DISCIPLINE. DRIVE. DESIRE. Hard Work.
Dedication. Perseverance. Tenacity.
Coaches interject these words or ones similar into their speeches to players and during interviews with the media. All of them are good and deserve a spot in any book about preparing athletes to compete.
Each has it merits, but one word needs to come before all of them. Without it, no matter how much coaches preach the other words and players show them in practice and on the fields of play, the end result falters.
Flashback to two years ago, when the Georgia High School Association enacted reclassification, a process which moves schools up or down a division based on student population. A key thing happened in Class AA. The GHSA mandated a new rule, which for all practical purposes moved all the Greater Atlanta area private schools out of the classification.
During the previous decade those private schools accounted for more than 82 percent of the state championships in Class AA and also accounted for more than 80 percent of the top four finishes across the spectrum of high school sports. Local schools that reside in Region 7-AA, primarily Model, Armuchee, Pepperell, Rockmart and Chattooga, fought and played hard. Many teams had phenomenal seasons but saw playoff and state title hopes dashed by one of those metro private schools.
A quick aside here. I’m not talking all private schools, but instead the conglomerate in the metro area, which can pull from multiple counties and have campuses that rival some major universities. Several times coaches and players of Region 7-AA teams, when asked how long they might stay in the playoffs, pointed to the round where they knew one of the said private schools waited. Our local teams competed and won a few of those games but for the most part, the private schools feasted on our local public schools and public schools from around the state while filling oversized cases with state title trophies.
At the time, the head of the GHSA made comments about how participating in sports isn’t about winning state championships. That’s a great thought and for most of the schools in Class AA a true sentiment. Because while private schools collected more hardware than a weekend home improvement warrior at Home Depot, public schools scavenged for crumbs and found top four finishes few and far between.
When the GHSA changed this the word left out from the top of this column entered the conversation.
It deserves capitalization. For the first time in almost a decade, Region 7-AA coaches could preach the other words and know that if their charges employed them, the potential for top state finishes were possible.
Last year, several local schools made deep runs into the playoffs, securing top four finishes and even a couple of state titles, bolstering the team’s coaches and players and showing that HOPE did exist.
An off-season of hard work and listening to their coaches has produced what might be one of the strongest fall high school sport seasons in Greater Rome history.
A year after falling just short in the state volleyball finals, Coosa became the first non- private school to hoist the big cup, knocking off St. Vincent’s, one of the few private schools remaining in Class AA, via a three-set sweep.
Almost as impressive, Region 7-AA cohorts, Armuchee and Chattooga, joined the Eagles in the state semifinals.
In cross country, Armuchee’s boys grabbed second and Pepperell finished fourth. On the girls’ side, Rockmart finished third, Armuchee fourth, Coosa 10th and Model 13th.
In softball, Rockmart won the state title and Armuchee finished fifth.
Cheerleading occupies another tier here, because Region 7-AA teams have dominated the event for just about forever. Armuchee won the title this year.
At press time, football isn’t done but a couple of 7-AA teams have chances to play themselves into the state quarters or semis if things go well. For those keeping count, that’s an eye-popping three state titles and 12 top 10 state finishes by Region 7-AA teams, and Region 7-AA schools are just getting started.
Basketball, wrestling, track, tennis, soccer, golf and baseball are still on the horizon. I’m sure some local schools are basking in the state title glory, and coaches from the other sports are pointing to their athletes and reminding them a key thing.
That if they work hard, they have a chance to do just as well if not better.
The GHSA’s move has leveled the playing field and allowed local schools and athletes to experience the benefits of their hard work and effort, and raise a few big trophies along the way.
While coaches preached all of those words for the past decade, the lack of state title banners adorning the stadium and gym walls seemed to contradict them. When local coaches began preaching them now, they can tell stories of those teams and players who worked, sweated, fought and persevered and finished among the state’s best. It’s funny. The talent has been here. The coaching has been here. The hard work has been here. All that was needed was the final ingredient. Adding hope into has made a world of difference.