Since the Georgia High School Association created a sixth classification in 2012, no school has won more state titles than Lambert.
And it’s not even close.
The Longhorns have won eight state titles the past two seasons, including ones in baseball, cheerleading, girls’ golf and girls’ swimming this past athletic year. Archer, Brookwood, Norcross and Walton are the next closest to Lambert with five state titles each.
It’s been a remarkable run for Lambert since the school opened in 2009 – 11 state titles in five years while transitioning through three different classifications.
"I don’t know that our kids and the community really, truly know what it means to win a state championship," Lambert athletic director Drew Ferrer said. "To win 11 in five years, there are some schools that don’t have that many and have been open 40 years. It’s not easy."
Forsyth County News sports editor Brian Paglia talked with Ferrer about Lambert’s most recent state titles and how the Longhorns’ success might be all about location, location, location.
Overall, what stands out to you about Lambert’s athletic year?
"I think I go back to the fall. I was very impressed with how the football team progressively got better and just continued to get better week by week. And then our softball team did very well. It was the first time we’ve ever advanced in the playoffs. I think last year we made the playoffs and lost in the first round, but they won a series [this season] and did a good job, won the region. That was fun.
"You go into the winter sports and see cheerleading repeating [as state champion], which was incredible. That was a great run, and [girls] swimming did the same thing. Boys basketball had a great run. The whole season, they almost went undefeated in the region, so I thought that was great.
"In the spring, we tend to do very well in the spring. We had a lot of consistency in the programs that are typically good. Our tennis did well. Our soccer teams did pretty well. Obviously a little let down that the boys lost in the first round, but still I thought they did really well. Of course [girls] golf winning [state] and then baseball winning it was just an incredible way to finish it. It was fun."
Any of those particularly fun for you?
"You know, at the swim meet …"
Let me guess - when you and principal Gary Davison jumped in the pool with the team?
"Yeah, that was fun. We had a good time with the kids there. They really enjoyed that.
"Of course the whole baseball run. The girls’ golf championship was a lot of fun. That was neat. Parkview series was incredible for baseball. And of course Milton was a good [state championship] series. It was a good year."
People remark to me a lot about how quickly Lambert is having some of these accomplishments. What are your theories on how it’s happening?
"I hate to always go to this, but I think it is true – our community is incredible. It’s an incredible community that cares a lot about our school and our programs, and then you look at our coaching staff and I think we have some of the best coaches around. And then our kids, they just do everything that they’re asked to do. They show up, they work hard, they don’t ask questions. They just do it.
"I think when you have those things, and you’ve got support from the county and the principal and stuff, it’s a good recipe for success."
Well, you came over from South Forsyth, out of which the bulk of Lambert was created, and South was not doing the things Lambert is doing now to the wide-scale extent that it is. Is it just the growth in this part of the county?
"The community from Day 1 has embraced us. I can’t go anywhere without seeing something Longhorn. It’s obnoxious probably. We did a good job of branding the school and getting the name out there right away, and people just embraced it.
"In my opinion, being in the center of the community – like our school is built around neighborhoods. And unfortunately, South’s right there off the highway. It’s so spread out. I remember being there for a long time, and I was always like, ‘Why can’t we get the school spirit going?’ It’s because at the time there were kids coming all the way down from the west Forsyth area.
"[Lambert is] right here in the center. There are kids here all the time. They live up here. They’ll walk across the street and practice lacrosse or whatever it is. I just think it’s because we’re right in the center of all these neighborhoods. Brookwood is too. So is Walton. So is Parkview. I don’t know if that’s something to it or not, but I think it helps. And we want that. We invite the kids to be here. We want to have youth stuff here. We want to do all that so we can get kids excited about the school, and it’s worked."
Do you have a personal philosophy on how you define a successful athletic year?
"I think when we got kids who are competing and representing our school in a great manner, I think that’s what we have to look at. If we’re impacting student-athletes’ lives, I think that’s a great thing. The winning piece of it is just a by-product of our program.
"There’s some kind of internal pressure, and I’m telling you, if you talk to our kids and ask them, they’ll tell you about it. They don’t want to be the only ones not winning the region championships, state championships, or doing well. They’ve seen all the other teams do so well that they’ve got this internal competition. They’re just trying to push each other. That’s a neat thing. The kids want to be successful."
Habersham Central and Northview join Region 6-AAAAAA next season. Any impressions on the reconfigured region?
"Northview typically does pretty well in the spring in some of the sports we do well in. Cross country last year did phenomenal. [Boys] lacrosse won the [Class AAAAA-A] state championship, so that region for lacrosse is just ridiculous with Centennial and all those teams. That’s going to be strong. I don’t know as much about Habersham Central just because we haven’t played them much. I know they were good at basketball and football for awhile. Didn’t [former Georgia Bulldogs and current Carolina Panthers wide receiver] Tavarres King from there? So I don’t know much about Habersham, but obviously they’ll be a good addition and we look forward to going that way a little bit. It’s a great region for us."
You’re a month or so into the school’s second football coach [Louis Daniel]. How is the new regime being received so far?
"A lot of the stuff right now he’s doing on the back end just getting ready for the season, organizing, all that kind of stuff you have to do, and he’s been great so far. He’s been great about reaching out to the community. He’s gone to several events. I saw him at [boys] lacrosse [state championship], I saw him at baseball [state championship]. I have seen him at everything.
"He’s communicating very well to the booster club and parents and everybody, so I think so far he’s off to a good start, and we’ll see what happens."
What are a few issues Lambert has on its radar for the next two to five years?
"I think anytime you have a new football coach, that’s a big thing. You don’t know how kids are going to respond, if there are going to be new systems. So that kind of stuff is on my mind. How’s Louis going to handle a season? How’s he going to handle the parents and some of those things? That’s definitely on there.
"Obviously when you have success, you always wonder if somebody’s going to be looking to advance themselves. Jaime’s coming off a national championship. He’s going to get coach of the year for probably everything. We’re very close, but him and all these coaches are all so good, how long before someone else comes calling?
"I just don’t know that there are that many opportunities that are this good. Our [summer] camps do phenomenal. We got great kids, great facilities. I just don’t see them leaving.
"But when you’ve got guys of that caliber – Jamie’s been in the college world before. At what point does someone come calling and say, ‘Hey, you want to come back to college?’ Chris Wilson, he’s been offered before in the past. UAB offered him a position awhile back. Those are always challenges. How do you retain people and make sure that they are getting what they need here and still be able to fulfill what they want for their careers?"
Are budgets getting easier? Concussion stuff getting easier?
"The concussion stuff, that’s a big deal. That’s probably going to continue to be a situation where you’ve just got to be proactive about it. We’ve done impact testing. We did a baseline with Gwinnett Medical. That’s something we’ve got to stay on top of, because that’s a big issue in all sports right now. We’ve seen kids who have had two or three [concussions] and next thing you know they’re done. That’s something we have to be proactive about. We[‘ll continue to do impact testing for all our athletes.
"Budgetwise, I think we’re fortunate to have very supportive parents, and they’re very good with helping out with fundraising and everything we need to do. But obviously you never know how times are going to be. Our county does a great job of planning and budgeting. When I saw other schools having to reduce and cut everything, we didn’t have to do that. … We’ve got a new superintendent coming in. Gary, he’s done really well. At what point do you think he wants to do something else? Those are all things that I think linger but you can’t worry about. You just have to go about your day and continue to improve and get better. If he leaves, he leaves. He’s a good guy and somebody I love working for and with."