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Memo to Clayton fans: Support your teams

Gabriel Stovall

Gabriel Stovall

It would take rapper 2 Chainz to tell you about the last time a Clayton County school won a Georgia High School Association team championship in basketball.

That’s because the hip-hop star is a College Park native, a North Clayton High graduate and a member of North Clayton’s 1993 state basketball championship team.

He was simply known as Tauheed Epps during that time.

And 20 years ago, Epps’ Eagles hoisted state title hardware at center court of the Macon Coliseum after defeating Washington County 58-45 in the Class AA finals. They entered the postseason with just a 15-10 record.

But when tournament time comes it’s all about getting hot at the right time.

Which brings me to the question of the day.

Or maybe the year.

Or maybe the last two decades.

Thanks to the 2004 Riverdale girls track team who, with their state title that year, kept it from being a 20-year all-sports drought.

But after several other near misses, the question begs answering. When is somebody from Clayton County going to get hot again? And I mean at the right time. At tournament time?

Around 8 p.m. Saturday, it looked as though the girls hoops squads from Forest Park and Jonesboro would answer that question.

While the Lady Panthers were giving Southwest DeKalb all it wanted by taking a 30-23 lead at halftime in the Class AAAAA finals in Kennesaw, the Lady Cardinals were taking it to two-time state champion Columbia in the Class AAAA semifinals in Fort Valley, leading by 14 at the break.

While Kayla Potts was filling it up from the field to the tune of 17 first-half points, Briana Benson had scored 12 of her own burying two three pointers and providing the perfect compliment to Kim Dawkins’ four first half blocked shots and eight rebounds.

And while Clayton fans were getting giddy about having a 50-50 shot at ending the county’s 20-year title drought, the two DeKalb schools they were playing against decided to restore some order.

What type of order, you ask?

How about eight state championship game appearances and five titles in the last six seasons. And that’s just between those two girls programs.

And while we’re mentioning DeKalb-Clayton comparisons, we won’t even talk about Miller Grove’s quest for a state-record fifth straight title this year.

Or how Columbia boys are trying for their fourth straight against the juggernaut that has been Eagle’s Landing basketball this season.

Oops. I’m talking about it, am I?

Well, it needs to be said. Clayton County has the athletes to compete with these teams on the hardwood.

It’s obvious the athletes are here most years for championship caliber success. So why the 20-year drought? I’ll give you two of what could be many reasons.

First, familiarity.

The other schools are used to the big stage, consistently. Their fans are used to it. Their students are used to it. The big crowds don’t bother them because they play in hostile environments regularly during the regular season. They also create hostile home court environments for their own teams. They expect to be one of the last two teams standing at the end. And even if they get behind like Southwest did against Forest Park or Columbia against Jonesboro, you just have a feeling that they’re going to make another run.

Their fans feel it too. Which is why they come out in big numbers to support their teams in championship settings.

Which brings me to reason No. 2: Fan and community support. The fans that do show up in Clayton County are loyal. They’re faithful. And they’re vocal. But there aren’t enough of them.

There’s nothing worse than getting out-yelled in your own gym or outnumbered on your own home field. I’ve seen this happen more than a few times in Clayton.

Over 260,000 people live in Clayton. Where is the sense of community? Where is the following? And when you do come out, for goodness sake, where is the noise?

As gifted as they are, these athletes are still kids. Kids who thrive off of the energy and good vibes of a community that visibly and verbally supports them loudly and consistently.

Kudos to the Jonesboro and Forest Park faithful who showed up and tried to push their team to victory Saturday. But I just can’t help but wonder if there were more fans donning Jonesboro red or Forest Park maroon and gold present Saturday, we might be on the way toward seeing this 20-year drought end.

Even on the college hoops level, the No. 1 NCAA women’s Div. II basketball team plays right here in Clayton County, and they’ve often played to a nearly empty gym.

I often hear Clayton County residents express how they wish others would believe the good about Clayton County and not just the bad.

I say fans of Clayton County athletes need to show they believe in themselves first.

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