After South Forsyth’s signing day ceremony officially ended around noon on Nov. 11, many parents and coaches anxiously waited for the kids to leave the auditorium and gather around the elaborate tables set up in the hallway for the post-ceremony party. The truth was, the athletes were too busy lining up in both aisles of the auditorium, trying to squeeze into photos on the stage.
The energy from a fall season to remember had not yet dispersed. War Eagle pride was at an all-time high. Volleyball coach Kelly Wren offered a brief speech about her senior signee Courtney Darling, who had a patented post-kill, stare-down strut no South player can match. Ronnie Davis, the head coach of the softball team, showcased public speaking skill when outlining the exploits of middle-of-the-lineup offensive machine, Sophia Tapia. Savannah Carnahan, fresh off a second-place individual finish at the state championships, quietly took the stage, but everyone in the room buzzed as if they were cheering on one of the best runners in the country—which they were.
There was one final act—playoff football—that came to a close Friday night when South’s football team’s historic and undoubtedly magical season came to a heartbreaking end to the tune of a fourth-quarter collapse. It’s still not too late to wander over to War Eagle Stadium to see the temporary bleachers that wrap around the track to the endzones, required to reach the capacity of arguably the biggest football game ever played in Forsyth County, and be thrown off by the quiet in the air.
South had a fall to remember—for everyone involved. As a journalist, my job from August to now has been to show up to games, act like a fly on the wall, record stats, talk to coaches, maybe a few players, and turn around stories like clockwork. However, very often over the past few months I couldn’t shake adrenaline—I just had to pretend like it wasn’t firing when Davis Shanley shook six defenders, or when Shealyn McNamara spiked a ball so hard you felt the thump in your chest, or when the Lady War Eagles softball team managed another late miracle.
Overall, South’s football, softball and volleyball teams combined for a 74-15 record this season. Even more impressively, they were 36-3 against region (or area) teams and 11-2 against the county. You have to dish out credit where it’s due: on Sept. 22, Lambert softball beat the Lady War Eagles at home, 4-1; on Oct. 16, West Forsyth won a thriller, 38-34, in football in a game that, for a short amount of time, had the Wolverines in the region’s driver’s seat; after losing to South in the region meet, Lambert’s cheerleading team beat South by a single point to claim state.
Other than those three instances, no county foe got in the way of the War Eagle nation for the entirety of autumn. Cheerleading, volleyball and girls cross country finished as state runner-up, while softball and football made cases to be considered among the state’s elite teams in Class AAAAAA with strong, deep postseason runs.
Perhaps no season was more magical than football’s. Jeff Arnette is now four months removed from candidly telling the FCN, during our collection of interviews for the preseason football tab, that he was cautiously approaching the season after having to replace 14 starters. We quickly learned he’s just really good at coach speak—he had the most special team South had ever had, since beginning play in 1989, and with each win, more and more seniors were willing to admit with recorders on that they knew their group had a destiny all along.
Forsyth County football teams aren’t supposed to take nationally-recognized head coach Rush Propst and his Colquitt County Packers to the fourth quarter of a state quarterfinal game, but that’s what Arnette and his boys did.
No volleyball team is supposed to even hint at running with Walton, but in the state championship match at Marietta on Halloween, the War Eagles left the floor having experienced moments when they were able to bite back against the Lady Raiders.
And the softball team, which had unexpected roster turnover of its own heading into the season, wasn’t supposed to be able to match its caliber from the previous season when it was eliminated early in the state playoffs, but instead it advanced to Columbus for the state championship tournament.
Athletic director Keith Gravitt has been in just as much awe as anyone. Instead of insinuating he has some type of magical formula, he was more taken back by the happenstance of the fall season that was.
“I am just blessed to work with all of these people during a very special time,” Gravitt, also the head coach of the girls basketball team—off to a 3-1 start with Maryland commit Sarah Myers leading the charge—said. “They have all invested and sacrificed so much to reach their goals for their programs. It is just very humbling.”
Now our focus shifts to the winter, with wrestling, swimming and basketball heating up for the Holidays. Once the second semester rolls around, the county’s elite will begin to rise to the top.
The question is, is there a school out there willing to do this winter what South did over the past few months?