When Mark Karen visited Hilton Head Island in April, the two-day trip seemed innocent enough. He was there to coach the North Gwinnett High School girls soccer team in back-to-back contests against a pair of southern Beaufort County schools.
His next stay on the island will be more permanent.
Karen was named the new athletics director for Hilton Head Island High School, a hire approved by the Beaufort County Board of Education on Tuesday night, according to a release.
"I applied for it sort of on a whim because I loved the area when I came down," Karen said. "I wasn't looking to leave, and it's going to be hard to walk away, but it's just a great opportunity and the perfect time to do it."
The move will be a step out of the box for Karen, who grew up in Gwinnett County and immediately returned to the area after attaining a bachelor's degree at Pfeiffer University (N.C.) and a master's degree at West Georgia.
He has spent the past five years as North Gwinnett's athletics director and the past 11 as the school's girls soccer coach and its girls cross country coach. North Gwinnett is a Class 5-A school that holds more than 3,000 students.
Hilton Head High principal Amanda O'Nan said Karen quickly emerged as the top candidate during his interview, in which he stressed improving students both athletically and academically.
The Beaufort County School District interviewed candidates for the opening -- vacated when Lew Kent resigned from the position earlier this year after a three-year stint -- in May and then held another round of interviews in June before making its selection.
"He was hands down my first choice," O'Nan said. "When we interviewed him, he came across as wanting to take it to the next level with our student-athletes, and the student was just as important to him as the athletics. He comes with a wealth of experience and was very highly recommended."
Karen said he will begin his new post July 18. His wife, who is also a school teacher, and two kids (6- and 3-years old) will also be moving with him, he said.
"The plan is to initially come in and get a feel for the program as it's running now," Karen said. "I don't want to screw anything up that's working, so I'll analyze it and see where I can help. I'll do anything I feel can make it better and stronger."