So I got a call from Greg Kirkland over the weekend. He’s the athletic director at Morrow High School and he wanted to talk to me about my middle school feeder program column from last week.
And by his tone of voice in his voicemail, I could tell it wasn’t to congratulate me on an awesome piece of journalism.
Readers who disagree with points you make in an opinion column comes with the territory as a journalist. I don’t mind.
But when a reader is a coach — an athletic director at that — in a school that has sometimes received a bad wrap, and when that coach speaks up to defend his school and his kids, that makes me smile.
Nevermind who’s right or wrong. You don’t stand up for what or who you don’t believe in.
In a cordial way, that’s exactly what Kirkland did. He stood up for his football program. He showed that he cared. He did what any of you who are parents with children would’ve done for your kids.
And then, he took it a step further and invited me into his house — AKA his AD’s office — to show me why he acts like a proud papa when it comes to his Morrow Mustangs football program.
First there was the trophy.
Yep, the trophy. The one that commemorated Morrow’s 1987 state championship.
A classic looking piece, about three feet tall with a miniature image of a football player standing at the top. It’s been sitting at his desk since a few days before the September 7 game against Forest Park.
And he still doesn’t know how it got there.
“I had been looking for the trophy and couldn’t find it,” Kirkland said. “And then I came in and saw it sitting right here. It was covered in dust. I left the dust on it. We went out that week and beat Forest Park and I haven’t moved it since.”
It sits on a table about five feet away from Kirklands desk, directly in his gaze.
He calls it a reminder. Not just of where this program has been, but where he wants it to go.
And it also served as an open door for the former Valdosta High offensive coordinator to set this sports writer straight on something.
Last week I wrote that Morrow was the last Clayton County team to hoist the state title hardware.
“That was incorrect,” he said. “We are the only Clayton County team to hoist that trophy. And we want to be the next Clayton County team to raise it again.”
Forest Park’s 1951 team won the Class C title.
Next, the matter of the middle schools. Everything that I mentioned last week, Kirkland showed his handle on it.
The necessity of the middle schools being a feeder, check.
“It’s absolutely vital,” Kirkland said. “Valdosta probably had the best feeder system in the country when I was there, because by the time those kids got to high school they had been in the same system for seven or eight years.”
The necessity of building relationships with those middle school programs, check.
“First thing I did when I became AD is went and talked to the Adamson and Morrow Middle guys,” he said. “These schools have been open and almost begging to build that relationship with us. They’re saying, ‘Show us the offense.’ ‘Talk to the kids.’ After this season is when we’ll really sit down with those guys and talk implementing offense and defense.”
Here’s a cool relationship builder.
Morrow’s junior varsity team now plays on Morrow Middle’s football field. But instead of loading up the bus to go around the corner, the players all get in line, with a coach in front and one in back, and they walk together from the high school to the middle school — almost in parade like fashion.
“That’s something we hope to build as a tradition going forward.”
In short, Kirkland made it clear that everything I said Morrow must do to return to championship form is already being done.
And what have the immediate results been?
“I’m not sure of the exact number,” Kirkland said. “But I know we haven’t lost anywhere near the amount of athletes to other schools in or out of the county this year as we did last year.
And he’s not just talking about football either.
“Last year I lost an entire starting five freshman basketball team,” he said. “This year we’ve lost just four or five football players. We’ve got a pretty good class of freshman. We’ve got coaches and staff committed to seeing this through. That’s how you turn it around.”
Indeed, the work at rebuilding Morrow football has begun in earnest. Kirkland is making progress on the checklist. But he knows there are no quick fixes. No magic wands — or players — that can bring instant euphoria.
So he’ll continue to work at it relentlessly, passionately, doggedly.
And perhaps most important, patiently.
“We’re still going to have to take it just one game, one week at a time,” he said.