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in the

game

HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS MAGAZINE

®

In This Issue:

South Georgia

11 Tift County Champs Tift County Basketball

April 2014

15

CONTENTS

11 21

Participate in US Olympic Development Program Lowndes High School

21 Academic Athlete Christopher Gravitt

29 31

26

Tiftarea High School

26 Division 1 Signees Quan Jamison

Jesse Freeman Lee County High School

29 Shooting Stars Lowndes County Archery 31 Player Spotlight

Alex Abbott

Tift County High School

35 Tennis Tradition Baconton Charter School 41 Coach’s Corner

Also Inside

My Last Baseball Game

09

Family Fitness: Five Activities Everyone Can Enjoy

19

Nutrition: How to Dine Out And Eat Healthy

25

Thang Lieu: Serving An Ace

39

Fellowship Of Christian Athletes The Influence Of A Parent

45

Irwin County High School

52

Fitzgerald High School

55

Josh Cole

Coffee High School

47 Reel Fun Dudley Stanaland

41

47

4

15 Soccer Vikettes

35

49

Lowndes High School

49 Rising Star Gabby Garner

Echols County Middle School

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in the

game

HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS MAGAZINE

®

South Georgia

April 2014

Publisher

Mark Dykes

Editor

Mark Dykes Kaitlynn Passmore

Graphics

Jennifer Alexander

Cover Photography Micki Krzynski Micki K Photography

Feature Photography Micki Krzynski Micki K Photography

Contributing Photography Milla Creationsz Julia McKenzie Angela Hooks

Feature Writer

Robert Preston, Jr. Geraldine Herring

Contributing Writer Cale Colby Tom Hilliard

Copy Editors

Crystal Hubbard Ashley Dailey

Advertising/Marketing

Mark Dykes mark@inthegamemagazine.com

Website Manager Kaitlynn Passmore

From The Publisher One thing that never gets old is writing about championships. In February, we recapped the involvement of athletes in In the Game’s coverage area that played in the 2014 BCS Championship game. This month, we get to cover another championship, this time the Tift County Blue Devils’ state basketball championship. There is no question that South Georgia schools are behind the eight ball when it comes to athletics. The Atlanta-area schools no doubt have an advantage over schools for the southern portion of the state. But that doesn’t mean we can’t compete. After last year’s loss to North Cobb, a lot of people wrote off the Blue Devils. To many people, the loss only confirmed what they had been saying for a long, long time: South Georgia schools just aren’t good enough to play for championships. Coach Eric Holland and his team refused to listen to the critics. They knew they had the talent and will to win a title. The negativity only inspired them more. Throughout the offseason and through the early part of the year, the Blue Devils never wavered from their goals - win region then win state. Very few thought they had what it took to win a championship. They were never favored in the playoffs. They were always doubted. Until they won the whole thing by shutting down Wheeler County, one of the best high school basketball teams in the country. It’s been a long time since a state basketball title came to South Georgia. If Coach Holland and the Tift program have it their way, this is the first of many more to come.

Contributors

Kaitlynn Passmore, Editor

Jennifer Alexander, Graphic Designer

In addition to our coverage of Tift’s state championship, we have our usual smattering of spring sports with a throwback or two to basketball season. Tiftarea’s Christopher Gravitt is our Academic Athlete for April. He has excelled in several different sports and is one of the most academically gifted students in his graduating class. Tift County’s Alex Abbott, a hard-hitting outfielder, occupies the Player Spotlight section this month. One of the best players in the state, he has committed to play baseball at the University of Florida. Maybe the most interesting feature this month is our Rising Star, Gabby Garner. She is the third Garner to be featured in In the Game. Her father, former Lowndes women’s basketball coach Shan Garner, and her uncle, Jared Garner, have both been featured in the Coach’s Corner in the past. When Shan Garner graced these pages, Gabby was just eight years old. Now she’s a nearly 14-yearold eighth-grader at Echols County Middle School, who is forging an excellent basketball and softball career in her own right. We also take a look at a pair of Lee County football players, Jesse Freeman and Quan Jamison, who will play football at the next level, and a trio of Lowndes High soccer players who earned spots on their respective Olympic Development Teams. Once again, I am excited about the student-athletes we have on the pages of the April edition. It never ceases to amaze me the quality of studentathletes we have in South Georgia. As always, it has been a pleasure bringing you another edition of In the Game High School Sports Magazine. I know you will enjoy it, as well.

For distribution or subscription information contact: info@inthegamemagazine.com For advertising information call: 888-715-4263 Dykes Publishing Group, Inc. P.O. Box 812 Valdosta, GA 31603

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In the Game High School Sports Magazine is published monthly excluding July. The contents of this publication may not be reproduced in part or in full without written consent from the publisher. Dykes Publishing Group, Inc. makes no representation or warranty of any kind for accuracy of content. All advertisements are assumed by the publisher to be correct. Copyright 2014 Dykes Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved. ISSN 1945-1458.

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My Last Baseball Game by Robert Preston, Jr.

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aseball season is here. Each year around this time, I reflect on the last baseball game I ever played. For most people, their last game came in their senior year or maybe even in college. Some lucky souls got the opportunity to receive a paycheck for playing. Me? Not so much. My baseball career ended when I was 14 years old and under the most ridiculous of circumstances. Growing up, I loved baseball. Like most kids, I had dreams of playing for as long as I possibly could. I played pitching machine then midget league. When I reached junior high school, I moved up to junior league. In Douglas, junior league was the last step before high school. It was the last year of recreation baseball; the next year I would move up to high school. By that time, I was already debating whether I would play baseball or golf at Coffee High. I come from a family of fairly accomplished golfers. Hanging in my father’s closet is a letter jacket he earned playing golf at Mercer University. I grew up playing golf, so it was natural that I would play that sport in high school. At the same time, I loved baseball. Choosing between the two would not be easy. This particular year, I played for National Guard. I remember it well, for on our game jerseys, “National Guard” was misspelled. We took the field as National Gaurd (the mistake wasn’t because of an error at the t-shirt shop; our coach didn’t know how to spell “guard” and turned in the graphic spelled incorrectly). Before the first pitch was thrown, our season was already off to an inauspicious start. If I remember correctly, this was our first game of the season. We were playing a team from a neighboring town in our county. Their pitcher was the ace of the league; four years later when the schools in Coffee County consolidated, he went on to be one of the best pitchers to come through Coffee High and actually played a few years in the minors. I was not happy to be facing him. We were playing at Unity Park in Douglas, the designated junior league field. Keep in mind that junior league was the first year we could play off

base. This would figure prominently in the tale I am about to tell. In my first at-bat, I managed to single right back up the middle. The ball went through the pitcher’s legs and out into centerfield for a single. I was completely surprised that I even made contact, much less reached base. I made my turn at first and trotted back to the bag. I was basking in the glory of my accomplishment when I took my lead off first. It wasn’t a big lead; I was slow back then and have only gotten slower over the years. There was no way I was stealing. As I took my lead, my first base coach started giving me instructions. You know, the usual stuff: freeze on a line drive, run on a ground ball, so on and so forth. I was looking at him, listening to what he said when I heard an odd sound. It sounded like a baseball striking leather. And it was close. Very, very close. I looked at the first baseman who was smiling ever so slightly as he held the ball in his glove. I was picked off and there was nothing I could do about it. I dropped my head and walked to the dugout (we were in the first base dugout). As I neared the bag, the first baseman tagged me on the center of my misspelled jersey. I stepped over the bag and sat down on the bench. The coach came over and apologized for the role he played in getting me picked off. I didn’t get another at-bat in that game. I was one and done. The following day, I was riding a skateboard at a friend’s house when I fell on a quarter pipe. I was wearing knee pads and hit my knees to slide out the fall. When I slid onto the concrete, my pads caught the cement and came down. The concrete bored a hole in my knee that required 18 stitches. I was cleared to play with two weeks left in the season, but I opted not to return to the team. I also opted to play neither baseball nor golf in high school. That pick-off was the last time I ever played baseball. I ended up having a fairly long softball career. I managed to do pretty well on the softball field because pitchers lobbed the ball underhanded, and I didn’t have to play much defense. And, of course, because you don’t play off base in slowpitch softball. ITG

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Tift County Blue Devils: A South Georgia Team Can Win A State Championship by Robert Preston, Jr.

