FOREST PARK — It has always been said that success is contagious.
Everybody seems to want to line themselves up with winners. The most popular teams are the ones that win the most.
And then there is the exception to the rule.
The exception seems to be the rule for the Forest Park girls’ basketball program. It’s sort of mind-boggling that the team has only nine players.
With apologies to the Lovejoy football program, Forest Park Lady Panthers basketball is arguably the most successful athletic program in Clayton County.
On Saturday, the Lady Panthers will be playing in their third state semifinals in the last four seasons. They have also played for a state title in 2011.
Yet, on Thursday as the team prepared to play powerhouse Southwest DeKalb on Saturday at Kennesaw State, there were only eight players dressed.
Lady Panthers coach Steven Cole and assistant Edward Wilson had to sub in during drills to divide the players equally.
Injuries have been a factor this season for Forest Park, but the roster was only nine deep to start with.
Forest Park has proven that its about quality not necessarily quantity when it comes to producing a successful program. During the Cole era, the Lady Panthers success has been unparalleled of any other program in the county, and few in the metro area.
In addition to its five straight trips to the state playoffs, the Lady Panthers have 11 of the 12 players that have graduated during that time span in college on scholarship. The team consistently has a 3.0 or better grade-point average.
But there is a price for success, and maybe some don’t want to accept that challenge.
Cole is a very demanding coach, and failure is not seen as an option. Despite a roster of underclassmen and the graduation of its top players, the Lady Panthers are back in the hunt for a title.
They breezed through their region schedule unbeaten to clinch a region crown.
Cole steadily preaches academics as much as he wants perfection on the basketball court.
Maybe some want to take the easy route.
If that is the case, then Forest Park Lady Panthers basketball is not for you. Cole gives them tough love, and he gets results.
Around this time each season, Forest Park is usually among the only girls teams in the state still playing.
Hopefully the school and community will show its appreciation by making the trek to Kennesaw State to see them take on Southwest DeKalb. For a school that is looking to shed a somewhat negative image, the girl’s basketball program has been a model to showcase the school’s positives.
As the Clayton County School System still fights to gain respect and re-establish itself after briefly losing its accreditation, the Lady Panthers are one of the first athletic programs to compete on the state-wide level.
The players and coaches at Forest Park are doing their part, now its time for the community and fans to get behind them.
Derrick Mahone is the sports editor of the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.