They call it Coal Mountain Magic. It’s not some fairy dust falling from the sky or the product of a superstitious ritual, but North Forsyth athletic director Nathan Turner and Raiders wrestling Travis Jarrard talk about it all the time.
There is only one scenario in which Coal Mountain Magic appears – when a North team is in the throes of some desperate situation.
Girls basketball trails by 13 at home in the state playoffs? Then a 3-point outburst ensues to bring the Lady Raiders back and eventually win.
Football team loses starting quarterback Harris Roberts to injury? Then back-up Cody Gottberg steps in and leads a late-season playoff push.
Wrestling teams trails Chattahoochee 34-12 in an area dual with only four weight classes left? Then the Raiders win four straight matches and get an infraction by the Cougars in the final match to win.
That is Coal Mountain Magic.
"It’s just situations where everything seems lost and somehow, some way a North Forsyth team wins," Jarrard said. "When there’s absolutely no possible way for it to happen and it happens."
Perhaps North could use some this weekend at the Georgia High School Association Team Dual Championship in Macon. Despite being the No. 2 seed in Class AAAAAA, the Raiders are already feeling the slights of an underdog. Comments on internet message boards suggest North is seeded too high, that the Raiders won’t get past a potential match-up against perennial contender Camden County in the semifinals. Impossible, some people are saying.
No, North is not Archer, the defending champion who is once again loaded and expected to win. No, it is not Collins Hill, the five-time state duals champion. Maybe it’s not even Camden County, the 2012 state duals champion coached by Jarrard’s old college wrestling teammate and roommate Jess Wilder. Jarrard can usually tell these things, but he can’t with Camden County this season. The Wildcats have so much new talent, and they’ve done more wrestling in Florida than in Georgia so far.
But the Raiders know where they stand and who they are. Jarrard said he built his wrestling program to be the hard-nosed and blue collar type because – well, because that’s just North.
Within that identity is the secret ingredient – indeed, the only ingredient – of Coal Mountain Magic.
Let Jarrard explain: "The only thing we always, always control and always have is our determination, our hustle and our grit."
That’s the same word that psychologist Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth uses to describe the most crucial indicator of success in life.
As a seventh grade teacher in New York, Duckworth noticed the smartest students in her class weren’t always the best performing students. So she dove into research to find out what did predict success if intelligence alone wasn’t enough. She studied cadets at West Point Military Academy, rookie teachers, salespeople.
"In all those very different contexts," Duckworth said in a TED Talk, "one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success and it wasn’t social intelligence, it wasn’t good looks, physical health and it wasn’t IQ.
"It was grit."
Coal Mountain Magic is made of grit, of that intangible quality within a person to stick with long-term goals, to bounce back from disappointments, to focus on the task at hand with the end result as motivation.
So if there is any question about whether North can make an unprecedented run to the Team Dual finals, the answer won’t be found in the Raiders’ impressive team or individual records or appearance or wrestling acumen.
The Raiders have grit. That is enough.
Though, a little Coal Mountain Magic wouldn’t hurt either.
Brian Paglia is sports editor of the Forsyth County News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 770-205-8982 or on Twitter at @BrianPaglia.