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South Georgia team can’t win a state championship. The metro schools are just too deep and too well-funded. How many times has this been heard? It doesn’t matter the sport: football, baseball, basketball, soccer, swimming, tennis. You name it, that’s what people say. And unfortunately, for the most part, it’s been true. State titles are few and far between for schools below Macon. For a time, it seemed as though the South Georgia critics were right. Until this year. The 2013-14 Tift County Blue Devils boys basketball team proved naysayers wrong. After getting unceremoniously bounced from the playoffs in the Elite Eight by North Cobb (at Tift County no less), a lot of people bought into antiSouth Georgia bias. After all, the Blue Devils had three major college recruits on that team. If you can’t win with a Kansas commit, you can’t win at all, right?

Wrong. “After last year, we knew 2014 would be our year. The North Cobb loss gave us a sense of urgency. We had a lot of seniors coming back, and we knew we had to make changes and play the game the right way,” says Tift County Head Coach Eric Holland. The Blue Devils lost point guard LaDarius Stewart last season to a torn medial collateral ligament. When Stewart went down, Tift was more than a bit lost. “He was our general on the court. He and Tadric Jackson did some special things. When we lost him, we began playing individual basketball. North Cobb played like a team. Their teamwork defeated our individual style of play,” says Holland. The critics failed (or just didn’t want) to see what caused Tift to lose. “We saw people’s attitude about us change after last year. We heard what people said. We had a picture in the locker room of how last season ended. We looked at that every day. The kids bought into

photography by Milla Creationsz

what we wanted to do this year, and they kept going. But we were never favored to win in the playoffs. We were always the underdogs,” says Holland. Tift played one of the toughest schedules in the state. The Blue Devils hoped to close out December 2013 with a .500 record. When January rolled around, Tift was 11-1 and off to a much better start than the previous year. That gave them more than a little hope that this could be the year. “We had a talented team. We knew that. We wanted them to play hard every night. If we played a tough schedule, they would have to play their best each time they stepped on the court. We ended up doing better than we thought we would,” Holland says. The Blue Devils went into the region tournament as the top seed. They won region and then began the playoffs. In the postseason, they played three straight home games before traveling to the Final Four. “Once we got in the 11


Tift played one of the toughest schedules in the state. The Blue Devils hoped to close out December 2013 with a .500 record. When January rolled around, Tift was 11-1 and off to a much better start than the previous year. That gave them more than a little hope that this could be the year.

Final Four, we knew anything could happen,” says Holland. Tift defeated Norcross, 78-70, in the Final Four game, setting up a match-up with topranked Wheeler County for the state title. Last season, Tift wasn’t very good defensively. Holland took a few steps to shore up the Blue Devils defense during the offseason. Tift played excellent defense all year, but they were never stronger defensively than they were in the title game. The Blue Devils held the potent Wheeler offense to just 49 points en route to a convincing 63-49 win. The championship was important for the

entire Tift County community. But Holland is quick to point out that the title wasn’t the end but the beginning. “Our expectations never change. We want to win region then make a run at a state title. We don’t rebuild. We just remodel. The puzzle may be put together a little differently, but our standards won’t change. Our lower teams are doing very well, and we have some talented kids coming up through the program. We’re not building this program on one group of kids. I think we’ll have an opportunity to play for a state championship for many years to come,” says Holland. ITG


Lowndes High

Girls Soccer

Trio of Soccer Vikettes Participate in US Youth Soccer’s Olympic Development Program by Robert Preston, Jr.

I

In 2013, the Lowndes High Vikettes soccer team won the region championship and advanced to the Elite Eight of the state playoffs. As of the middle of March this year, the Vikettes were on the hunt for another region title. The secret to their success is really no secret at all: great coaching, experienced players who refuse to lose, and confidence that transcends any opponent or game situation. It doesn’t hurt that they have three players who are participating in US Youth Soccer’s prestigious Olympic Development Program

(ODP), either. ODP has as its ultimate goal to choose a pool of elite players who will participate in international competition. A secondary goal is to select the very best soccer players from each region of the country and expose them to the best coaches and competition in the United States. While in ODP, these players will see how the game is played at the next level. They will also learn valuable skills they can bring back to their high school and/or club teams. To have one player in ODP is something

photography by Micki K Photography

special. To have three in an area like South Georgia - that borders on unfair. The three young ladies in question - sophomore Elizabeth Lott and juniors Haylee Gordon and Emilie Tessier - are among the most talented players in the region. Through their involvement in ODP, they have only gotten better and are a big reason why Lowndes has been playing at such a high level. Though they are high school teammates, they play on different ODP teams. The teams are organized by age. Because she is younger, Lott plays in a different age group

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To have one player in ODP is something special. To have three in an area like South Georgia – well, that borders on unfair.

Haylee Gordon

Elizabeth Lott

than Gordon and Tessier. The epicenter of Georgia’s ODP is the Atlanta area. That’s where the girls tried out, and that’s where they go twice a month to practice. Earlier this year, they played subregionals on a frozen field in the metro area. Lott’s ODP 98 team earned a berth in the national tournament, which was held in Phoenix, Arizona. Her team came

back with a bronze medal. “I got to play out there. It was a great experience,” says Lott, who plays defender for her ODP team. While neither Gordon nor Tessier made it to nationals, their respective teams won games at sub-regionals. The girls describe the experience of playing against the best in the country as educational and beneficial but at the same time nerve-wracking and intense. In South Georgia high school soccer, players are on the field with varying degrees of experience. There are some very good players around here, but there are also players on some teams that don’t play club soccer or aren’t looking for a future in the game beyond high school. Not so in ODP - those girls are elite level players who play fast, hard, and strong. There is no opportunity to take it easy on a play or a possession. Everybody is good, and everyone wants to make it to the next level. “It’s a fast game, and it teaches you a lot about the game and about yourself,” says Gordon. “Then when we play out here, we can see more of the field, and we can read our opponents better.” All three young ladies would like to play soccer in college. Most likely, they will have their chances. And when they get there, they will know exactly what to expect. “Our ODP coaches are all college coaches. One or two have coached professionally in Europe. We get to see how players at the next level practice and prepare. This is a great opportunity, and it gives players a lot of exposure to college programs. It’s a great opportunity all the way around,” says Gordon. ITG

EmilieTessier 17


Five Activities Everyone Can Enjoy Healthy fitness habits start in the home.With many children across the country struggling with weight issues and an increased risk of childhood obesity, parents need to be focused on setting fitness examples for their children. Here are five great activities for families of any shape or size.

Fitness

Family Fitness

Go for a bike ride Kids of all ages can go for bike rides, even those that are still using training wheels. If you live close to public parks and local biking trails, take the family out for a casual ride that everyone can enjoy. Plus, biking is a lifelong activity that’s easy to do with people of different fitness levels.

