Photo by Derrick Mahone
Forest Park senior Lem Fuller has been a three-year starter at Forest Park. He was also the starting quarterback on the school’s football team.
Lovejoy and Jonesboro are tied for the top spot in Region 4-AAAA.
But ask anyone associated with the region which team in the 11-team region they would rather not face, and the answer is usually Forest Park.
The Panthers sit in the fifth-place spot in the region standings, but command a lot of respect among their region peers.
“To me, they are most dangerous team in our region,” said North Clayton coach Martisse Troup, whose team lost earlier this season against the Panthers.
“There is nothing spectacular about them, but they play hard, and listen to their coach,” he continued. “They have a good system, and the players execute it.”
Forest Park is 11-8 overall and 8-6 in the region heading into tonight’s 8:30 p.m. game at Morrow.
Panthers coach Antonio Wade is in his third season after replacing Steven Cole, who moved over to coach the girls team. Forest Park is looking for its first state-tournament appearance under Wade, a former college standout at Johnson C. Smith University in North Carolina.
With five starters returning and eight seniors, this could be the Panthers’ year.
“We are a senior-heavy team,” Wade said. “We have had some tough losses, but we are looking to finish strong.”
The Panthers have lost five games by a total of eight points, including losing twice to Jonesboro by a total of three.
“They are a good team,” Jonesboro junior guard Cameron Sutton said. “They are one of those teams that you hope you don’t face again.”
If the Panthers can finish in the top five in the standings, they would only have to win one game in the region tournament to secure a state-tournament berth.
Seniors Nick Crawford and Lem Fuller have been starters for Wade since he became coach.
While Wade counts on senior leadership, he has three sophomores who are getting plenty of playing time. Wade said that Branden Williams, Costa Anderson and Linell Gaston have been key members of the team.
“They are giving us huge contributions,” Wade said.
Most of the team’s success this season has been overshadowed by Lovejoy and Jonesboro, who have been ranked. The Panthers have also had to contend with the popularity of their ranked girls team, which reached the Class AAAA finals last season.
“I’ve got a world of respect for what our girls team has done, but we have never compared ourselves to them,” Wade said. “It’s like apples and oranges. We know we don’t get a lot of respect in our league and even around the school. We have the mentality that’s it is us vs. the world. We are all we have.”
But people within the region are taking note of the Panthers.
Before his team’s matchup with Forest Park last week, Jonesboro coach Dan Maehlman called the Panthers the “best team” in the region.
And they nearly proved it. Jonesboro escaped with a one-point win thanks to some late-game heroics by guard Pat Petty.
“We want to get to the state level,” Wade said. “We are focusing on our team and getting better.”