As we prepare to enter 2020, it’s time for some reflection. What will we remember and what do we hope to soon forget. In today’s edition of Baron’s Beef, we take a look back at the decade from a sports perspective, both on the local and state levels.
Think back to 2010. Feels like forever ago, right? I was just about to graduate from middle school to high school. Those were the days, but I digress. Back to the local sports scene, Calhoun High School was on the verge of bringing home state titles, Gordon Central High School was battling for the playoffs and Sonoraville High School continued to establish and solidify its athletic programs, as SHS was just five years old.
Calhoun’s teams continue their winning ways, capturing the state title in baseball in the spring of 2010. Calhoun Cheerleading also brought home a state title in 2010 (and would do it twice more in 2013 and ’14). Looking at football, head coach Hal Lamb had created a winning culture starting in the 2000s, and the ultimate prize would soon be in hand. In 2011, the Yellow Jackets would finally get over the hump, securing the school’s first state championship in 59 years by beating Buford 27-24. Since then, Calhoun High has taken home two state titles in 2014 and, most recently, in 2017 shortly after Mercedes-Benz Stadium opened its doors. We would be remiss if we did not mention Calhoun Softball, as head coach Diane Smith and the Lady Jackets achieved a state championship three peat from 2013-2015. They would be state runners up in 2016, but would earn their fourth state title in 2017. Calhoun Volleyball has been a consistent contender, earning three straight elite eight appearances in the playoffs and going an incredible 45-5 this past fall. The Jackets have sustained several region title streaks, but probably best known is Calhoun Football’s 18-year region run. Despite that streak being snapped earlier this year by the North Murray Mountaineers, the nearly two-decade streak is the current record holder for the longest in Georgia high school football history.
Looking at Gordon Central this decade, there have been some ups and downs. However, a recent accomplishment to highlight comes from girls soccer, as the 2019 Lady Warriors advanced to the second round of the state playoffs for the first time in program history. Boys soccer as of late has also been a strong region contender, as head coach Matt Wiley guided the Warriors into the state playoffs for the fourth straight season. GC girls basketball has also improved. After missing the postseason in 2017, Gordon Central has made two consecutive trips to the playoffs. The Lady Warriors hold a 9-3 record (as of this writing) and look to make another push to the playoffs in January. One signature moment that stands out took place just under two months ago, when Gordon Central senior Jesse Walters scored the Warriors’ lone touchdown in a football game against Rockmart. Walters streaking down the field is a sight many will remember for a long time to come.
Sonoraville High School is the youngest of the high schools in Gordon County. Despite the relative youth, the Phoenix have established themselves as a winning brand. Football has steadily improved throughout the decade, as Sonoraville made it to the state playoffs for the first time since 2016. Sonoraville’s basketball teams have both had strong years this decade. Most recently, the Lady Phoenix provided an example of getting hot at the right time, capturing the region title and making it all the way to the final four. Sonoraville Volleyball has also had multiple strong campaigns under head coach Trace Vaughn, achieving a final four appearance in 2014 and two separate back-to-back elite eight appearances in 2012 and 2013 and 2015 and 2016. However, its difficult to talk about Sonoraville athletics without mentioning wrestling. Sonoraville has, in many respects, become a wrestling school under head coach Randy Steward. Phoenix Wrestling has won back-to-back state championships and will look to build on that success as they go for the Class AAA three peat this coming February.
Throughout this decade, many athletes from this community have graced their respective disciplines and have gone on to compete throughout the many levels of collegiate athletics in a plethora of sports. As we turn to the 2020s, more will follow in their footsteps.
So what is your favorite team/moment from the past decade? How do you feel like Calhoun and the surrounding Gordon County has grown?
On the state level, while the championships have not been plentiful (think painful playoffs), we’ve seen some amazing feats.
We have to start this section with the new Major League Soccer franchise, Atlanta United, which began play in 2017. In just its second year of existence, United captured the 2018 MLS Cup, bringing Atlanta a championship for the first time since 1995. Since then, the squad has ushered in a culture and, more so, an expectation to win. Perhaps not as widely heralded but still noteworthy is Georgia’s National Lacrosse League team, the Georgia Swarm. In the Swarm’s second year (2017), the group won the NLL Champions Cup. We saw an NBA franchise that had not had much success since the 1980s and the days of Dominique Wilkins win 60 games in a season (including 17 in a row) and make it to the conference final for the first time since moving to the ATL. We saw a baseball franchise relocate to Cobb County and win back-to-back division titles. We saw a historic Falcons’ offense carve a path to a Super Bowl (yes, we’re getting to that) for the first time since 1999. The 2018 College Football Playoff semifinal Rose Bowl Game, when Georgia came from behind to defeat Oklahoma 54-48 in overtime. Georgia Tech’s 2014 Orange Bowl victory.
But we have also seen playoff falters. A good number of them.
The question should not be when but where to begin. After winning three division championships this decade, the Braves did not advance out of the division series once, and have not done so since 2001. The Hawks only made it out of the second round once, and proceeded to get swept out by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2015 Eastern Conference Finals. Georgia’s national championship game stumble against Alabama in 2018. And most notably, the Atlanta Falcons Super Bowl LI collapse, which started out as a party and ended in gut-crushing, historic defeat. It is a night every single Falcons’ fan will remember for the rest of their lives. Or, at least, until the franchise hoists its first Lombardi Trophy.
We’ve also been witness to when poor ownership/management and sub-par on-ice product meet at a crossroads i.e. the departure of a franchise.
In May 2011, the Atlanta Thrashers, the city’s second National Hockey League franchise, were sold off and moved north of the border to Canada. The cynic would say hockey could never succeed in the south, but was it ever really given a chance to succeed? While the team did have its passionate supporters (myself among them), the product on the ice never translated to increased attendance figures or playoff appearances. In the 11 seasons the Thrashers played in Atlanta, they only qualified for the playoffs once as a division champion, only to be swept out in the first round at the hands of the New York Rangers. The metro-Atlanta area never collectively got behind the team because the team ownership never gave them much reason to. Just a few hours’ drive from Atlanta is Nashville, which has maintained a hockey franchise through a possible relocation in the late 2000s and is now thriving in Middle Tennessee.
The 2010s have had their shares of peaks and valleys (and a chasm reserved for SB LI). So what will the 2020s have in store for us? There are many questions surrounding every team in the state, from the local, varsity level all the way up to the professional. When you look back on the 2010s, hopefully your memory of a celebratory sports moment will outweigh your memory of a sports-induced emotionally-trying occasion.