South Forsyth Year in Review
Region titles: 2 (Cheerleading, girls cross country)
Team state titles: 0
Individual state titles: 1 (Madelynne Cadeau, cross country)
Director’s Cup finish: 5th in Class 7A (3rd in girls; 9th in boys)
Best boys state finish: 5th, boys cross country
Best girls state finish: 2nd, girls cross country; 2nd cheerleading
Keith Gravitt in entering his 25th year at South Forsyth High School, but this offseason was unique.
The spring sports season ended prematurely in 2020, which produced a five-month summer break from athletics around the country. Gravitt saw that time as a rare opportunity to take stock of his two-and-a-half-decade career at the school, while keeping his eyes locked toward the future.
"I've had a lot of time — I think we all have — to reflect on things like that. For me, South Forsyth and our community has given so much to me. That's honestly how I look at it," Gravitt said. "No matter what I do, I'll never be able to reach the amount of satisfaction I receive from doing what I do because of everything that has been done for me through our schools, our athletics and my home. That's the bottom line: my home in Cumming, Georgia, and Forsyth County."
South started the 2019-20 school year with an individual state championship in cross country, courtesy of Furman enrollee Madelynne Cadeau.
Also in the fall, the War Eagles' football team reached the playoffs for the sixth straight season, the longest streak in Forsyth County history (West Forsyth's current streak from 2015-2019 is the second-longest streak).
South made history in the fall, too, hosting — and winning — its first home playoff game in school history by beating Parkview 62-53.
South had a pair of state championship contenders in the spring, with boys tennis and boys soccer poised to make deep runs in the playoffs.
FCN: South Forsyth seemed to be competitive in every single sport this season. Did anything in particular stick out to you?
Gravitt: "Well, first you have to start in the fall and look at a couple of things. First, we had a change in coaches, with our volleyball program. Coach Legall-Riddle did a great job and got her team to the state playoffs again, and I'm not so sure people expected that. I was so happy for the kids and for her, and just for the staff and the school there."
"Our football team sticks out to me, because I believe that was a record they set with the most consecutive years making the state playoffs in our county's history, I believe, if I remember reading one story correctly."
"Then our boys basketball team in the winter, making that run to the Sweet 16. They gave McEachern every bit of fight that McEachern wanted. Those are just a few quick things, and I can't go much further without also mentioning our cross country team. I mean, we were right there with our cross country team and had a chance to potentially catch another state championship. We were right there with our girls cross country, and our boys were right there."
"As we started into the spring, I was seeing the same thing from our boys soccer team — I think it went to PK's against Lambert. I happened to be at that game; it was a late night. Our boys tennis team and girls tennis team both, and our boys golf team. We had a lot of wet weather, so a lot of things did not get to get played that were there. So, our girls lacrosse team that had been struggling the past few seasons. They were off to a great start as well."
FCN: Speaking of cross country, how have you seen Madelynne Cadeau grow both in cross country and track, and how would you assess Christine Shaw's first season at the helm?
Gravitt: "Madelynne is just an incredibly focused young lady. I got the opportunity to talk to her dad in particular, I remember. They were on the track training away from season one time. She's just a very focused young lady — academically incredible. I would have to venture to say she's one of our most decorated cross country runners ever. I look forward to seeing how she progresses in college."
"Coach Shaw, she has such an even keel about her. She's got a very veteran coaching staff. We're thankful that Coach [Nick] Wansley and Coach Van Munn have continued to be a part; they love the kids. In all reality, our last three head coaches are all on that staff, it's just that they've had family situations come up. Coach Shaw, she just keeps the rudder calm for that program, and keeps them focused on what's ahead for them. She realizes that she has very dedicated runners, so she just does an awesome job."
FCN: There's plenty to look forward to in the fall for South Forsyth. The softball team reached the second round of the playoffs last year and lost just one senior. How do you feel about the strength of that program and its chances to get to Columbus this year?
Gravitt: "You have to be excited about them, with just one senior. Isabel (Hui)'s a great piece to that team. I'm sure you know she has a sister on the team as well. Makenna [Segal] has just been so impressive all four years. The start of last year, she actually missed some games with a knee injury and slowly got back into the season and was very important to the team's progress and success, but they're a team. I think that's the thing you have to realize. Many of these young players have been playing together several years, either maybe on seventh-grade feeder teams or on travel teams and so forth."
FCN: I remember seeing where Isabel had a story published in The New York Times back in the fall. I thought that was pretty cool.
Gravitt: "That was cool. I thought that was neat, too. As a matter of fact, I cut out that piece of the newspaper — there was a small article there. It's the type of kids we have at our school, though: not just athletes, but our students as a whole. She's just one example. She's a very high achiever not just on the softball field, but in the classroom, too."
FCN: The girls basketball team that you coach had a couple of players (Ashley Breindl, Wingate; Ryane Williams, Birmingham Southern) sign to play in college. How special is that moment when it's a player from one of your own teams?
