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Central students powerlifting to World Championship
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Forsyth Central senior Jacob Keesee performs a deadlift during a recent Team Central practice. - photo by Brian Paglia

It’s time to crank the tunes.

Hunter Lamm is about to deadlift some 300 pounds – just a warm-up, really – but not without music.

Jacob Keesee walks over to his CD player.

"Classic rock," Keesee says.

No one protests.

"It’s his house," Tyler Wells says.

They are in the basement of Keesee’s home. It’s finished with two rooms filled with powerlifting equipment. Walk down the basement stairs and pass through a small room into another with black walls and a square sign that says, ‘TEAM CENTRAL POWERLIFTING.’

The next room over is double the size with the beginnings of an archive. Framed photos from events line the back walls. Forsyth Central High School’s letter C logo is painted against a white wall surrounded with the signature of everyone with the date of their first event.

This where they have come two to three times a week in the afternoons, always on Saturdays, for the past two years.

"It’s pretty loose," Keesee says, "until the next person goes up. Then we get serious."

The music is on, so Lamm squats, grips the barbell and stares straight ahead. A cacophony of encouragement ensues, and Lamm’s legs explode up, bringing the weights with him.

Lamm drops the weights. The next one steps up. It all falls into a rhythm – one lifter in, quick change of weights, then the next – with Jacob’s dad, Mark, a former powerlifter and Team Central’s coach, watching.

"They really support each other," Mark says.

The county’s only organized high school powerlifting team is small, but it’s a close-knit group of friendships that started for some in preschool, for others in fifth or sixth grade. They played on the same baseball teams and recreational basketball teams. What started with Jacob, Wells, Sam Downey and Jake Gorczyca eventually added Lamm and then Larry Moody, all students at Central, though the team is not officially affiliated with the school.

"This is Mark’s dream," Martie, Jacob’s mom, says.

It almost didn’t happen. Jacob is the youngest of three boys and the only one who showed interest in sports. He plays second base for the Central varsity baseball team.

When Jacob, Downey and Wells took weightlifting class together, Mark seized the opportunity. He convinced them to form a team, train and compete in a United States Powerlifting Association event in Jonesboro.

"We were really nervous at our first meet," Jacob said. "We just kind of stood in the corner and didn’t talk to anybody. It was pretty intimidating."

And yet they each took first in their weight class.

They were quickly hooked.

"It’s the atmosphere," Wells said. "It’s just fun."

Soon they were placing first at the Georgia State High School Championship, qualifying for the State Wars in Mobile, Ala., and winning medals at the 2013 National RAW Powerlifting Championships in Orlando this past July.

Along the way, Downey increased his squat from 407 pounds to a personal-best of 529. He’s not allowed to squat anymore in his weightlifting class at Central. Moody saw his personal-best in the squat double in under a year.

"That’s what I like seeing," Mark said. "I like seeing guys who can actually go to these meets and win the medals and build up that confidence."

Downey and Jacob will need plenty of it this summer. They were selected to compete with Team USA at the IPF Classic Powerlifting World Championship in Johannesburg, South Africa on June 1-8.

"Nationals times 20," Jacob said. "It should be huge."

In the meantime, they’ll keep practicing two or three times a week, blasting tunes and screaming encouragement, adding to their state and national records.

"It’s really brought them out of their shells," Martie said. "It’s given them confidence that they might not have had otherwise."