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Players put differences aside for one goal

By Brian Howard

Each season goes by and there is a winner and there is a loser.

Like it or not, that's how it goes. But there is one team from the area that proved that no matter what the outcome was at last weekend's state softball tournament in Columbus, they were winners.

When I arrived at the paper at the end of August, I was thrown right away into covering lots of softball. Everywhere I had been, softball was a spring sport, but I couldn't complain.

It's not often I see so much good pitching. From Terese Gober (Union Grove) to Amber Harrell (Henry County) to Heather Lowry (Jonesboro) to Terri Mesko (Eagle's Landing) to Brooke Loudermilk (Luella). I know I left a few off and for that I'm sorry. But that is how deep the pitching was in Clayton and Henry counties.

The very first game I was scheduled to cover was Stockbridge at Luella. I got lost on the way to Luella High School and actually stumbled upon Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton. After driving for almost two hours, I made my way to Luella.

By the time I arrived, the game had made its way to the third inning, with no score. Talk about lucking out there. I followed the game until the end, and picked up stats and quotes from both coaches.

It was at that point in time, I had a feeling that Luella, even though they lost the game, had the potential to be very, very good.

After the regular season concluded, I covered the Region 4-AAAA softball championships and talk about tough. I mean there were four teams just from our area to keep track of and yet, I followed the Luella Lady Lions.

I don't know why I did, but knew I was watching a team that was on the verge of putting together something

special. After two wins the first day and another the following day, the Lady Lions reached the region title game.

In the process, I started learning more about the players and their parents. Some of which would come up to me, as well as the bus driver, and chat with me during the game. I enjoyed that the most.

After winning the championship game, I talked with Lady Lions coach Stephen Adkins. Perhaps, he may be the single most influenced coach I've ever met.

Adkins, who turned 36 when Luella captured the region title, isn't so much a coach, but a father figure. What he did with the team was turn a bunch of individuals, who put their differences aside, and made them believe in each other.

So few coaches today teach the TEAM concept. Adkins did it and did it with the ability to put his team in position to win it all. He had the Lady Lions peeking at the right time.

Luella swept through sectionals and into the state tournament. After winning three games at sectionals, Adkins spent the following Sunday deer hunting. Not only was this guy a father figure, a coach, a role model, a health and PE teacher, a deer hunter, but also the boys basketball coach.

During last week's preparations for the state tournament, Adkins juggled time in the classroom, on the softball diamond and on the basketball court with tryouts.

The Lady Lions rolled through the opening round of the state tournament, then faced the No. 1 team in the state - Ringgold. Luella defeated Ringgold to put the Lady Lions into the state finals, where they had to win just one game.

But Ringgold advanced through the loser's bracket and into the finals, beating Luella twice to earn the championship.

The measure of a champion isn't how hard the team plays on or off the field, but how big their heart is. In this case, Luella went to Columbus in search for the school's first state championship. The third-year program came home not losers, but winners in the eyes of many in Henry County.

(Brian Howard writes sports for The Daily. He can be reached at: bhoward@news-daily.com