While Calhoun City Schools has historically excelled in athletics, they also have a different kind of state champion in their midst, as of last month — the school's literary team won the state title at the Class 3A literary competition on March 16.
Nine Calhoun students went to compete in the state competition, participating in six events, and little did they know they wouldn't only win a few first place awards, but would sweep the other regions' teams.
Literary is a Georgia High School Association-sponsored group and one that allows students to compete with scripted dramatic interpretations, singing trios and quartets, as well as personal essays.
A literary team isn't like any other team in a high school – it includes music, acting and writing, a rare mixture among high school groups. And it's both an individual and team club, where members compete independently and a schools' scores depend on how their individual members score.
In the state tournament, Calhoun students competed in the categories of dramatic interpretation, humorous interpretation, girls trio, boys solo, duo interpretation and personal essay.
Calhoun High earned four first-place finishes and two second-place finishes for six out of twelve total events at state, which combined enough
credit for Calhoun to win the competition. Sonoraville High School came in overall second in the competition, winning two events.
The four first-place finishes were by Jahlaynia Winters in dramatic interpretation; Matthew McCanless in humorous interpretation; Haylea Graham and Avery Lester in duo interpretation; and Blair Hall, Kathrynn Stockman and Megan Wright in girls trio. The two second-place finishes went to Riley Anderson for boys solo and Emma Kate Smith for personal essay.
India Galyean, one of Calhoun's three literary team directors, said winning the state title was something the team did not expect. They've had students go to the state competition before, but never this many, and Calhoun has never won the entire competition.
Galyean said her students had been practicing for literary as well as rehearsing for their Shuler play, "Peter Pan," and that they had worked hard to participate in literary, though none of them expected the team to go this far.
Students at state
Going to the literary state competition was something not many of Calhoun's students had experienced, and qualifying for state was a huge accomplishment in itself.
"We went (to state) feeling blessed to be there," said Stockman. "We didn't expect to make it that far and we were just happy to be there."
Anderson and Lester were also new to the state-level literary experience, and both of them said it was a great experience. Everyone at the competition was "absolutely marvelous," Anderson said, commenting that there wasn't a student that wasn't deserving of first place.
And even those who were returning to the state level said it was a new experience.
"I went last year and I placed third, and just the fact that I went to state I thought was pretty darn good," Winters said, who also serves as the senior class president. "It was cool taking the whole team with me, they're my best friends. It proved we can do anything."
Hall said the experience also showed how unified Calhoun's team was.
And while these students participate in various other extracurricular activities — including sports, theater, marching band and school government – team members said having literary made a huge difference in their high school experience.
Each of the team members agreed that had they not joined literary, they might not have met who they consider today to be their best friends. Seeing how far they'd come was also an encouragement to Stockman, as well as her teammates.
"I'm really proud of us because Calhoun's known for football and winning state for football," said Stockman, "but we're the first state champions of the school this year. We just swept four individual state champion titles in one day for the arts."
And though everyone on the team has other commitments, they made literary a priority. Wright said the trio practiced during classes like chorus, in between "Peter Pan" rehearsals and any spare moment they could find together.
Anderson said when he was finished with homework or was done with rehearsal, he would practice for competition with the boys quartet, often sacrificing sleep. Wright added on that since "Peter Pan" and literary competitions were going on at the same time, most of the literary members put aside other hobbies, putting theater and literary at the top of their list.
The literary team, however, is not new to Calhoun High School – in fact, the school has a tradition of putting together a team of hard-working students for competition. Galyean, who co-directs the literary team with Julie Leggett, said the two of them were both a part of the literary team when they attended Calhoun High as students.
And Galyean said she wasn't only proud of her students, but also all literary competitors from Gordon County.
"Gordon County won eight of the 12 events at state, competing with schools our size from all over the state, including some performing arts schools," Galyean said.
Despite Galyean's attempts to point the attention back to her students, the team praised her and the other directors, Leggett and Darlene Wright, saying the team wouldn't have won state without their leaders. All three directors are graduates of Calhoun City Schools, and have returned to make a difference in students' lives.
When asked if team members had any advice for other high school students interested in the literary team, they all agreed that those interested should "go for it."
