So chaotic was the fall athletic season at South Forsyth that athletic director Keith Gravitt didn’t recover from the War Eagles’ until summer arrived.
Football, in particular, tested the South athletic department’s capability with three straight home games in the state playoffs, highlighted by the memorable state quarterfinal game against Colquitt County in front of what felt like the largest crowd for a high school football game in county history.
“Most stressful week,” Gravitt said.
The last time South’s football team reached the state quarterfinals, it was a decidedly easier operation. The War Eagles were on the road, four hours south in Fitzgerald. It was December, so the cheerleading, cross country and softball seasons were long completed. The school didn’t even have a volleyball team.
South got no such breaks this past season. Competition cheer and volleyball reached the state finals, and cross country finished second at the state championship meet. Softball advanced to Columbus for the GHSA Softball Championships.
It made for a thrilling fall, which has become the War Eagles’ time to shine in recent years. South won five out of a possible six region titles in fall sports, then followed it with memorable state playoff appearances for boys basketball and girls soccer and individual accomplishments from swimming, track and field and wrestling.
FCN: Of everything that happened during the fall, what still stands out to you?
“I was excited about everything. We had high expectations. As coaches we never put limits on the kids, but at the same time to get to experience the student body and the community – I say football, but softball was great, cross country was amazing and cheerleading, and volleyball was just over the top – but the way the community came together, following it on Twitter and seeing the interaction that was created by the excitement for the kids was just incredible.”
FCN: What was the week leading up to the Colquitt County game like?
Gravitt: “Most stressful week, and I didn’t recover until school was out. It seemed like it.
“We’d never done it before. We hosted football state playoffs games three weeks in a row.
“Not just that, but every one of our programs were moving on in the state playoffs. I would like to think I can be everything, but I can’t. You hope at Thanksgiving break that you’re going to get to catch up. Because we were expecting such a big crowd that did show up, Principal Laura Wilson, Forsyth County Schools facility and maintenance just responded to help us with that. But we didn’t know how much work it was going to be to get ready for that.
“It was a new management experience for the school, but so fun.”
FCN: Now the football team is getting some more attention for some of their summer accomplishments in 7-on-7 tournaments. Of course they’ll open the season in the Corky Kell Classic, the first team from Forsyth County to ever participate in that event. How do you hope these things are benefitting your school and athletic program?
Gravitt: “It gives the community, most importantly it gives the student athletes in those programs more pride and makes them realize the level to which now the bar has been raised. I think that’s why you get invited to those type of things.
“I also firmly believe that kids respond; when you challenge them, they respond. They want to be challenged. They want to raise their level and be held to a high standard on the athletic field, just like we do in the classroom. That has a lot to do with our school, our parents, our community and the coaching staffs and the administration.
“And you maintain that even when you’re not as competitive as you want to. If you accept less, they’ll give you less.”
FCN: What stood out to you during the winter?
Gravitt: “It was so great to see the boys basketball program get to the playoffs. I was so happy for Coach Scott Givens in his first year as head coach. I know he put a lot into it with those kids, and it’d been a little while since they’d been to the state playoffs.
“I couldn’t have been prouder of our girls basketball team. We probably had the best regular season any girls basketball team. If you looked at our whole schedule when the season was over, it was probably the toughest strength of schedule that any boys or girls team has ever played in our state. Lost some one-point games to two top 10 teams in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and at one time one of those teams was ranked in the top 25 in the nation. Same thing when we go to Charleston and played Elizabethton. And we played Harrison and Parkview in the first week of the season. Then you’ve got West Forsyth. It was just an exciting season.”
FCN: Sticking with your girls basketball team, you’re losing two seniors in Sarah Myers and KK Storms who made an indelible mark on the program. What do you think it’s going to be like for the girls following them in the next few years?
Gravitt: “I’d like to think it’ll be the same with girls cross country and Savannah Carnahan. We can talk about Sarah and KK, but I think there are a lot of athletes throughout our county who will leave those same type of legacies not only this year but next.
“Yeah, those kids are remembered, and coaches talk about kids like that. They set a new standard. They do leave a legacy. They raise the level of competition for your school. As a coach, you hope it makes the type of impact where you don’t have to ever expect less again because everybody saw what they put into what they accomplished. It didn’t come without a lot of hard work, dedication, sacrifice.”
FCN: South Forsyth, like North Forsyth, has all this construction that’s been going on for a while. What of those projects will you get to use this upcoming school year?
Gravitt: “We will have a new gym facility. That definitely impacts your athletes.
“For us it’s going to impact athletics in a couple of different ways. Basketball will move there and be their main home. We’re going to try to turn the focus of our current main gym to volleyball, although basketball will continue to be played there. Volleyball will have tournaments in the new competition gym – we’re still working on what it’s going to be called.
“At the same time, wrestling will move from the old auxiliary gym – although that will become their permanent practice facility – to the volleyball gym. When they host the Santa Slam it’ll be in our new competition gym.
“Then stadium-wise, there are going to be some changes to the entrances that we think is going to become a big student gathering place to get fired up before they enter the stadium. We’re excited about that.
“And there are big improvements to the back road to softball. Softball’s always kind of been hidden there. Hopefully we’ll fix that with some new signage.
“Getting to have something that’s overdue for our school, it’s almost like getting a new South Forsyth High School. We want it to touch every program a little bit this year.”
FCN: You have some new coaches – Josh Stephen with wrestling, Travis Pearre with girls lacrosse, Nick Wansley with cross country.
Gravitt: “We are super excited about all those coaches and the impact their going to have on our programs, most importantly on our school as not just coaches but teachers. They’re already responding during the summer time in the time and effort and resources they’re putting into their teams.”
FCN: What things are you looking out for on the horizon for South Forsyth athletics?
Gravitt: “Resdistrcting is going to come. Another new high school in the county that would be expected to open in the 2018-19 school year. That’s down the road that you’re thinking about a little bit. But you can’t let that dictate what you’re doing now. Hopefully learn from experiences in the past and make those transitions more seamless than in the past.”
FCN: Are there any other facility improvements due in the next few years?
Gravitt: “We’d like to spruce up our stadium. Going through the state playoffs and the situations that we dealt with, we had three games at our school in our stadium where the seating capacity wasn’t inadequate, but it was stretched. How can we make that better?
“Before that new high school opens, we’re going to be a school of 3,200-3,400 students possibly. We want to get those students there. That stadium’s not going to hold all them. And our community’s growing as well. They’re going to want to come watch us, we hope. What can we do to help with that?
“Whether it’s through additions or better management of our existing facilities, especially at the stadium area, because you’ve got football, lacrosse, soccer, track that touch that facility. The county is helping us with a lot of that. They’re helping us with the track re-surfacing; throughout the county, not just us.
“But all of those things I think make your school and your kids feel great about where they are, and they want to perform a little bit better. Maybe locker rooms, weight rooms. We’ve got our eye on doing something with all of those things.”
FCN: You had three teams get state runner-up trophies this season – cheerleading, girls cross country and volleyball. Great accomplishments, but I imagine it makes the itch for a state title trophy even greater.
Gravitt: “Look at our girls cross country team. You’ve got Kaylee DuPont coming back. She was fifth in the state. Our volleyball team I think graduated just one from the starting lineup. The success our football team’s been having this summer to make them confident about the season coming up. Our softball team has a girl committed to Purdue.
“There’s no doubt. You itch to make that last step.
“It’s interesting to me, not necessarily to South, but how good girls athletics is in our county. It truly is amazing to see how the level at which girl athletics in this county excels in all sports.”