STOVALL: Southern Crescent sports emerging from the shadows

Gabriel Stovall

Gabriel Stovall

I had the privilege last week of expanding my sports reporting horizons through media outlets other than just print.

It was fun. And it is something that I will continue to do for several reasons. First because, as I said, it was just a fun experience.

Secondly, it gives the Southern Crescent sports fan a chance to get the news about their preferred athletes and teams in different venues.

But lastly, and perhaps most importantly, such opportunities allow me to continue educating anyone who will listen about the rising athletic talent this area is beginning to boast.

Friday night, I had the chance to be a guest on the first Bear Country Prep Sports Show on 92.5 FM, The Bear. I joined co-hosts Tim Rose, Danny Mac — color guy for Sandy Creek football — James O’Brien and Uncle Rich on the set — the three of them combined probably have seen 10 times the amount of Georgia high school athletics and covered many, many more athletes than I have in my young journalism career.

But it was that fact that made it more satisfying when we began to talk about the landscape of high school sports across the state, and never ran out of things to say about the quality of athletics in the Southern Crescent.

I’ve written about this matter before, but I believe it bares repeating. Maybe Clayton and Henry counties — and Fayette County for good measure — still have a ways to go before they can stand toe-to-toe consistently with the likes of Gwinnett and Cobb counties in the northern sector of the state, and just about anywhere on the southside, especially when it comes to football.

But the gap has closed tremendously, and it’s not just the proud Southern Crescent parents with kids on the field who are taking notice.

The measuring stick to consider that makes the area’s rise so awesome is not necessarily where our schools stand, but where they stand in relation to where they used to be.

When you consider the fact that a school like Stockbridge never went to the state football playoffs prior to 2011, and now, in just five short years under coach Kevin Whitley, are talking about positioning itself to win a state title, that’s major progress.

A school that has lost more than two times the amount of games it won in its history, now boasts close to 100 combined college scholarship offers between just a smattering of its football players alone.

Eyebrows raised in the studio when that fact was passed out.

Coaches are no longer being pulled from the P.E. classroom as just space fillers for various sports.

But when former Eagle’s Landing Christian defensive coordinator is able to take the same job at Class AAAAAA power Grayson, and when assistants like former Stockbridge defensive guru Morris Star (now head coach at Henry County), Lovejoy ex-assistant Kevin Jones (Dutchtown head coach) and former state basketball champion Eagle’s Landing assistant and now head coach Elliot Montgomery are entrusted to continue winning ways, it shows that coaches are now gaining the respect that comes with being a part of winning programs.

Teams like state softball champion Union Grove, or Woodland volleyball and even Jonesboro are programs that are no longer talking about rebuilding, but reloading.

When players like Jeremiah Kirkland, a 2,000 yard rusher at Landmark Christian last year, want to pursue success at different levels, they realize they don’t have to go very far up I-75 to do so anymore.

They are finding winning programs that are building winning cultures right in our own backyard.

“There’s no doubt that the talent pool is really increasing, and people are starting to pay attention,” Rose said during Friday night show’s.

And as one who covers this area’s sports, I take that personally. That’s why, when the offer was extended for me to be able to come back at any time, I gladly accepted.

I’ll take any opportunity I can to put the spotlight on an area that, for so long, has only been in the shadows.

Gabriel Stovall covers sports for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald newspapers. He can be reached at gstovall@news-daily.com. On Twitter? Follow him @GabrielStovall1