Family hikes and walks Whether you’re walking around the neighborhood or going for a hike in the mountains, walking is more than just a form of exercise—it’s also a way to experience the world. Hiking may hold particular appeal to kids interested in plants, animals, or other aspects of nature, and the variety of settings for these hikes makes it tough for kids to get bored.

Take a trip to the beach The beach might seem like the prime setting to be lazy, but there are plenty of great activities to escalate heart rates and get the family moving. From swimming and surfing to flying kites and tossing a football, the beach is actually a diverse setting that encourages activity in many different forms. If you have kids of different ages and different interests, the beach is likely to satisfy everyone.

Park far away, and take the stairs Sure, it’s not necessarily an activity, and your kids might not think it’s much fun, either, but simple changes to your family’s habits can increase activity and fitness without much effort. When you go out as a family, whether it’s to the movie theater, a restaurant, the mall, or another fun getaway, incorporate some simple fitness habits by parking far away from the building instead of searching for close parking. Also, take the stairs when an elevator is available. When you can’t fit in time for full-on fitness activities, this is a good way to get everyone moving. by Jonathan C

Throw an outdoor party When the weather’s nice, consider throwing a party outside for your friends and the friends of your kids. You can set up fun outdoor activities like croquet and badminton, or you can simply toss some balls around and take advantage of the open air. Kids aren’t likely to sit still when they’re outdoors, anyway, so this is a simple alternative that doesn’t take too much work. Whatever your family decides to do, the important thing is exercising and enjoying an active lifestyle as a family. In the process, you’ll be teaching your children meaningful lessons and instilling them with healthy habits.

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amily exercise can serve as bonding time between parents and their children, and it helps establish health habits that can last a lifetime.

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Academic Athlete

Christopher Gravitt Tiftarea High school

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hristopher Gravitt firmly believes the time he spent with the Tift County Blue Devils made a tremendous difference when he made the switch to Tiftarea. He didn’t get a lot of playing time with Tift County - at 6’4” and 195 pounds, he was one of the smaller players on a team loaded with future college players. To do anything with the Blue Devils, he had to be fundamentally sound, play aggressively, and use whatever leverage he had to his advantage. When he moved to Tiftarea, he went from being one of the smallest on the court to one of the largest. And the skills he had developed to help him at the 6A level paid off big time in GISA. “Coach [Eric] Holland was a great coach, and he taught me a lot. When I used what he taught me at Tift County, I scored a lot of points and did really well,” says Gravitt.

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Tiftarea Center Could Finish Year At the Top of His Class by Robert Preston, Jr.

S

photography by Micki K Photography

ome students make a conscious decision to do well in the classroom. Others don’t have a choice at all - it’s do or die when it comes to academics. Tiftarea basketball player Christopher Gravitt falls into the latter category. He had no choice at all. He has been required to make excellent grades throughout his academic career. As the son of a teacher and a principal, there was no getting around it. He would, above all else, be an excellent student. It’s not that his parents were overbearing or unreasonable. Gravitt instinctively knew that no teacher or principal wants his/her child to be the one other teachers talked about in the workroom. He made up his mind at an early age that he wouldn’t be one of those students. “Yeah, I had no choice,” he laughs. “If I didn’t do well with my grades, it would have been bad. Really bad.” Fortunately for Gravitt and his parents, such was never the case. And now, at the end of his high school career, Gravitt will likely graduate at the top of his class en route to a career in the medical field. Along the way, he has made a name for himself as a basketball player and a member of Tiftarea’s shotgun team. This year he was named First Team All-Region in basketball and helped the Panthers win a region title, and he also made All-State on the shotgun team. Though Gravitt is top of his class, he will not be named Tiftarea’s valedictorian. Gravitt has only been at Tiftarea for three semesters, not long enough to qualify for valedictorian. He transferred to Tiftarea after basketball season last year. He only played one year with the Panthers and was a part of their first ever region championship in the 3A classification. Heading into the season, he had few expectations. “I really didn’t know what to expect. As it turned out, we won region,” he says. The Panthers went into the region tournament as a third seed. They upset Deer-

field Windsor in game one then stunned Southland Academy for the championship. In the title game, Gravitt scored 17 points and grabbed 15 rebounds. “After we won the first game, we all realized we could do it. We didn’t want to settle for just one win. We played a heck of a game. I had a lot of rebounds, and our guards did the scoring. It felt like it was meant to be.” During the fall athletic season, Gravitt had also been a member of Tiftarea’s shotgun team. The shotgun team shoots in three disciplines: skeet, sporting clays, and trap. Shotgunning requires good hand-eye coordination and intense focus. To do well, Gravitt says you must be patient, stay focused, and have a short memory. “If you miss, you can’t dwell on it. You have to focus on the next target. You also have to practice a great deal,” he says. Last year, when the shotgun season was in the spring (it moved to fall this year), he won state in trap shooting. This year, he had a perfect round in skeet and placed in the top five overall. Throughout all of his various activities, Gravitt has managed to keep his grades among the best in his class. Now, he actually takes few high school classes. Most of his academic work is done at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, where he is jointly enrolled. “When I graduate from high school, I’ll have 36 college credits,” he says. Gravitt has been accepted to the University of Georgia but doesn’t plan to attend classes in Athens. He would like to pursue a career as a nurse anesthetist, which he couldn’t do in Athens. Instead, he plans to use Valdosta State University as a springboard for his future in medicine. “I want a career in the medical field, but I’d rather not go to medical school. I don’t want to stay in school that long. Medical school just takes too long,” he say iTg

Christopher’s Favorites: Team: Kansas Jayhawks Player: Blake Griffin Subject in school: Math and history Pepsi or Coke: Coke Superpower: Super strength What would you do with $1 million? “Pay off family debt, donate some to charity, and use some for college.” Place to travel: Australia

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ou’ve worked hard to lose those pounds and get in shape by sticking to a healthy diet. It’s time to dine out with friends and celebrate the new you. However, will all those goodies on the menu tempt you to stray from your regular healthy diet? The good news is that dining out at a restaurant doesn’t have to sabotage your healthy diet. It’s all about eating right. With smart-eating strategies like planning ahead, considering the menu, and choosing foods and beverages carefully to stay on your nutrition plan, you can enjoy eating out without having to worry about putting those pounds back on.

Think ahead when choosing a restaurant. For information about the menu and nutrition, check online. Most restaurants today have websites with that information. Consider meal options at different restaurants and compare. This way, you can choose a restaurant that offers the types of foods with the caloric intake that best meets your current eating plan. Often a restaurant with a wide range of menu items will offer you the most choices.

Avoid the “all-you-can eat” temptation. Portions are extremely important when dining out, and the first rule is to avoid all-you-can-eat and buffet restaurants. It’s just too tempting to overeat when you know the price tag won’t be affected. In addition, many restaurants today serve large portions. Consider sharing a meal with a friend or eating an appetizer or side dish instead of a main entrée. If you do order a large entrée, set some aside to take home when it’s delivered to your table. Another great strategy is to resign from the clean your plate club. Once you’re full, leave the rest. You can always take the leftovers home in a doggy bag.

Nutrition

How to Dine Out and Eat Healthy

by Deborah V

When it comes to dessert, skip the New York cheesecake and doublechocolate fudge cake.

Knowing the cooking basics makes ordering easier when trying to eat healthy. Order foods that are grilled, baked, broiled, or steamed and avoid foods that are described as au gratin, rich, or fried. Buttered, battered, and breaded are definitely out. These words spell fat and high calories. As a beverage choice, choose unsweetened sodas, low-fat milk, or ask for water. Keep in mind that a glass of sweetened soda has over 100 calories and choose wisely.

