By Brian Paglia
If it's in the numbers that the story of this high school football season is told, then let's examine the empirical evidence.
Maybe something can be learned about high school football in the Southern Crescent by its record. The 17 teams residing within the borders of Clayton and Henry counties went a combined 90-94, just four games below .500, and therefore, in purely mathematical terms, fans probably witnessed average football this season. Nothing strikingly brilliant must have happened, and yet fans must have filed out of the stadium gates with some measure of entertainment, their heads neither sunken in desolation nor lifted in exaggerated pride.
Yet consider that last season the Southern Crescent went a combined 69-104-2 for a .391 winning percentage. Less than half the counties' schools (7) had a .500 record or better. Just four teams advanced to the playoffs and only one of those teams (Henry County) won a postseason game. On the whole, what fans saw last season can only be equated as below average, which most football observers categorize as disappointing, uninteresting and, to some, even embarrassing.
To the men that play professional football in grand opulence, to those that coach those men from the sideline and in the locker room and to those that manage both those on the field and the sideline from their palatial offices, below average doesn't cut it. Below average leads to, at best, organizational upheavel. Worse, it leads to job loss. Even worse, it leads to a bruise in the nation's perception of that team.
In short, it damages pride. And an athletic organization dependent on the success and appeal of the stars it props up cannot survive with battered egos.
But the world of Southern Crescent high school football resides in a different sphere. Players play for pride alone. Coaches coach for pride alone. None can earn a bigger paycheck with a breakthrough year, for there are no high school programs in this area the likes of Parkview, Lowndes, Valdosta or Camden County, places held with reverence and resourced by college-sized booster clubs.
So the 2008 high school football season in Southern Crescent should be applauded all the more. By looking at the numbers, it can be called the Year of the Leap for a season when the Southern Crescent leapt from being below-average and into respectability again:
· Southern Crescent teams went a combined 90-94, winning 21 more games than it did in 2007.
· Eleven teams had a .500 record or better, four more than in 2007.
· Eight teams made the playoffs, twice the number that represented the area in 2007.
· Those eight teams won a combined six playoffs games, five more than the one team (Henry County) that won a playoff game in 2007.
· Ten teams improved their record from last season, compared to four teams that faired worse than 2007.
All over the Southern Crescent, teams were leaping into unchartered territory and compelling stories. There was Dutchtown and Luella leaping into history, winning the most games in their respective school's history. There was Woodland leaping into the Region 4-AAA playoff hunt in the school's second year and the program's first with a region schedule. There was Joneboro leaping out of its playoff frustrations with the first state playoff victory in school history. There was Union Grove leaping out of frustration into an unexpected playoff appearance. There was North Clayton leaping far from a scandal-ridden offseason back to its winning reputation.
And there was Mt. Zion, leaping out from under the shadows of Clayton County's accreditation catastrophe into an improbable and emotional playoff run, coming two extra-points away from making the semifinals; and Eagle's Landing leaping out of two years of morass into one of the most unexpected playoff appearances in the state. For those achievements, Bulldogs' coach Jarrett Laws was named our Clayton County Coach of the Year and Golden Eagles coach Joe Teknipp earned our Henry County Coach of the Year honors.
North Clayton running back Clarence Jackson had the numbers in his breakout junior season to win Clayton County Player of the Year. Henry County's Drew Little amassed unprecedented statistics in a four-year career, one that culminated in Henry County Player of the Year honors.
And yet maybe the best definition of any high school football season is not by the statistics clung to by teams and media alike, but in that moment at the end of every game, when a football team gathers around its coach, recites a prayer in unison surrounded by schoolmates and family, with each person's hand clasped firmly to the next one.
Above them, the scoreboard is wiped clean of all numbers.
Home team: 0. Visitors: 0.