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Hoop dreams
Central mom, daughter share special season
3 Generations to State 1 es
Angie and Kayla Richards hold their letter jackets from playing basketball at Forsyth Central High School. - photo by Emily Saunders
Forsyth Central’s girls basketball team will play its first state playoff game in 24 years Saturday.

While nearly a quarter century has passed, this Lady Bulldogs team has a clear connection to the last state qualifiers.

These days, Angie Richards is a math teacher at Central. In 1986, however, she was a senior playing basketball for what was then Forsyth County High School.

The Lady Bulldogs put together a 24-4 region championship season and made it to the state quarterfinals in Class AAAA.

Some two decades later, Richards’ daughter Kayla is a sophomore starter for this year’s squad, which will visit Rome at 3 p.m. Saturday in the first round of the state Class AAAA tournament.

Memories from last state berth

The ’86 Lady Dogs were a formidable group.

A year after winning just nine games, they rolled to a Region 8-AAAA championship in what was the largest classification in Georgia at the time.

That team had to make it through a two-tiered playoff system just to get to state.

It first won the subregion with a 75-65 win over Norcross, then took a rematch over the Lady Blue Devils 68-60 for the region title.

Just two teams from each region advanced to state, half as many as today.

Central opened a 16-team state playoff bracket with a thrilling 61-59 win over Campbell, when Kerensa Shoemake hit a 17-foot shot from the corner at the buzzer with her team trailing by one.

Shoemake was fouled on the shot, and added a free throw to make it a two-point final.

Angie Richards — who was then Angie Fagan — recalls that game fondly.

“We had a massive following at that time, lots of people,” she said. “We had a caravan. They decorated all their cars behind the bus and they followed us down to the Cobb Civic Center.

“And the minute [Shoemake’s] shot went in, the whole stands [erupted]. You see it on TV, but they all just came and rushed the court. It was wonderful.”

Central’s season ended in the next round, a 49-44 loss to Fayette County.

Jerry Cauley was the team’s head coach at that time.

After the loss, he was quoted by the Forsyth County News as saying, “When people look back on this year, they aren’t going to remember this game. They are going to remember the 24 wins.”

He was absolutely right.

Just like his former player, Cauley, now Central’s athletic director, has nothing but fond memories of that season.

“It was a good team,” Cauley said. “It was a lot of fun, believe me. It was a special year.”

Cauley must have had a great time coaching the ‘86 Lady Bulldogs. He can pull details of specific games right from the air, and has kept up with several former players.

Starting post player Gina Sutko became the school’s first 1,000-point scorer the year after the team made the playoffs, and went on to play for four years at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

Shoemake, a former assistant principal at Collins Hill High School in Gwinnett County, is set to become the first principal of Lanier High School when it opens in August.

Cauley said other players like Ellen Fries and Scarlett Martin — now Scarlett Sams and a teacher at Cumming Elementary — have remained in the county.

A young man in his mid-20s named Steve Barnes was Cauley’s assistant coach on that team.

“That was a special time and a special group of girls coming through Forsyth County,” said Barnes, who is now head coach of Central’s boys basketball team.

“Jerry always did a good job with those girls and it was a really good, really talented group.”

Barnes and Cauley both recalled Angie Richards as a reliable free throw shooter — even when she wasn’t supposed to be at the line.

Cauley said that in those days, referees weren’t as diligent ensuring the girl shooting the free throws was the same one who had been fouled.

“We could sneak Angie to the free throw line several times even if she wasn’t the one who was supposed to be shooting it,” Cauley said with a laugh. “We got away with that several times.

Angie Richards said the team benefited from being the only high school in county.

“When you have one school in the county, you’ve got all the talent coming to one school, so that was another thing that helped,” she said.
“We were nine deep on the bench. We could go five starters plus four more and it didn’t really matter who all was out there.”

Basketball is 'big in the family’

The Forsyth basketball bloodline between the Richards women stretches farther back than Angie, whose late mother, Rebecca Martin-Fagan, played for Forsyth County’s state runner-up team in 1956.

She scored an eye-popping 994 points in her senior year, averaging 32 points a game and guiding her teammates to the Class B state finals, where they fell 52-51 to Seminole County.

Martin, who died of lung cancer in 2007, was also class president and part of the school’s first graduating class in 1956.

Angie Richards says the passion for basketball has passed naturally between three generations.

“Basketball’s always been big in the family,” she said. “Mom always loved it ... she was always a big basketball fan.

“That’s where I got it from, and Kayla started playing when she could dribble the ball.”

Angie Richards previously taught at South Forsyth High School, but transferred to Central in 2004 so her daughter could continue the family tradition.

“It’s real strange [being back here],” she said. “I know where my locker was ... It’s just weird. I had Miss [Jane] Tatum, who’s still teaching math down the hall.”

Kayla Richards said her mother still mixes it up with her on the court from time to time.

“She helps me with my shot and gives me encouragement — and criticism,” the 16-year-old said, punctuating the last two words with a laugh.

Kayla Richards is happy to have at least one more game this season, after the team was stopped short of state a year ago.

“It’s just really fun being able to come back and have an extra week,” she said. “We know how many teams have stopped playing and packed up their uniforms.

“We’ve worked so hard the last two years and we finally reached our goal,” she said.

For her mother, who’s still a fixture at Central games as a statistician and team parent, it’s a nice feeling to pass down.

“It was just a wonderful year [when we made state],” she said. “It seems like it was just yesterday, but I’m just glad she’s getting to feel the same, to go to state.”