By Jeffery Armstrong
When I attended the Tara Classic Wrestling Tournament last week, I was able to talk to some of the wrestlers from Forest Park High who not only wrestle, but they play football as well. They realized that I work at the News-Daily and they talked to me about my job and other things. They also told me that head football coach Howard Stearns was no longer at the school and that head baseball coach Quinton King, who did a great job with the Forest Park Panthers baseball team last season, would no longer coach the baseball team this season because of an incident that happened with him during the high school football season.
Needless to say, I was saddened by this turn of events, especially the fate of coach King. I haven't talked to any administrators at Forest Park as of this column to get true verification of these events, but I don't think that those kids would misinform me or lie to me. It's so sad that there's so much turmoil at Forest Park in terms of their athletic programs. Stearns complained to me that it was hard for him to gauge his team because a lot of the guys didn't come to practice, but would show up for games. Former Panthers head coach Bob Smith dealt with that same problem when he was manning the sidelines at Forest Park. Smith also had problems with players not getting their physicals in time to play during the season. Stearns said many of the kids who were zoned to attend Forest Park would take the bus and go to other schools. So it came as no great surprise that the Panther football team went 0-10 this season after going 1-9 in 2003. Even though some of the Panther wrestlers won medals at the Tara Classic, the team as a whole finished last in the event with only 26 points. Since I've been here at the News Daily, Forest Park has routinely finished last in most sporting events and the school may even be surpassed in sports this year by Mundy's Mill, which has been around for only three years. I told the wrestlers/football players from Forest Park to hang in there and work hard to convince guys to come out for the football team who truly want to play.
I'm not going to use this space to blast anyone at Forest Park for this sad turn of events. I am saying that I am rooting for the Forest Park girls basketball team to do what the baseball team did last year - put Forest Park on the cusp of athletic respectability.
Right now, the Forest Park Lady Panthers basketball team is 7-7, four wins shy of the 11 they tallied last season. Included in those seven wins was a victory in the championship game of the Henry County Classic during the Christmas holidays, the first tourney title the team has won in years. Could this be the year the Lady Panthers finish with more wins than losses? I truly hope so. One Forest Park supporter even told me that the girls will win Region 5-AAAA. That is a long shot, but I truly believe this team will challenge the record of the 1994 Forest Park girls team (16-8). Looking at their schedule, the Lady Panthers have 10 more regular season games to go and they must finish 6-4 to post a winning record (13-11) before the sub-region and region tournaments. I think they can do it - provided Marcquitta Head and M'Keyla Reid stay healthy and none of the players succumb to any sort of foolishness (fights, ISS, bad attitudes, etc.) before the season ends. We'll all know where Forest Park stands starting on Friday when it faces Jonesboro (No. 1 in the state) on the road and then plays four straight home games against Mundy's Mill, Stone Mountain (No. 7), North Clayton (No. 10) and Morrow.
It won't be easy for the Lady Panthers to post a winning record playing in this region, but difficult situations seem to be a way of life at Forest Park. It seems like it's never going to be easy for that school's athletic programs.
Jeffery Armstrong is a sports writer for the Daily and his column appears on Thursdays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .