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STATE OF THE PROGRAM: West Forsyth
Wolverines more confident than ever after historic season
FCN SOTP WEST 1 071716 web
West Forsyth had nine teams make the state playoffs and five others be represented by individual athletes at state championship, which produced three individual state titles. - photo by File photo

Editor's note: A summer series looking back at the athletic year that was for each Forsyth County high school with the county's athletic directors.

To read about Forsyth Central, click here.

To read about Lambert, click here.

To read about North Forsyth, click here.

To read about Pinecrest Academy, click here.

To read about South Forsyth, click here.

Brett Phipps’ twin sons, Jake and Will, are incoming freshmen at West Forsyth, and so the Wolverines’ athletic director has been at the school this summer more than any since he was an assistant coach on the football team.

Phipps’ sons are giving him much of a choice. They’re ambitious kids who want to play three sports this school year, plus take Advanced Placements courses.

So this summer has been an initiation for them into the high school athlete’s life.

“They’ve had a rough summer,” Phipps said. “They’ve been getting to school at 7:30 a.m. and coming home about 1 p.m.”

Despite having a new personal stake in West’s athletic department, Phipps said his sons’ involvement hasn’t granted him any fresh perspective on the atmosphere or protocols of Wolverines sports – just re-assurance.

“It’s just confirmed what I’ve always thought about our coaches,” Phipps said. “I’ve always felt like we have some of the strongest coaches at any high school in the whole country. I really feel that way.”

Phipps’ feelings were validated this past season. West had nine teams make the state playoffs, led by girls soccer reaching the Class 6A state championship and girls basketball reaching the state semifinals. Five other sports were represented in state championships by individuals, which produced state titles by gymnast Sienna Schreiber, pole vaulter Koby Cormier and wrestler Denver Stonecheck.

All of which made for what Phipps considers the best athletic year in school history.

“I think that’s an easy statement to defend,” Phipps said.

FCN: Girls basketball really captured the county’s attention on their state playoff run. What was it like at West?

Phipps: I think the last time I felt it like that was when the football team went to the quarterfinals in 2011 against Grayson.

The thing I was most impressed with from the team’s perspective and the coaches was how calm they stayed. I remember in football everybody was super-excited, and rightfully so. We felt we were in unchartered waters. It was a similar feeling, but it was a little different with girls basketball. They’d been preparing all year. They had the state player of the year, though we didn’t know it at the time, but we thought it.

That was the thing that was different to me, was just calm and how business-like the kids and coaches were. There wasn’t a nervousness about it. Even when we played McEachern in the state semifinals. We expected to win.

FCN: And how did things feel around the school during the girls soccer team’s state playoff run? That one seemed to be a bit more surprising than girls basketball only because the season before they were just 7-9-1 and missed the playoffs.

Phipps: I was real proud of Coach Jason Bayush and the rest of the coaches.

But when we started feeling something was different, at least from my perspective, was when we got on the back half of the region schedule. We got through the first half and everybody kind of looked at each other and went, ‘Wow.’ So coming into the second half of the region schedule we were thinking, ‘We might be able to do something special here,’ and it just kept rolling.

But a lot of the same kids were a part of the girls basketball team. A lot of that bled over, a lot of the attitude, to the point where I never felt them nervous or tight until we got to Macon for the state championship.

But the school itself, the kids rallied. We talked with some of the Lassiter people, and they probably didn’t have a quarter of our crowd. The place was packed with West kids from start to finish.

And a lot of those girls were a big part of the Gulo Gang in the fall for football. I noticed how many football players and head coach Adam Clack and all the coaches came. I think it was their way of re-paying them a little bit. It was really nice.

FCN: What else stood out to you about the athletic season at West?

Phipps: We just finished our ninth academic year, and in those nine years we had four state individual champions. Tyler Everton was a two-time wrestling state champion, so really we had three individuals. We had three individual state champions this school year. Then if you line it up with what our teams did, I think you can easily say it was our best athletic year in the history of our school. I think that’s an easy statement to defend. When you look at what Koby Cormier did in track, and Sienna Schreiber in gymnastics and Denver Stonecheck in wrestling, it was a really fun second semester athletically.

