Photo by Heather Middleton
DULUTH -- The future is such a temptation, such a distraction from what's going on while we glance away.
To look at Jonesboro on Wednesday in the Cardinals' 65-52 loss to second-ranked Miller Grove in the Class AAAA semifinals and see a rotation of fearless sophomores can only numb the pain of the season-ending defeat some.
To look at Forest Park storm back for a 56-47 victory against top-ranked Douglas County, putting the Lady Panthers in the state championship for the first time since 1970, and see two juniors (Ashlee Cole and Cydni Bivins) and a freshman point guard (Kayla Potts) at the controls can only entice Lady Panthers fans even more.
But the future is for Sunday. By then, Jonesboro will have begun to collect itself, and Forest Park will either have a state title or the next best thing (or worst, depending on your outlook). For now, let's admire what Jonesboro and Forest Park provided us with -- two seasons that put Clayton County at the center of Georgia high school basketball again.
The county has been here before. Thirty times, in fact. Six different schools in Clayton have reached the semifinals.
Five of those schools have had both their boys' and girls' teams reach the semifinals.
Though Forest Park has made consecutive semifinals, the Morrow girls of the 1980s and 90s are the only teams that can lay claim to any talk of a dynasty. The Lady Mustangs made 10 semifinals, the last one in 2000, which included four state championships in five seasons (1989-91, '93). Two years after the Lady Mustangs' last semifinals appearance, Morrow coach Jay Livingston led the boys' team was a semifinalist.
Jonesboro and Forest Park have histories with the semifinals. The Jonesboros boys have made three (2002, '03, '11), while the girls made an appearance in 2009. Forest Park's boys made one in 1969, while this year's Lady Panthers are the third team in the program's history to be among the final four remaining.
North Clayton has five appearances between its boys and girls programs. So does Riverdale.
Some of Clayton County's semifinalist teams have been surprises (Mt. Zion girls in 2004). Some went into the season with lofty expectations (Jonesboro boys in 2003).
This season counted among those that could have been predicted from the start.
Forest Park lost just one senior from its semifinals team a year ago, plus got the additions of Potts, fellow freshman Tiffany Wilson and transfer Kierra Dennis. They began the season ranked and still haven't lost a game to a team from Georgia.
Though Jonesboro inexplicably missed the state tournament last season, falling to Ola in the Region 4-AAAA tournament, the Cardinals figured to get better with two Division I signees in Rasham Suarez (Georgia Southern) and James White (Arkansas-Little Rock) and a transfer in Jordan Enadeghe. They won their second region championship in three seasons, while bringing along their bevy of sophomores into the fold.
Odd, isn't it, that as many looked into the future before the season began, this moment Wednesday was predicted?
But doesn't it feel like a novelty anyways? Despite how the future may look, despite that the best way for Jonesboro to forget its loss Wednesday is to think of the eight sophomores returning next season, despite Forest Park will return so much talent next season no matter the result against Fayette County on Friday, to have the Cardinals and Lady Panthers jerseys on the floor of the Arena at the Gwinnett Center was significant.
While history says there will be more moments like Wednesday in Clayton County's future, it's best enjoyed in the present.
Brian Paglia covers sports for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org