Ordering a fruit instead will keep you in line with the goal of eating healthy when dining out. Better yet, skip dessert. Likely, you’re already full from the meal and don’t need it. With smart choices, dining out can be a healthy culinary adventure. Just be sure to make them.

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Lee County

Division 1 Signees

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Freeman and Jamison headed to Division I football programs by Robert Preston, Jr.

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eep down, most high school football players would love to have the opportunity to sign a scholarship with a Division I program. Few will ever get the chance. Lee County High’s Jesse Freeman and Quan Jamison are two of the fortunate ones, and they will have their opportunities to play at the highest level of college football. On National Signing Day, Freeman, a 6’4”, 300-pound right tackle, inked a scholarship with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, while Jamison, a 6’, 180-pound defensive back, signed with the University of Buffalo. Signing with Division I programs is a goal both young men have had for several years. On one hand, placing their names on national letters of intent was the end of a long, difficult journey for both football players. On the other hand, it was the beginning of an exciting new chapter in their lives. Freeman is the brute of the pair. He’s always been a lineman and an oversized one at that. Freeman played as sixth-grader and then decided not to play for the next two years - one of the most crucial time periods in the development of young football players. “I was in a different school system then, and I just didn’t want to play,” he recalls. As a freshman, he was at Lee County High, and football was fun again. As in his younger years, he was still one of the biggest players on the field. He knew he wanted to play for as long as possible. He just didn’t know how long that would be. Until he attended the MVP football camp the summer before his junior year. Freeman was named top offensive lineman at the prestigious camp and letters from colleges and universities began arriving almost daily. “That was a neat experience. I went to several other camps after that, and I got a lot of good exposure,” he says. Freeman had his pick of several very good football programs. He chose Louisiana-Lafayette over Middle Tennessee, UAB, and Georgia State, among others. “When I visited LouisianaLafayette, I knew that was where I wanted to go,” says the All-State selection. “I liked the coaches,

photography by Micki K Photography

and the campus had a great feel to it.” Jamison had a similar experience. Though he was just at Lee County for two years, he was a four-year starter at the varsity level. He started his career at Mitchell County, where he was primarily a linebacker. When he moved to Lee County, Jamison transitioned to defensive back. “I believe playing on varsity when I was so young helped me become a good player. I was going up against older players and holding my own. I’ve played all over the field, and I feel like I understand the game pretty well,” he says. Like Freeman, Jamison attended a number of important camps and showcases. A natural leader who flies around the field in search of opposing ball carriers, Jamison’s speed and physical style of play drew great praise from the coaches and scouts at the showcases. Some of the same schools that contacted Freeman also sent Jamison letters. For him, the decision was pretty easy. “Buffalo has a great atmosphere and tradition. It’s also a great academic school. I definitely plan to get my degree. It has an outstanding coaching staff, and it’s the kind of community I would love to get involved in,” he says. It didn’t hurt that the coaching staff let Jamison know that they weren’t interested in players who wanted to redshirt. “They want players who are ready to compete for a spot immediately,” he says. Both players are ready to get to their respective schools and begin contributing to their new teams. Jamison and Freeman would like to make contributions on the field this season. “I want to be a great practice player, but I also want to get on the field during games. I feel like I’ll have a chance to play as a freshman or sophomore, but it’s going to take a lot of work,” says Freeman. Jamison would like to focus on his academics first then let the football pieces fall where they may. “I would like to keep a high grade point average and get a feel for college. This is an opportunity for me to represent this school and program, and I can’t wait to do that. If I can accomplish that, all the other stuff will take care of itself.” ITG

Jesse Freeman

Quan Jamison

Jesse Freeman and Quan Jamison are great friends who respect each other tremendously. They faced each other daily in practice and have one-on-one experience battling each other in the trenches. “Quan really gets after it. He’s a leader in practice, and he’s very outspoken. He always gives 100 percent. I love his attitude,” says Freeman. Without hesitation, Jamison mentions Freeman’s mobility. “He’s quick off the ball, and he comes at you on every play. When something as big as Jesse can move as fast as he can, it’s scary. He’s a blessing for any quarterback. He understands the game, and he can get nasty really quickly.” 27


Lowndes County

4H Archery

Shooting Stars by Geraldine Herring

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or many people, notions about bows and arrows are limited to childhood games of “Cowboys and Indians,” Robin Hood and his Merry Men, or the chubby, winged cherub Cupid. One group of dedicated athletes and their coaches is proving that the sport of archery is much more. The Lowndes County 4H Archery Team is shooting for success across the state of Georgia. As part of the Georgia 4H S.A.F.E. Program (Shooting Awareness, Fun, and Education), local students participate in one of three divisions: Clover Leaf for fifth and sixth-graders; Junior for seventh and eighth-graders; and Senior for ninth through 12th graders. Forty boys and 10 girls representing the Lowndes County School System, the Valdosta City School System, and area private schools comprise the team, although several other team members are homeschooled. Jim Barker serves as head coach and is assisted by Don Faircloth, Jamie Ford, Jeremie Wallace, Jeremy Wilson, Jim O’Connor, Jimmy Guess, Mark Herren, and Chase Ford. In its eighth year, the Lowndes 4H Archery Program is enjoying increased interest, participation, and success, thanks in part to the efforts of Gary Crosby and Wallace, who are credited with starting it in 2006. Georgia 4H-sponsored archery competition encompasses much more than simply shooting a bow and arrow. The overall objectives of the sport are designed to involve young people in an activity that promotes character and personal growth, sportsmanship, and development of skill. Equally important are the goals of teaching a shooting sport in a safe, responsible manner and exposing students to an activity that can be enjoyed well into adulthood. Though no longer actively coaching, Crosby emphasized several other important aspects of the sport. “Archery is a sport that requires a lot of discipline. We push winning the right way as a team, not just winning at all costs as an individual. Having fun is the key,” he says. The Lowndes County 4H Archery Team has competed in a number of local tournaments,

and they have held scheduled practices to prepare for the State Indoor Archery Event. Held at the Georgia National Fairgrounds in Perry, Georgia, on February 22, 2014, this competition consisted of a 330 round with 30 arrows shot in 10 ends of three arrows at a distance of 18 meters for all divisions. The youngest group, the Clover Leafs, used a 60 centimeter spot target, while the Juniors and Seniors used a 40 centimeter single spot or three-spot target. Scoring for the event, known as Vegas Style, refers to the type of targets used and the points awarded for the full-face targets or the threespot targets. This year’s archers included 42 shooters who added seven new Top Five finishes. With a total of 529 4H members from around the state participating in the event, the Lowndes County Team faced quality competition. The Top Five winners were Lawton Lyons, fourth place in the Clover Leaf Compound Division; Daniel O’ Connor, second place in the Junior Compound Division; Dalton Faircloth, third place in the Junior Compound Division; Ben Bradford, third place in the Senior Compound Division; Sam Bennett, fourth place in the Senior Compound Division; Shawn Lucas, fifth place in the Senior Compound Division; and Ariel Leadbetter, fourth place in the Senior Recurve Division. After competing in the State Indoor Tournament, the Lowndes 4H Archery Team hosted an indoor tournament on March 22 at the Lowndes County Fairgrounds. As a fundraiser, it was open to the public and featured a Vegas-style indoor round, a speed shoot, a long distance shoot, and a discus competition. Each event was scored separately, with an individual winner in each category as well as a Top Shot winner from combined scores. Prizes were awarded, but perhaps more importantly, members of the community were provided a fun day of archery and friendly competition. Next up for the 4H Archery Team is the Outdoor Archery Competition at Rock Eagle 4H Center, north of Eatonton, Georgia. The May

