With all the negativity that's surrounded Forest Park High School, including the recent shooting death of popular freshman Krystal Williams, there is a silver lining in that school's dark cloud: the 2005 Forest Park baseball team.
Buoyed by the success of the 2004 team that almost qualified for the state tournament last season and a fiery new head coach this year in Michael Breedlove, the Panthers baseball team has won seven of its past nine games, including a 4-3 win over county rival Jonesboro to ensure itself of a berth in the Class AAAA state playoffs. Not only have they qualified for the state playoffs, they will actually host one game and if they depending on the outcome of their games with Mt. Zion, they could host TWO state playoff games. When was the last time you could say that about any team from Forest Park?
I'm glad you asked that question. The last Forest Park team (not including track and field or individual wrestlers) to qualify for the state playoffs was the 1996 Panthers football team that went 7-3 during the regular season, but lost to the Marietta Blue Devils 34-6 in the first round of the Class AAAA state playoffs. That's been awhile ago.
And the last Panthers baseball team to make state was the 1985 state championship team, so Forest Park is really treading on some new ground at this time. It's been 20 years since there's been a state team champion at the school and this Forest Park team actually has the goods to compete for a title.
"I hope we can repeat what that team did, but we've got a long way to go," Breedlove said after the team's recent win over Washington.
The Panthers have outstanding hitters and good enough pitching to play well in state, but they must work on their defense in order to advance in state . They will be facing good pitching so the days of pounding 10 hits like they did against Columbia on April 29 will be few and far in between. They have a tendency to commit a costly error or three in certain games, so as they reach state, they have to be a lot more focused on the defensive end. If they eliminate the mistakes, their pitching and hitting can keep them in any game they play.
What makes me happy with this situation is that I'm actually writing about a Forest Park state playoff team. It's been really frustrating for me over the few years I've been in the sports department to see Forest Park struggle in almost every sport, from softball to basketball to football. The Forest Park girls basketball team started out 4-0 two years ago and won 11 games. Their 4-0 start was the best start for them since the 1970 state championship girls team reeled off 18 straight games to start the season. And as bad luck would have it, that team would be surpassed by the 1991 Morrow girls basketball team that went 30-0 to win the state championship.
But typically over the years, things have not fared well for Forest Park team sports - they've typically finished in last place and when they compete at county events, they are almost always at the bottom of the standings. I've written several columns hoping this school would turn things around in its athletic pursuits and it looks like it is on the right track.
The baseball team has a chance to win the Region 5-AAAA title and now the school has hired Steve Cole, who was head basketball coach at Babb Middle School and North Clayton High, as its head football coach. Cole is very popular in the area and he will probably be able to keep the great athletes at Forest Park, which will allow them to compete. I, for one, hope they'll do just that and more.
Jeffery Armstrong is a sports writer for the Daily and his column appears on Thursdays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .