From left, former Forest Park girls basketball players Kayla Potts, Tiffany Wilson and Shakira Thompson are recognized during the team’s basketball for receiving scholarships. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)
FOREST PARK — As the Forest Park girls’ basketball banquet was drawing to a close, coach Steven Cole had some high praise for his senior class.
“To me, this is like seeing four daughters graduate,” Cole told the crowd. “We have been together so long.”
After the closing remarks, they all embraced each other with a group hug.
This was the first group of seniors the veteran coach saw through as freshmen. But his association with them goes much further.
He coached many of them when they first started playing basketball, and later on travel teams.
“I’m really proud of this group,” Cole said.
Three of the seniors will attend college on basketball scholarships — Kayla Potts (Mercer), Tiffany Wilson (UNC-Asheville) and Shakira Thompson (West Georgia Tech) — while Imani Richards will likely attend Florida A&M on a track scholarship. A fourth, Christina Todd will attend Albany State on an academic scholarship.
All three will graduate with at least a 3.0 grade-point average, which is pretty common for teams that Cole has coached.
“We definitely stress academics over here,” Cole said. “We have had 16 seniors in our program, and 15 have gone on to college with some type of scholarship. We look at them beyond basketball.”
But on the court, this group has been rivaled by none in the Southern Crescent area. This group amassed 97 wins and only three losses in the region. They claimed two region championships, two semifinal appearances and a state finals appearance during their four-year tenure.
“I’m very proud of a lot of things that we have accomplished at Forest Park,” Wilson said. “This is a very solid program, and coach Cole is probably the best coach I’ve played for. He really cares about you on and off the court.”
In his closing remarks, Cole thanked the parents for allowing him to be a part of their daughters’ lives.
“I’ve talked to many of you, and thanked you already,” Cole said. “I’m glad that I’ve been able to coach them. They stuck with me, and we see their success. I know I’m not the easiest coach to play for, but we demand a lot out of our players. We have good results to show for it.”
Potts, an all-state player and Clayton News Daily Player of the Year as a junior, only appeared in one game this season after sustaining a second ACL injury over the summer. Despite missing the time on the court, she was able to impress many colleges, but settled on nearby Mercer.
“I knew as soon as I was on campus that this was the place for me,” said Potts, who played only on Senior Night this past season. “I wanted to comeback for that game for me. I just had to be out there in our last game.”
There was only one regret that Wilson had about her career at Forest Park.
“We didn’t win state,” she said. “We tried real hard, but we couldn’t get it done. I’m pleased with everything. I know the group coming up next season will continue the success.”