3 event is considered the state championship and will include the FITA Target Round, the 3-D Archery Round, and the Field Archery Round. Even as they enjoy their recent wins, the Lowndes County 4H Archery Team is building on past successes. Its impressive statistics include 70 Top Five placements in state competition and 15 Top Five placements in national competition. While all of these honors and awards are important, the team also has another target - community service. They work with the Hungry at Home Program, a community-wide effort to provide extra food for area children, and they collect aluminum can tabs to benefit the Ronald McDonald House. Through their involvement in archery, students reap the benefits of being a part of a winning team and acquire many other valuable, lifelong skills, experiences, and friendships. These talented archers have hit the bullseye when it comes to representing Lowndes County. ITG

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Presented by:

Player

Spotlight With his build and athleticism, Alex Abbott would have made an excellent football player. In fact, he played football until middle school. Then he suffered a stress fracture in his back as an eighthgrader from playing football. The injury took a long time to heal and hindered his swing. Abbott began questioning his football career and ultimately decided the risk wasn’t worth the reward. “I felt like my future was in baseball, and it was time to stop playing football,” he says.

Alex Abbott Tift County High School

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Hard-Hitting Blue Devil Center Fielder Headed to University of Florida by Robert Preston, Jr.

“I

just love to play baseball. A lot of people say baseball is a slow game, and maybe it is in some ways. But the most unusual things can happen, and those things can change a game in an instant. Success doesn’t come easy. I played everything growing up. My whole family loves athletics. But baseball is what I loved the most,” says Tift County senior centerfielder Alex Abbott. Abbott, an athletic 6’1”, 195-pounder, is a hard-hitting outfielder with good speed and a great glove. He’s been patrolling the outfield for the Blue Devils for four years, and he has become one of the best players in the state. Abbott is passionate about baseball, and he has a keen understanding of the game. He knows baseball is a fickle game, one that rewards patience and simplicity. While it is easy to get caught up in the intricacies of the game, Abbott takes a different approach. He refuses to overthink things when he’s on the field, instead letting the game develop in front of him. He doesn’t waste opportunities and produces

photography by Micki K Photography

in-clutch situations. When the Blue Devils need a hit or a run - or both - he wants to be at the plate. Abbott doesn’t fear those situations - he thrives in them. And that gives him a huge advantage over his opponents. Last year, the Blue Devils advanced to the Elite Eight (They were one of three teams, along with Lowndes and Colquitt, from the region that went to the quarterfinals). The two previous years, Tift went to the Sweet Sixteen. And Abbott’s bat was a big reason why. This season, Abbott wants to build on the successes of the previous three. He would like to go farther in the playoffs and maybe, just maybe, add a second state title to the Tift trophy case this year (see In the Game’s special feature on the state champion Tift County basketball team in this edition for a recap of the Blue Devils’ first state title of 2013-14). “I just want to go out and enjoy my senior year. I want to play the game I love so much and hit as well as I possibly can,” he says. At the time of this writing, he had done that very thing. Tift County was a perfect 10-0, and Abbott was hitting .520 with three home runs and 25 RBI. It’s that kind of production that earned him a starting spot as a ninth-grader and has since attracted the attention of college scouts from all over. For several years, he knew he wanted to be a Florida Gator. He says he committed to Florida as a freshman and has never

wavered. Earlier this year, he signed with the Gators, getting a tough decision out of the way and allowing him to focus on his senior year with no distractions. “Florida is only two hours from home. It’s a great school and a great team. I feel like I can be successful in Gainesville, and I know the program will help me become a better player and a better person,” he says. For Abbott, his career at Tift County has been filled with big moments. He’s been named First Team All-Region for three straight years and has put together a fine career. As he reflects on three-plus years of baseball, no individual moment stands out. Instead, it’s a collection of games, moments, practices, and time with friends that he remembers. “I’ve enjoyed all the opportunities I’ve had. It’s been a lot of fun and a lot of great things have happened to me. It’s been awesome to start all four years. It’s all of it together - I’ve got some fond memories,” he says. ITG

Major League team: Texas Rangers Player: Josh Hamilton

Sport you wish you could play: Football

What would you do with $1 million? “Pay off my parents’ house and put the rest in the bank.” Best movie in the last year: We’re the Millers

Person to meet: Josh Hamilton

Place to travel: Hawaii

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Baconton Charter

Tennis

Serving Up a Winning Tradition in Baconton by Cale Colby

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eturning to the courts in the wake of a record-breaking effort in 2013, the Baconton Charter Blazers tennis program hopes to turn a single season’s success into a new legacy of greatness as the 2014 schedule unfolds. In a region restructured by the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) last year, the Blazers found themselves pitted against some new rivals. But within the uncertainty of new opponents and unforeseen challenges, the Blazers found new motivation to excel. By the end of the 2013 season, the Baconton girls stood as state champions in tennis, while the boys stretched their impressive season into the final four with a loss to the state champion Eagles from Marion County. With this success, a new precedent and higher expectations have been set. Still, the Blazers face a slew of obstacles as they attempt to build a winning tradition on the tennis court in the years to come. Boys Head Coach Sam Cornwell says the team graduated six of their seven starters last year. As a junior, the coach’s son Samuel Cornwell is the only returning starter for the Baconton boys. The boys have won some important matches this year against the likes of Lee and Mitchell Counties, but Coach Cornwell says, “It’s a completely different year on the boys’ side. They’re having a ball, and it’s ugly tennis, but it works. They get the ball back across the net… While the girls are still playing tennis, we’re knocking the ball around and having fun. So far, it has been successful.” In his fifth year as the Baconton tennis coach, Cornwell says this is the first time that his goal has been to just win the region championship. While he believes his team stands a good chance of claim-

photos submitted by Julia McKenzie

ing the 1B-A trophy, a number one berth in the post season would also hopefully propel the Blazers deeper into the state championship bracket. Meanwhile, the girls’ team also graduated three strong seniors in 2013, but with an impressive crop of freshman talent filling the gaps, maturity may be the biggest challenge for the team to rise above. The team will be leaning on returning starter Alissa McCook, while freshman Amelia Cornwell is also anxious to prove her prowess on the court. Girls’ coach Julia McKenzie says her girls are hungry to return to Atlanta and compete for a second state championship this year, but the outcome will be determined by their ability to “dig a little deeper.” Though the girls may not be bringing quite as much experience to the court, Coach McKenzie believes that having no seniors on the team may actually serve as a blessing in 2014. Though the girls are young, they are stacked with talent, and the coach is looking forward to years of success.

In terms of bringing home back-to-back championships, McKenzie says simply, “It’s going to be determined by if the girls want it bad enough.” While the girls obviously have the skills and ability to deliver on another championship season, Coach Cornwell believes their success will be determined by their mental toughness as the season wears on. “They know how to play tennis,” the coach says. “It’s just a matter of do they know enough to put the points together and win the sets. It’s there; they’ve got the raw material. It’s just a matter of being able to pull it all together at the right time.” If inexperience proves to be the Baconton Charter tennis teams’ greatest weakness this season, one thing is guaranteed: the Blazers will have many opportunities to gain confidence and mental toughness as they mature in the years to come. Expect the Blazers to become a perennial contender for state titles as the players grow. ITG

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Signees

College Pair of Valdosta Wildcats Commit to Further Their Educations

#30 Anthony Smith

#29 Demarcus Rhym

Linebacker Son of Clarence and Contina Smith

Defensive Back Son of Wanda Rhym and Jerry Daniels

Savannah State University

Middle Georgia State College

Pinkerton Signs to Run With the Wolves Lowndes High Principal Jay Floyd (pictured at far right) is proud to announce that senior track star Jackie Pinkerton, surrounded by family, friends, and coaches, signed with the University of West Georgia.