Even teams that might not have been state champions still had some of their best seasons they’ve had. I think about boys lacrosse, four straight years getting fifth in the area, one spot out of the state playoffs. Coach John Laden has worked so hard to build that program, and it’s going in the right direction.

I just look back on the whole year, girls soccer pushed us right up until the end of the school year, so you didn’t have a lot of time to reflect. Just about every program across the board stepped up and had a better year than they did last.

The thing is we’ve got that whole girl soccer team coming back. The whole baseball team is back that made the playoffs. You start thinking about this coming year and it should be pretty fun to watch again.

FCN: This was the third season with your ‘Sweat Gold, Bleed Blue’ athletic motto. How did that become so successful for your student body?

Phipps: It just took off. I would have never dreamed it would be as popular with the community and the kids, but everybody has really latched on to it. It’s become a part of who we are at this point.

We’re one of the few schools who have something like that. It kind of makes us a little different. The kids really do like it, and the cheerleaders seem to make more and more cheers with the motto.

It’s been a way to get around the whole athletic department, not just the football team or baseball team or whichever. It’s been a way for all of us to show support to each other.

FCN: So if this was the best athletic year in school history, then how do you feel about the chances of following that up with a season as good or better?

Phipps: I’ve spent more time at the school this summer than I have since I coached – I haven’t coached football for about four years now – what I feel is we’re going into Class 7A, and we no longer feel we’re just another school. We feel like we can compete with some of the best in the state of Georgia. We proved that this past school year. We’ve proved it at times in the past, but this year we proved it across the board. Didn’t matter if it was Lassiter or McEachern. We went out there and played them and played them tough.

I do feel something different this summer. I feel like there’s a different attitude maybe. We no longer want to just be competitive. There’s an expectation to win.

When I look at our football schedule, we didn’t back away from anybody. We went after some of the better teams in the state. We’re going to go play them.

I’ll give Jason Bayush credit. When he took over the girls soccer program, that’s one of the things he did. He just found the top 10 teams in the state every year and scheduled them. They took their lumps the first few years, but that has paid off. The players who are juniors and seniors were freshmen and sophomores when we first started doing that, and now they don’t think anything of it. I think that paid off big this past season.

I’m hopeful. It’s just a different attitude. We’re going to go compete. It’s going to be fun to watch.

FCN: Has having two of your own kids participating in West athletics this summer given you a different perspective on the athletic program?

Phipps: If anything, what it’s done for me is confirm what I felt like I knew, which was we have some really quality freshmen coaches, and some really quality coaches in general. We treat our kids with dignity. We treat them not as kids but young adults, and we give them responsibility and expect them to come through. It’s different than middle school, and I think any of the freshmen athletes in any sport will tell you there’s a little bit of a culture shock because it’s a bigger venue.

But nothing dramatic. It’s just confirmed what I’ve always thought about our coaches. I’ve always felt like we have some of the strongest coaches at any high school in the whole country. I really feel that way. They’re good people who work hard, are knowledgeable about their sport and in the offseason do everything they can to be better at what they do.

I always thought that’s the way we dealt with kids, but now that mine are actually down there with them, yep, that’s exactly how they treat them.

FCN: So what are some new things in store for West athletics and some other issues you’re keeping an eye on?

Phipps: For this next year, we’ve got two initiatives in the athletic department.

The first is the Hall of Fame. We’re going to launch that on the September 26 football game, and it’s a new Hall of Fame where we’re going to start inducting former athletes. Ben Emert and Tyler Everton are going to be a part of our first induction class. I think everybody’s excited about that, and it’s going to be fun.

The other thing we’re working on is a foundation where we can start connecting with alumni. In conjunction with our 10th anniversary, we’re going to start a foundation so that we can start hopefully getting contributions from both businesses and individuals so we can start talking about building some things in the athletic department we feel we need, whether it be a new weight room or locker room.

And with the growth in the county. I was talking with our assistant principal this morning and he said there were eight kids coming in to register. They’re coming in the door right and left every day. The numbers are getting bigger and bigger and bigger. Track and field head coach Clayton Tillery had 150 kids out this past season, and he probably has the largest cross country program in the state.

How we manage that, and have enough coaches to give adequate coaching and attention, that’s an issue. That’s something we talk about, how we’re going to handle that. We want to provide opportunities for kids. That’s always a challenge.