The team will accept anyone with open arms, said Hall, agreeing with others that the team was a mixed batch of students who might not have otherwise met without the team.
"We have athletes, we have cheerleaders," Stockman said. "Everyone and anyone can come be a part of our family and they just end up fitting in. I just like the beauty of it."
And students were not only appreciative of the literary team itself, but also of being in a school system that encouraged participation in theater, drama, music and creative writing.
"We're really lucky to have a school that supports the arts," Winters said. "I've been to (another school) that didn't care, so I'll just keep using the word 'lucky.' We're lucky to be here."
"Can I take one with my machete," a voice sounds across the Ozone Skate Center in Dalton. It's picture day for the North Georgia Roller Girls, and for the participants of this sport steeped in physical contact, looking tough and mean is all part of the game.
The all-female roller derby team is in the midst of a resurrection, returning to competition after the original team folded. Some of the ladies on the original team have returned, while others are just coming aboard. Three Gordon County residents are currently on the roster — Payton Eagan, Tiffany Jones and Peyton Meadows. Other members come from Dalton and other cities across Northwest Georgia.
The team is prepping for its first home bout, a match-up with the Smoky Mountain Roller Girls on April 28 at the Ozone Skate Center, 611 Sheridan Ave. in Dalton, starting at 10:30 a.m. So after pictures last week, team members hit the floor for practice.
The more experienced members separate from the group to practice higher-level skating drills, while newcomers join up with team leader Julia Zavala, also known as Bubbles, to work on more basic skills, which they must master to be eligible to participate in the upcoming bout. Zavala, who injured herself while rounding a corner with speed at the Ozone, wears a walking boot and moves around while kneeling on a scooter. She carries a clipboard to assess the skills of the new team members.
As part of being bout-ready, the newcomers have to be tested on their skating and knowledge of roller derby, she said. And with physical contact and movement essential to the sport, have a strong core of skills — like stopping, dropping down to the floor and jumping back up, and turning with speed — is extremely important.
"It's like football for women," said Zavala. "When you start you fall in love with it."
Though new to the team, Eagan practices with the team regulars, as she has been participating in roller derby since she was 15, joining up with a junior-level team in Rome.
"I just have a passion for roller skating," she said, a passion which began like many others at a birthday party at a roller rink.
Eagan, even as a younger member, spoke of the team being more like a family, with everyone there to empower and encourage one another, she said.
"It's like a family," she said.
For others, the opportunity to be physical in a sport outside of high school is an attraction in its own right.
"Skating and brute strength sounds fun," said Meadows, a Fairmount native and Gordon Central graduate, who joined the team at the encouragement of Jones, a co-worker of hers.
"There are rules to ensure it's not complete chaos," Eagan said. "But it's still pretty rough."
Jones, who played four years of soccer while attending Sonoraville High, got out of the National Guard in November, and was looking for a chance to continue to foster her athletic side and exhibit the aggressiveness she previously had on the soccer field. She is currently working on completing her skills test to be able to compete in bouts this year.
In coming back from the National Guard, Jones came to find her friends had all started to settle down, which was something she simply just wasn't interested in. So she sought out a positive activity to keep her active, and she ended up finding a community of roller derby girls.
"All of them are pretty awesome,"
Nicole Bulloch joined the team once it started back up again, but due to the late stage of her pregnancy, has taken off the skates. However, she still joins the team for practices, partaking in the camaraderie and experience.
"It was amazing," she said of her first experience, being accepted into the group regardless of her skill level. "You fall down, you get up and no one was yelling at you. It's a very inclusive environment."
As much as looking tough in pictures, the derby names for each team member can be just as effective. Derby names are only given out to skaters once they complete their skills test, and they are meant to be representative of the individual wearing the jersey in which it is featured — like "Pixie Powerslam" and "MamaChete." The search for a derby name is a personal process and a method of expression which much of what the sport is.
For more on the North Georgia Roller Girls, check out their Facebook page.
With Tom B. David Airport proving to be more and more of an attractive destination for the state's aviation community, plans are in place for the addition of 18 more T-hangars at the airport off U.S. 41.
Airport Manager Dwight Albritton said the total project cost for the additional hangars is approximately $3 million.
