By Johnny Jackson
More than 8,000 athletic coaches from around the state will be honored next week, Feb. 2-9.
On Dec. 16, Gov. Sonny Perdue announced the celebration of Coaches Week as an opportunity for Georgia residents to celebrate the contributions of their coaches.
"I love kids and I want to see kids excel in what they have a passion for," said Stephen Phillips, the head baseball coach and athletic director at Dutchtown High School. "I think a lot of hours go into coaching the student athletes on a daily basis."
Phillips is one of 31 full- and part-time coaches at the school who lead teams in competitive sports, including football and volleyball. In all, the Henry County School System employs about 500 full- and part-time coaches.
"A lot of us stay late into the evening with practices and games on a regular basis," said Phillips.
He and the school system's 200 high school coaches received a gift of gratitude recently from Applebee's. Next week, the restaurant will kick off its first-ever "Celebrate Your Coach Week" program to honor coaches, and help raise money for their schools.
"We hope that the spirit of the week inspires people all across the state of Georgia to do something special for the coaches who have positively influenced their lives," said Ashley Sasher, a spokeswoman for Applebee's.
Applebee's is providing a free meal for high school athletic coaches in Cobb and Henry counties. Ten high schools signed up to receive free meal certificates, including Dutchtown, Eagle's Landing, Ola, Union Grove, and Woodland high schools. Some of the high schools, like Dutchtown, have planned to host fundraisers at Applebee's next week.
Each school hosting a fundraiser received invitations from Applebee's to distribute to students, parents and school supporters. When recipients bring those invitations to their local restaurant, Applebee's will donate 15 percent of their guest checks back to the high schools.
Dutchtown will host a fundraiser on Monday, from 4 to 9 p.m., at Applebee's, located at 815 Industrial Blvd., in McDonough.
"We're thankful to Applebee's," said Justin White, the Henry County School System's athletic director. "They stepped in and said they wanted to honor our coaches. I think it's important because the contact that coaches have with the kids is a vital component to the academic and social success for kids in school."
The school system serves nearly 4,000 student athletes, more than 2,000 of those at the high school level.
"The coaches are with those students so many hours of the week," said White. "And they're not doing it because of pay, they're doing it because of the love of sport and for the kids."
He says an added motivation for coaches and their student-athletes is the support they receive from the community.
"It makes a huge difference when you look up in the stands and see people," White said. "I would like to encourage the community and parents to talk to those coaches of their children and thank them for their time and support of Henry County Schools."