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Swainsboro High

Tennis

Serving an Ace by Tom Hilliard

H

igh School junior Thang Lieu is a competitive tennis player who is ready to play first singles for the Swainsboro Tigers this spring. He played first doubles last year, winning Region 2AA and advancing to the Sweet Sixteen with his partner. Lieu’s story is one of courage and inspiration as he competes at a high level even though he plays the fast pace sport of tennis with an artificial leg from the knee down. He recalls those early days, in the eighth grade, when he was trying to work through the cancer that was attacking his body. After ten weeks of chemo, the results showed that the cancer required amputation of his right leg. Lieu struggled mentally with the life-threatening effects of cancer as tumors were also found in his lungs that required surgical removal. Homebound and confined to a wheelchair Lieu feared the worst, but thankfully the cancer went into remission. Like most athletic boys, Lieu thought his physical disability would mean limiting some activities like playing in the band or getting back on the tennis court. However, this is not a story of defeat, but one of a second chance that would drive him out of the wheelchair and back into action full force. With the help and encouragement of friends and family, Lieu was fitted with a prostheses leg and a runner’s blade that enabled mobility and balance. After much trial and error and many slips and falls, Lieu found out that tennis could still be his game. Lieu said that he felt his faith lift him up during those early cancer days, giving him the courage to make his disability an inspiration not a handicap. Lieu’s cancer experience propels him into the spotlight each time he takes the court. What people see on the court and hear from his mouth is a young man with a big heart who feels blessed and grateful for a second chance.

photography by Angela Hooks

A second chance on the court also turned into a second chance in the classroom. Having been an uninterested student Lieu says, “I was determined to do better.” Lieu is now an “A” student, taking honors classes and dedicating time to his studies. He has found it rewarding to get better grades and to be regarded as a student-athlete that gives his best at everything. Coach Donna Godowns says Lieu’s story has been inspirational to everyone. “He is a compassionate young man who loves to help others on the tennis court and in the classroom. His willingness to give back and his desire to be known as someone who gives 100% plus effort has just made a huge impact. From not knowing if the cancer was going to take more than his leg,” says Godown, “to winning the Tennis Doubles Region Championship, Thang’s story has inspired us all.” Lieu played doubles as a sophomore which seems safer than having to cover the entire tennis court, but Lieu says he prefers singles. “I prefer singles because I truly enjoy challenging myself physically and mentally in the sport of tennis. I like showing other players and opponents that just because I have a physical disability does not mean that I cannot still fight as hard as any other athlete on the court.” Through it all, his mother, two brothers, and sister have supported Lieu through this encounter with cancer. Some two years later, he feels great but must continue to have quarterly x-rays taken to monitor his body. It is said that no one knows how much we can affect others with the way we live our daily lives. Thang Lieu’s heroic story is just more proof that our impact on others can be enormous. Cancer is big and bad, however, it is not the cards we are dealt, but how we play them that matters. ITG

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Coach’s Corner

Josh Cole Coffee High School

First-Year Coffee Coach Has Trojans in Middle of Playoff Hunt by Robert Preston, Jr.

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or the Coffee High junior and senior baseball players, the third time might be the charm. When the 2014 season opened, these young men were playing baseball under their third head coach in three years. They barely had time to get used to a new system when they found themselves learning another one. It’s hard to be successful with that kind of turnover, but Lady Luck is smiling on the Trojans this year. The Trojans, under new Head Coach Josh Cole, were less than 24 hours removed from sweeping Camden County to preserve an

undefeated region record as of press time. “Our guys are playing very well on both sides of the ball right now. They’re playing with confidence and doing things the right way,” says Cole. While Cole will always credit any success his teams enjoy to the players themselves, there is no question that his presence at Coffee High has done wonders for the Trojan baseball program. Cole came to Coffee from McEachearn High School, where he spent one year as an assistant. He had applied for the head coaching position up there. He was

photography by Micki K Photography

not offered the job, but McEachern officials were so impressed with him, they asked him to come aboard as head assistant. Cole went to McEachern from Tattnall County, where he was head baseball coach for four years. He and his wife Allison are from Henry County, and they thought they wanted to return to the metro area. “McEachern was an ideal job for a coach. It has a great tradition and great facilities,” he says. McEachern won the Region 4-6A title in 2013 and went into the playoffs ranked number one according to some polls. As great as last season was, the Coles 41


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found themselves longing for South Georgia. Cole had played baseball at Andrew College then went to Georgia Southern University in Statesboro. Injuries limited his college baseball career to just two years. At GSU, he coached at Southeast Bulloch as an assistant then went to Tattnall as head coach. Though he enjoyed an excellent year in 2013 at McEachern, the pull of South Georgia and the desire to be a head coach were too great. When the Coffee job came open, Cole leapt at the opportunity. “My wife and I love South Georgia. We loved Statesboro, and we saw some of the same characteristics in Douglas. We love the atmosphere in Coffee County. I had also kept up with the Coffee program over the years. There is a great baseball tradition at Coffee High. I felt confident I could bring my system to Douglas and make something happen,” he says. The scheme that Cole and his staff employ is nothing complicated. Baseball success starts with pitching, and that’s the point from which Cole builds his team. “We want to establish our pitching first and then put good defense behind our pitchers. We don’t have a single hitting technique that we teach. We develop hitters as individuals. We want them comfortable at the plate, and we try to maximize their swing,”

he says. With his pitchers, Cole wants them to keep the ball down in the zone and to use the entire plate. If he can get his pitchers to keep the ball low but in the strike zone, they will force contact and allow the defense to do its

work. “It’s hard for high school hitters to make good contact on strikes low in the zone. Great teams all have great pitching staffs. That’s what we’re trying to develop,” he says. To make things easier on his players, he and his staff made a conscious decision to keep everything simple this year. The Trojans have endured a great deal of turnover and instability over the last few years. Cole knew he had to implement his system, but he didn’t want to overload his players with more new terminology and strategy. “We didn’t want them to strain to meet any new objectives. We used a few key terms and skills but overall kept things very simple. The kids responded well. We push them hard in practice, and we ask a lot out of them. It’s a high-paced practice, very similar to football practice,” he says. Coach Cole wants the Trojans to play faster so he had them practice much faster than they were used to. Everything is quicker and more intense, and it appears to be working. “We struggled in non-region play early on. We were searching for depth in the first few weeks of the season. But now we’re 6-0 in region play and the only team with an undefeated region record. We’ve swept Lowndes, Brunswick, and Camden. The kids are pretty competitive right now,” he says. ITG

W

hen coach Josh Cole was in high school at Henry County, he played baseball and football. And now he coaches both sports, as well. At McEachern, he was an assistant football coach on a team that went 8-3 with an undefeated region record. The Indians lost in the first round to Colquitt County that year. At Coffee, he still coaches football, though he will be an assistant with the ninth gr ade team. “This is the first time I’m not on the varsity staff. But it’s a neat opportunity working with ninth gr aders. It gives me more time in the offseason to take care of baseball stuff,” he says. It also gives him more time with his wife, Allison, and two sons, John Parker, four, and Archie, almost two. “They are fantastic,” he states. “I couldn’t do what I do without them.”