"They will cash flow themselves," he said, adding that the airport, which is jointly funded half and half by the city and county, will pay for the project through revenue generated from rental fees on the hangers.
Due to heavy rain over the past several months, Albritton said construction has been set back. However, if crews can break ground and have suitable weather, the hangars could be constructed in about three months.
"I wish I knew," he said recently about when construction would begin. "When it's dry enough to drive a truck or a dozer out there without it sinking. I dream in the latter half of April or May they could get started."
Each of the 18 hangars will be 44 feet wide and 36 feet deep, Albritton said, and they will run along U.S. 41 in two rows. The hangars will be similar in design to the 54 T-hangars already at the airport, he added.
With 30 people on a waiting list to house their planes at the airport, Albritton said the new hangars will help to cut that down. But even with them, expansion continues to be in the forecast.
"We just have a nice facility that people enjoy being at," he said, adding that reasonable fuel and rental costs coupled with a strong sense of community help in attracting traffic and tenants. "We do our best to make it a welcoming place."
Albritton said the airport is attractive to pilots out of Metro Atlanta, which has full and busy airports. People will bring there plane to Calhoun to avoid that congestion, without having their plane being stored too far away.
"They can get here about as fast as they can get from one side of Atlanta to the other," he said of the trip from Atlanta to Calhoun up Interstate 75. "We're really fortunate that the Calhoun airport that's north of Metro Atlanta is right on I-75."
Having the airport about a mile from the I-75 aids in the growth and need to expand, Albritton said. It's a positive feature that airports in Rome, Dalton and Cartersville don't necessarily have, he continued.
On average, Albritton estimated there are around 40 aviation operations a day at the airport. The corporate and business traffic happens more during the week, while the weekends bring out recreational flyers more. The new hangars are expected to bring out more recreational pilots, he continued.
"We've just had a steady period of growth," Albritton said of his time as airport manager, beginning in 2002, when there were only about 32 hangars and 35 airplanes kept on site.
With the 18 additional hangars, the airport will have 72 T-hangars and 93 hangars in total. Albritton said that of the 105 public-use airports in the state, Calhoun's ranks either fifth or sixth in airplanes based on site. The Calhoun airport goes back and forth in the rankings
with Gainesville's airport, he added.
After the new T-hangars are operational, Albritton said the focus will be on paying back the debt incurred from the project before started in on the next expansion.
"We just try to be conservative and do the best job we can for the community," he said.
Progress is also being made on developing an area on the north end of the airport property for future construction. This development is coupled with the extending the taxiway to run parallel with the entire runway — currently the taxiway only runs from the center of the runway south, not north, Albritton said. The taxiway extension was hung up due to the need to divert a creek, he added.
The taxiway extension, which will receive federal funding, requires the clearing and grading of more land on the north end of the airport, opening the door for future construction of hangars in that area, Albritton said.
Over the coming years, the airport is looking to add four large, corporate-style hangars.
"We don't have anything that would be considered a large hangar," Albritton said. With "good" prospects for finding corporate tenants for the large hangars, Albritton is confident the project will come along sooner rather than later. But before any plans are set in place, he wants firm commitments from tenants, to ensure the expansion will pay for itself.
Initial thoughts are to build two different size hangars — 100-by-120 foot and 80-by80 foot. They may start off with constructing two large hangars to start, and then look at adding more later. To add them, the airport ramp near the terminal building will have to be expanded and the hangars would be built between the terminal and U.S. 41.
"Those larger hangars bring more employment, and airplanes bring a lot of ad valorem tax money when based here," Albritton said, adding that big jets burn a lot of fuel.
The continued expansion of the airport indicates the growth across the county, Albritton said, with it playing an integral role in the recruitment and development of industry and business.
"When a company comes to Calhoun to make a business deal or look at opening up a facility ... they don't come on a Greyhound bus," Albritton said. "If you don't have a good viable airport in your community, your community will not grow. It's an absolutely crucial piece of infrastructure for a community to thrive."
Coming up next month at the airport is Wings and Wheels Day. The annual event returns May 11 with a car show and air show, starting around 9 a.m. and continuing to around 3 p.m.