them as a family and professionally, he asked himself, where do we go from here.
“What’s the best thing for everybody, including my own career. I still wanted to work. I just felt like I still had a lot to give and could help somebody,” he said.
So in June 2020 he reached out to Arnold High School in Panama City Beach and got a job as an assistant football coach and teacher.
He wasn’t the head guy in charge, so it gave him time to think about what he really wanted to do with his life.
Dorn said he had been aware that Destin High was going to possibly happen, but didn’t know for sure.
Then on the afternoon of the fire at Alvin’s Island on March 25, he was on his way home from Arnold High when traffic on U.S. 98 gridlocked.
“It was a parking lot on 98,” Dorn said.
After being in the car for a little more than two hours, he made it to Danny Wuerffel Way and stopped at the Craft Bar and decided to get something to eat.
“It was like a little melting pot of Destin,” Dorn said, noting the place was packed.
He walked in wearing his Arnold coaching gear when a woman bumped into him.
She asked him why he was living in Destin and coaching at Arnold? Why aren’t you trying to look into the job at Destin High School?
Dorn said that’s when the light bulb went on, that Destin High School was really happening.
He went home that night and wrote a cover letter for his résumé, and the rest is history.
“It’s been a blessing. I really feel like this is a great fit. My family and I live seven minutes from here,” Dorn said, noting they live near Destin Elementary School. “My wife, she has great medical care here and everybody is in the know, and she sees multiple doctors. So to move and start over didn’t make sense for us. But driving an hour and a half wasn’t making sense, either.
“But everything just kind of fell into place. It’s going to be a great opportunity and I’m really up for the challenge," he added. “If we learned anything from our experience with our accident, the reachout and the people I’ve dealt with in Destin have been off the chain. It’s just been phenomenal.
“It just made sense for me,” he added. “I’ve got an opportunity to do what I love and help the community get started with a great high school and try and get an athletic program up and running that they can be proud of and identify with as a community. That’s exactly what I was looking for. I feel blessed to be hired to do this. I’m looking forward to it every day.”