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The Influence Of A Parent There was a time when the majority of student athletes in our communities were coached at home as well as at practice. There was a dad throwing, catching, rebounding, or giving helpful advice. I’m not discounting the impact of moms; my mother was the only parent I had to throw, catch, and gain helpful advice from. However, there is a definite deficiency when a parent figure is missing. My coaches became my surrogate father figures. So many of our male and female student athletes are finding positive role model/parent figures from their coaches these days, that it is almost as much incentive to play for the coach as it is to play for the fun of the sport. When I stepped into this ministry two years ago, I had a very positive attitude towards coaching and the impact that coaches had on me. So, it was a very natural progression to learn that if we encourage our coaches, we are encouraging the surrogate mother/father role models of thousands of student athletes in our area. Dr. Billy Graham is noted for saying, “One coach will impact more young people in a year than the average person does in a lifetime. So who’s coaching the coaches?” Our desire in the Southeast Fellowship of Christian Athletes is to coach the coaches. It’s the difference between addition and multiplication. If we strive to reach every student on a one-to-one basis, we’ll be trying to accomplish the nearly impossible. However, if we reach the coaches, who are influencing thousands, that’s ministry by multiplication. Please pray for us as we strive to minister to and encourage our coaches. Also, would you commit to add our coaches to your prayer list? They endure long hours, overbearing parents, undisciplined students, and fans that, at times, can be rude and unforgiving. After three decades as a local church pastor and evangelist, the only occupation that I know of that equals in pressure

and expectations from an entire community is that of coaching. Maybe, if we can see these men and women, who are spending hours and hours with our students, more as mentors and surrogate parents than as persons who should produce teams that win every game, we would better know how to pray for and support them. This month completes our area banquets for this school year. It also is the month after our biggest Coaches Appreciation Supper ever! Thanks to many of you in our area, we received funding at our Spring, Berrien, and Cook banquets to be able to minister another year. Part of those funds allows us to minister to our coaches by feeding them a first class steak dinner with all of the trimmings and an opportunity to hear from guest speakers. This year we were honored to have Jose and Michelle Alvarez (former pitcher for the Atlanta Braves and spouse) as our guest speakers/encouragers to our coaches and their spouses. Thank you for allowing us to minister to so many in our area with the love of Jesus Christ and the salvation that He offers from a life that is void without Him in it. In His Grip, Danny R. Broyles Area Director SEGA FCA SEGA FCA Office 229-245-1717

SEGA FCA

www.segafca.org

@SEGAFCA

www.segafca.org

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Reel Fun: Local Teen is Hooked on Fishing

by Geraldine Herring

photos courtesy of the Stanaland Family

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e’ve all heard the clichés about fishing: A bad day fishing is better than a good day at work. Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, but teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. If Dudley Stanaland, a junior at Lowndes High School, could rewrite the latter proverb, he would tell you that if you teach a man to fish, he might just set his sights on competing in tournaments for cash and prizes. That’s exactly what Stanaland plans to do as he pursues his passion for fishing. It all started with a young boy and his childhood friend who loved to fish in a small creek after school or on the warm, carefree days of summer. That innocent pastime became a full-time interest, and by the age of 11, Stanaland began to enter fishing tournaments. He participates in the Valdosta Junior Bass Masters, a group especially for anglers ages 11-18, the adult Valdosta Bassmasters group, Georgia Bass Nation, and various open tournaments. All of Stanaland’s fishing is strictly fresh water with artificial lures, and he only fishes for bass. All tournaments are catch and release, and his main catch is the large

mouth bass although the spotted and small mouth varieties are included. His biggest large mouth catch to date is 12 pounds, four ounces. Since joining Bass Masters six years ago, Stanaland has qualified every year to compete at the state tournament. He recently qualified for the Forrest L. Wood (FLW) State Championship and the Top 6 Tournament at Lake Lanier. Though his travels have taken him as far as Arkansas, where he competed in a national championship at the High School Fishing World Finals, he says his favorite place to fish is Lake Seminole, where he “feels at home” since many of his tournaments are held there.

Stanaland describes the sport of fishing in much the same way other athletes describe their sports, with the best part being its competitive nature. He loves that he always learns something new each time he fishes, and he constantly finds ways to improve. He also enjoys the friendly competition among his fellow Bass Masters and emphasizes that they all support each other and are proud of every success. He has also acquired a number of corporate sponsors who assist in providing quality rods, reels, line, baits, and GPS-style fish finders. Even some of his clothing, particularly his jerseys, represents various sponsors, Denali rods, Big Bite baits, Lowrance Electronics, Gamma Line, Reel Grips, and Blue Water LED lights among them. In addition to his favorite fishing gear, Stanaland is the proud owner of a 19-foot Triton with a 175-horsepower Mercury outboard engine. He also credits his parents, Matt and Karla Stanaland, as his biggest and best “sponsors.” Like many high school athletes who dream of one day competing at the professional level, Stanaland wants to join the ranks of the bigname anglers. He is especially inspired by pros like Brandon Palaniuk and Fletcher Shryock, who are often featured on the popular shows The Bass Master Elite Series on ESPN2, and Major League Fishing on the Outdoor Channel. He will continue to compete and refine his skills, and hopes to possibly snag a college scholarship, or better yet, a chance to someday join the pro circuit. With top payouts of $500,000, Dudley could “reel-ly” have a fantastic fishing career in his future. ITG

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Rising Star Presented by:

Gabby Garner also plays golf and softball at Echols. She says golf is more of a diversion, something to keep her busy during the spring. Softball, however, is a sport that she takes a little more seriously. She has played travel ball for several years but stopped recently so she could focus more on basketball. But she plans to keep playing softball throughout high school. “It doesn’t matter where I attend high school - I will play softball at either Echols or Lowndes,” she says.

Gabby Garner Echols County Middle School

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Third Time’s a Charm:

Garner Joins Dad and Uncle on Pages of ITG by Robert Preston, Jr.

G

abby Garner. When I looked over my contact sheet for my April assignments, that particular name didn’t ring any bells. I did notice that she played basketball, softball, and golf at Echols Middle. No surprise there, I thought. Echols Middle is a small school and everybody plays everything down there. I texted the number I was given and set up the interview. When we spoke, I asked Garner which sport of the three was her favorite. “Basketball,” she replied immediately. “My dad is a former coach, and I’ve been playing since I could walk.” Then it hit me. Garner. Daughter of a basketball coach. All I could do was laugh. In February 2009, when Gabby was just eight years old, I had interviewed her father, Shan Garner, for a Coach’s Corner spotlight. He was coaching the women’s basketball team at Lowndes High back then. A year later, I interviewed her uncle, Jared Garner, who at the time was coaching basketball in Lanier County. This would be a first for me - interviewing the third member of the same family for a feature. Gabby Garner and the rest of her family live in Dasher. She attends Echols Middle because her mother, Maria, teaches Spanish in Echols County. This is the first year both of them have been in the Echols system. Last season, the Echols Middle basketball team won just two games. This year, with Garner running the point, Echols went 13-3 and made the playoffs. They finished second in the regular season and third in the postseason tournament. “I don’t know if I made an 11 game difference,” she says, “but I’d like to think I helped at least a little.” She did more than help just a little. Garner is a true student of the game who has been learning basketball since she was born. She was learning the game when she didn’t even know it. “Gabby grew up watching me review film and seeing me scream at the television. She has

