Derick Mahone, Sports Editor
FOREST PARK — There can be an argument made that the Forest Park girls basketball team is currently the most successful program of any of the Clayton County sports teams.
OK, you have the Lovejoy football success, which included consecutive appearances in its classification finals in 2011 and ’12 seasons.
But a closer look at the Forest Park girls basketball program will reveal some interesting information.
This is not intended to take anything away from the success of the Lovejoy football program, which is deserving of all its praises and accolades, but Forest Park basketball has consistently done it while facing adversity each year.
There are the countless torn ACL injuries to starters and top reserves during the team’s playoff runs. Even this season, the Panthers are enjoying a successful campaign without its top player — Kayla Potts. The skillful point guard tore an ACL during summer workouts, and is, perhaps, gone for the season.
It is the second time in two years that the all-state guard has been missing from the Panthers’ lineup.
But the masterful coach Steven Cole has plugged in a substitute and the Panthers just keep rolling. On Saturday, they were three points and a turnover away from upsetting defending Class AAAAA champion Southwest DeKalb.
It is the same Southwest program that has won four titles in the last six seasons. In two of those championship runs, Southwest has had to go through Forest Park in the semifinals.
Each time, the game has produced an instant classic.
Southwest coach Kathy Walton believes this season’s Forest Park team can become a contender, despite the loss of Potts, the reigning Clayton News Daily county player of the year.
“They have a good team,” Walton said after Saturday’s narrow win over the short-handed Forest Park squad.
In the last five seasons, the Panthers have put together an impressive 107-34 record, which has included making at least the quarterfinals round each of those seasons. They have two trips to the semifinals and one to the finals during that stretch.
And what has been most impressive, they are not doing it with blue-chip college prospects. While most successful state contenders tend to be glorified AAU teams, Forest Park players have bought into the less glamorous style of hard work and determination.
The few that have signed with a Division I program during this run have been with mid-major level programs, and the rest with Div. II schools. Forest Park is not one of those schools where transfers are flocking to.
In fact, the team only dresses about eight to nine players a game.
Cole says its effort, not outcome that is the focus for his team.
“We feel if they give a good effort, then the outcome will be positive,” Cole said.
So far, both effort and outcome have been superb.
Derrick Mahone is the sports editor of the Clayton News Daily, and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter? Follow him @DerrickMahone_