In a historic night for Forsyth County high school football, a record four local teams will take the field as the state playoffs get under way tonight.
Two of the schools, Lambert and North Forsyth, will play at home, while South Forsyth and West Forsyth must open on the road. All games kick off at 7:30 p.m.
For Todd Shirley, athletic director for the Forsyth County school system, having four teams in the playoffs is a reflection of the local community and could have an impact for years to come.
“Our coaches all across this county are doing a phenomenal job with these kids and that winning kind of permeates the counties around us,” Shirley said.
“We’re going to have people knocking down our doors not only for the academics but also for the athletic aspect of it, which is great because athletics play such an incredible part in the climate and culture of the school.”
He said the excitement extends to the middle school and county parks and recreation programs, which are seeing the benefits of such hard work.
“People will call me and say things are going incredible and we really appreciate all the work that the coaches and the local athletic directors are doing,” Shirley said. “It is extremely exciting. It really, truly is.”
In state Class AAAAA action tonight, West (7-3) and North (5-5) will face strong teams from neighboring Gwinnett County.
West, the No. 3 seed from Region 6, will travel to Snellville to face South Gwinnett, the second seed from Region 8, while No. 2 seed North welcomes No. 3 seed Grayson, a perennial power.
North, which is making its second straight playoff appearance, was the only local team to make the postseason in 2009.
North Principal Beth Hebert said she thinks the Raiders, of whose staff and players she is “extremely proud,” are prepared for tonight’s showdown.
“They have spent countless hours preparing for these playoff games and I believe they are ready to move to the next level of play,” Hebert said. “(Tonight) will mark the first time we have hosted a AAAAA state playoff football game and there will be excitement in the air in Raider Valley.”
West Principal Richard Gill said the school’s students, staff and community are “elated” about the Wolverines' first football playoff berth.
“The success we have achieved in our first year in the AAAAA classification is a testament to our outstanding athletes and coaches,” Gill said.
“We know that we have a formidable task ahead in competing with South Gwinnett, but we will gladly accept the challenge.”
In Class AAAA games, Lambert (8-2), the No. 2 seed from Region 7-AAAA, will play host to Hiram, the third seed from Paulding County and Region 5-AAAA.
Lambert, which opened in 2009, made the playoffs in its first season of varsity competition.
Gary Davison, Lambert principal, said he’s proud of the effort, commitment and integrity the Longhorns have shown.
“Within mere months, a program with so much promise has been built,” Davison said. “Not only are the boys fine athletes, but their commitment to scholarship is just as noteworthy. It is great to be a Lambert Longhorn.”
In the second matchup between the two regions, No. 4 seed South Forsyth (6-4) will travel to Cobb County to face undefeated and No. 1 seed Kell.
For South Principal Jason Branch, getting this far shows the school’s ability to match some of its academic achievements with athletics.
“The goal of every team is to reach the postseason and we are extremely proud of our student athletes and coaches for obtaining this goal,” Branch said.
“Coach [Jeff] Arnette and his staff have done a tremendous job in their first year of energizing our athletes and the community and parental support has been tremendous. Our kids work hard and it is exciting to see that hard work pay off.”