On Dec. 27, 2017, the Screven County Lady Gamecocks defeated Portal 39-23 at home. It pushed their record to 1-10 and while that's an underwhelming start to a basketball season, context shows how meaningful the win was.
Before beating Portal, the Lady Gamecocks hadn't won a game since Feb. 13, 2013. Between then, they'd run up a 97-game losing streak. Had the Lady Gamecocks finished the season winless, the four seniors on the team — Kaneedra Albright, Nyasia Phillips, Chynna Scott and Cherika Ponder — would have gone their entire prep career not having experienced a varsity win.
But, led by sophomore guard Petrice Roberts' 12 points, the Lady Gamecocks pulled out a win to end a forgettable chapter in their program's history.
"Of course the win felt good," Scott said. "It felt good to show people that we're better than the losing streak we had and I'm happy we got it."
While the streak didn't set a national or even state record, it was still incredibly tough to endure. And as Burton Kemp, who has taught at Screven County for 39 years, and Lady Gamecocks coach Stephanie Davis tell it, the team played through the streak with character and heart.
"The girls play hard," said Kemp, who also covers Screven County sports for The Sylvania Telephone. "They have their problems with fundamentals, turnovers — things like that — but they get after it. If they miss a layup, they run to get back on defense. They always have. (The streak) has been frustrating, but it's not frustrating because of their effort. That's always been there and they've always put in the work.
When teams are playing well and winning, the team concept comes rather easily. It's when losing sets in that the concept becomes much more difficult to achieve. Finger pointing, lack of effort and a negative attitude are common symptoms associated with sustained team losing.
Those symptoms weren't found in the Lady Gamecocks' locker room.
"That was one of the things we talked about," said Davis, in her first season as Lady Gamecocks coach. "Basketball builds character and goes beyond the Xs and Os. It develops you as a person and carries over into the rest of your life. A big life lesson is that things don't always go your way. This game builds character and we've kept our heads up and continued to believe even though it's been a struggle. There were never any bad attitudes. It was always, 'We can do this,' and you can see they believe in themselves."
There was a time in recent history when the Lady Gamecocks were a force. According to Kemp, they went 161-64 from 2003 to 2011, advancing to the playoffs in all but one of those seasons while averaging 20 wins. Their peak success came during the 2005-06 season, when they finished 29-3 and reached the Class AA semifinals.
But the decline from that level of play has been sharp, which leads to a question: What went wrong? The answer: Girls began losing interest in basketball beginning at the rec league level and focusing on other sports, meaning that some or most girls who tried out for the varsity basketball team were new to the sport and lacked the necessary fundamentals and experience to be competitive.
The results at the high school level are telling. While the girls basketball team is suffering, the girls tennis team has won five consecutive region titles and the girls soccer team has qualified for the playoffs the past three seasons.
The lack of interest in basketball at the sub-varsity level remains low — Barton said there's only 10 girls on the middle school team — but Davis is working to change that. She returned to Screven County this season after working at Worth County. Eight years ago, she coached the Screven County girls middle school team during the end of the varsity team's winning run.
She's on a mission to return the Lady Gamecocks to relevance.
"We have several ladies volunteering at the rec department," