Even though there was a previous connection with Little Rock Christian, Justin Kramer was not on the immediate short list when Conway Christian CEO Jason Carson began searching for a new football coach and athletic director.
Kramer, who had served both as offensive coordinator and head coach at Little Rock Christian before spending four years at DeQueen, was named to the top athletic position at CCS last week, replacing Micheal Carter, who left to become head coach and dean of students at Episcopal Collegiate in Little Rock.
"We had 21 applicants for the job and they were good applicants," said Carson, who formerly worked as a development officer at Little Rock Christian. "Justin actually called me and told me that now, with the ages of his three children, he was looking to get back into Christian education and was wanting to use me as a reference for a job in Oklahoma. I told him to hold on, that my job was open here and he said he was interested in taking a look.
"Everything fell together and he was one of four finalists and was the unanimous choice of our search committee."
Kramer, who served as offensive coordinator under legendary Johnny Watson at Little Rock Central before becoming head coach, had worked alongside Carter at the Little Rock school before Carter left for CCS.
"Basically, Carter ran the same offense here that they ran at Little Rock Christian when he and Justin were there," Carson said. "There is a lot of continuity as far as offensive styles, which was important to us in letting our kids run the offense they know and allowing us to pick up where we left off."
Kramer, although 8-32 at DeQueen, helped rebuild a program that went from 28 players to 60 and was competitive in one of the toughest conferences in the state.
But Carson emphasized he and the committee were looking at more than just a football coach.
"First and foremost, I wanted an athletic director who believed in sports equality and gender equality," he said. "He served under a Hall of Fame coach (Watson) and I believe he has the experience to make the transition to the AD level.
"We are the smallest football-playing school in the state but we have 19 sports to supervise so there are added levels of responsibility. We want somebody to mentor our coaches and athletes and be a spiritual leader. As athletic director, he is a member of our management team plays a part in the overall decisions we make for the school. And our mission adds a Christian education element to that."
Kramer is set to officially begin March 1 although he has already met with patrons and athletes.
And although Conway Christian teams have been highly competitive almost across the board as a tiny member of Class AA in their 10 years of membership in the Arkansas Activities Association, Carson does not want to stand pat.
"I think Michael Carter deserves a lot of credit from building our program in all sports," Carson said. "I don’t think we would have gotten the quality and number of applicants if he had not built a foundation. Now, I think we are ready to go to the next level."
Next level? CCS was a quarterfinalist in football last season and a semifinalist the year before. It has won a state girls basketball championship and played for a state championship in volleyball last year as well as having individuals gain state honors.
"The next level is all our programs have the same type of continual success as we have had in football," Carson said. "I want us to be a respected, competitive program known throughout the state and not just in Class AA. The next level is becoming the kind of overall program that can be competitive with anyone like you see at private schools such as Pulaski Academy, Shiloh Christian, Little Christian or Central Arkansas Christian."
CCS has come a long way in a decade from a built-from-scratch football program in which parents and volunteers converted old pastureland into a practice field and build crude blocking sleds from old pallets and crates.
The vision remains strong.