photography by Micki K Photography

been submerged in hoops her whole life,” says her father. The result is that Garner has a level of basketball knowledge that surpasses her athletic ability. And that gives her an advantage over bigger, stronger, and more talented players. However, don’t let the above statement mislead you - it’s not that Garner is a bad athlete. She is an above average basketball player who is working hard every day to get even better. At 5’3”, she just isn’t going to overpower very many players. She makes up for it by seeing the floor well and anticipating what will happen next. She knows how to read other players and she often puts herself in the right place at the right time on the court. Garner also possesses an intense will to win. She is a very unselfish player who will do whatever it takes to win a game. This season, she blocked six shots in one game. “That was unusual for her. But that’s what her team needed her to do that game in order to win so that’s what she did,” says Shan Garner. While not a prolific scorer, if that’s what she needs to do, she will do it. For example, early in the season against Berrien, she hit the free throws that put Echols up by two. The difference held, and Echols won the game. “She just plays basketball the right way and knows how to make a big impact on the game,” says her father. The next question for Gabby Garner is where she will attend high school. All told, she has attended eight schools in eight years; each of her three years in middle school have been spent at a different school. Will she remain at Echols next year or will she play basketball next year for Lowndes? “I’m not sure,” she says. “I love Echols County. It’s a small school and very much like a family. But Lowndes High is Lowndes High. There is a lot to do there. There is more to Lowndes than just basketball. I could do well at Echols, but I also love Lowndes.” ITg

Subject: Social Studies

Least favorite: Math Last book: Finale by Becca Fitzpatrick

Singer/musician: Jason Aldean and Taylor Swift

Movie: A League of Their Own

Team: North Carolina Tar Heels Pepsi or Coke? Coke Dogs or cats? Dogs. “I have a dog, a lab named Sadie.”

Superpower: Mind reading

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Ocilla, GA • www.irwincountyindians.com Irwin Tennis The 2013 Irwin County girls and boys varsity tennis teams finished second in state single A. The girls are returning everyone on the team and have added several talented ninth graders. The girls are expected to have a good season. Again they are young with only one senior, Sum-

mer Pridgen, but they are young and experienced this season. The boys graduated a lot of talent on their team, but they are fortunate to have other talent stepping up to fill the positions. The boys are young also with only one senior, Bryan Tucker. Head Coach Luke Roberts feels

the boys will have a good season, also. Coach Roberts says, “We have some very good eighth grade athletes that are really playing well. Assistant Coach Tuggle and I feel Irwin’s tennis teams are in good shape for the present and the future.” Irwin County High School

The 2014 Irwin Boys Tennis Team: Front- Landon Rowe, Bryan Tucker, Jeremy Espano, and Collin Vickers. Back – Coach John Tuggle, Kerick Boone, Ryne Sherrod, Tucker Rhodes, Tanner Spell, and Coach Luke Roberts.

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The 2014 Irwin Girls Tennis Team: Front – Maggie Martin, Jordyn Jankiewicz, Summer Pridgen (senior), Jayden Jankiewicz, and Peyton Posey. Back- Coach Luke Roberts, Rebecca Paulk, Madison Carlton, Alex Rhodes, Kaley Youghn, Abi Walker, and Coach John Tuggle.


Ocilla, GA • www.irwincountyindians.com Irwin Wrestling Takes Second Place In 1-A Area Freshman Nathan Tucker just missed medaling in the 195 lb class. Tucker finished the season with a 22-13 record. The greatest obstacle for freshmen in heavier weights is that they tend

to be up against upperclassmen with years of experience. Coach Pierce says, “There is no doubt Nathan will place much higher next year on the state mats.” Irwin County High School

Coach Ray Pierce’s Indians qualified four wrestlers to complete in the state tournament with the team finishing 13th place out of 38 Class-A Schools. Senior Evan Paulk finished fourth place in a very strong 145 lb weight class. His season record was 44-9. On a career note, Paulk broke the ICHS record with most career wins in school history with 162. His state placement this season makes him a two-time placer on the big stage. Coach Ray Pierce says, “I will remember Evan for being one of the most technical wrestlers that we have had. It is hard seeing athletes like him graduate; I remember Evan wrestling in middle school.” Junior Micah Powers took fifth place in the 220 lb class. Powers finished the season with a 40-10 record. Coach Pierce says, “It is quite an accomplishment for Micah to win 40 matches in only his third year of wrestling.” Freshman Morgan Mitchell finished fifth place in the 126 lb class. He is the first freshman in Irwin County to place at state as a freshman since Jason Jackson in 2005. Also, Mitchell is the first freshman in over a decade to win more than 40 matches. He finished the season with an impressive record of 41-13.

Irwin Irwin’s 1-A Area Runner-up Team: Blake Sumner (senior), Coach Ray Pierce, Evan Paulk (senior), Morgan Mitchel, Nathan Tucker, Zyon Ross, Kyle Jones, Daniel Yawn, and DJ Pollard. Back – Kerick Boone, Micah Powers, and Petro Goolsby.

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Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane Fitzgerald, GA • www.purplehurricane.com Three More Feet

by Viviana Pardo

Fitzgerald High School

During the summer of 2013, the Fitzgerald High School girls soccer team had the amazing opportunity to attend the most prestigious camp there is in the world for women soccer athletes: the North Carolina Girls Soccer Camp! Throughout the training that this camp offered, the knowledge acquired prepared the team with valuable skills to demonstrate on the field. We had the grand opportunity to be trained by the best coaches and athletes who not only emphasized soccer, but they also took the sport to a different level by teaching us that commitment, sacrifice, teamwork, and ambition are key terms that define a team. From the camp “Where Champions Are Trained,” we took with us priceless moral values and great experiences that we hope to display on the field. We began our season with a scrimmage against

Could This Be The Year? After a successful turnaround 10 win season in 2013, the Fitzgerald High School boys soccer team reached the second round of the state

Valdosta in which we lost 2-0, realizing that throughout our years playing soccer we have all improved our abilities. Even though we lost, we played a tough game, indicating that our team is capable of meeting its objectives. As we continue our season, we are all committed to showing aspiration, unity, and effort. We have an immense amount of support from parents, fans, and our coach. Our coach inspires us everyday by giving us motivational speeches that put our mind, body, and heart through a challenge. “Three more feet!” is one of Coach Dorsett’s favorite quotes, because all you have to do is push yourself a little harder than before.

by Logan Turnmire

playoffs after losing 1-5 against Toombs County. The loss left a bad taste in their mouths but also a hunger and urge to prepare and get better for the next upcoming season. After only losing two seniors Neel Patel (defense) and Don Hill (Goalie) - to the graduating class of 2013. The Canes are back for more. Being led by the huge senior class of seven (Manuel Chavez, Logan Turnmire, Greg Turnmire, Benito Gutierrez, Christian Muniz, Giobanni Vega, and Tyler Bryant), the Canes were ready to take the field once again in 2014. Starting the

2014 season with a 2-0 victory over Valdosta (scrimmage) the Canes also took victories against East Laurens, Dodge County, and Irwin shortly after. The team captains Logan Turnmire (senior) and Yoshi Arcadia (Junior) have high hopes for making a run for region in 2014. “The team has practiced hard and seems to be determined to win region,” says team captain Yoshi Arcadia. The Canes start all of their seven seniors and two foreign exchange students (Raiko Ross and Andy Janik) followed by Erik Roman (Junior) and Yoshi Arcadia (Goalie). The team is composed of a solid offense and a speedy defense. With such a large class graduating in 2014, the Canes believe this is the year!

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April 2014 South Georgia Edition  

In the Game High School Sports Magazine

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