Gravitt: "It's always special. For me, what's special about it is when you know that's what they've worked for and wanted. I've known Ashley Breindl a long time. Her brother was a student on the football team at our school, so I knew her before she even got there that she loved, loved, loved basketball, and she worked very hard. Then you take Ryane, who was a little bit later in the signing process, on the other end of the spring when school got shut down. She was adamant about finding the right school for her, and I think that's what happened. That's what makes me happy in that process, that they know they found the right school for them."
"I never feel like it has anything to do with Coach Gravitt. They become basketball players outside of the season, and we try to create a good basketball team once we get together and the time we get to spend together — this year being a little different — in the offseason. I'm just so happy that they get to continue doing something that they love."
FCN: That's two out of five seniors you had on this past year's team, so you've got your work cut out for you, although you have some pretty talented sophomores coming back who played a lot as freshmen.
Gravitt: "I went to watch them play at Suwanee Sports Academy last week. I was just amazed at how well they played together with the other young ladies on their team, because the realistic fact is that they've probably missed about 30 basketball games at a minimum between the spring and the summer. We're very excited — Clara Morris, Maggie Thompson, Ava McGlockton, obviously, Devin's sister. By the end of her season and career, people may be saying Ava's brother about Devin. We see tons of potential with her. Then Sharon Tolliver, I think she may have been our second-leading scorer this season for the team."
FCN: On the flip side, head coach Scott Givens and the boys basketball team hosted and won their first home playoff games when they beat Parkview. Were you there for that, and what was that environment like?
Gravitt: "I didn't get to see the whole game, because unfortunately, just with the schedule and the way it all worked out, we were at Brookwood. But I rushed back. We didn't take a bus that night; everybody drove back, the players included, to watch the boys game. We got there about halftime. It was an incredibly great atmosphere, to have a boys state playoff game at home. To my recollection, it is the first home playoff game. The only other time I remember us having an opportunity was before we had four teams. We were region champions in 1997-98 and only the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds made it to the playoffs at that time. You started the Sweet 16 at a neutral site, so it is the first time we've had a home boys state playoff game."
"It was awesome. Great atmosphere. Our kids just battled the whole game. They've got an incredible group coming back next year, too, even though they lost a couple of seniors. They've got a great group of kids coming back."
FCN: Moving ahead to spring, Patrick Kelly was our boys soccer player of the year and I remember him saying that he felt they had enough to make a really deep run in the playoffs. How disappointing was it to see some of those spring teams like boys soccer that had such high expectations have their season cut short?
Gravitt: "It was disappointing. We would have our weekly — I called them 'COVID shutdown meetings' with our head coaches for the spring. We had the hopes of getting things started or just getting started with our region opponents. And as you said, you had a team like our boys soccer team, but we also had another team that for two years had been right there — won it two years ago — our boys tennis team. I think they had a real opportunity to make a run and win another state championship."
"And the chance for our girls lacrosse team; I think they had a great chance of making the state playoffs for the first time in a number of years. It was very disappointing, because there's nothing more rewarding — going back to like I said, these kids work hard and make a lot of sacrifices. Athletics are a focal point of our community. It starts at Sharon Springs and moves up through the middle schools with their sports. Our communities connect at our recreational parks in our county. Our county does an incredible job, and I think it's one of the main reasons I think we see our population grow, with recreation and recreation sports and competitive sports. Our community connects there.
"That was just another piece of the letdown that I shared with our coaches in those meetings, about losing that. It's one of the things I'm concerned about coming back to school, with a lot of virtual students coming, is that connectedness and that school spirit. We worked on it hard at South Forsyth last year, and I saw it at every event. Our students, our community responded to the work we put into it. It's going to require more work, because when you have students that are virtually online, to keep them connected, to be at football games, and to come support our volleyball team and our wrestlers. Some of the sports that may not get as much attention from spectators, we saw some numbers increase in that last year."
FCN: You've been the athletic director at South Forsyth for a long time now. You were born and raised here and have seen the county grow. What has it been like for you to give back to the county in this way?
Gravitt: "This is my 25th year at South Forsyth High School being an educator. This time away has given me the opportunity to reflect on how much more I need to do because of everything that's been given to me. I don't mean I've been given a bunch of handouts. When parents cook you a meal because it's been a late night, or when they bring you breakfast because we have 5 a.m. practices in the mornings, or when they drive to a camp or games and take your players home for you, or invest as booster members in their school — not just in their programs, but in your school, it's coming from the community. Having businesses call you up and want to support, that's what I'm talking about and the kind of giving I see, because if you give to South Forsyth, to me you're giving to Keith Gravitt."
"It's been a very reflective time away. It's part of why I'm so excited to start this year, and have high hopes that we get to start playing soon. I just want to do more. I want to be able to do more. As my family grows and my girls grow up, they love being War Eagles, too. That's exciting. That's what I look forward to continuing at South Forsyth this year."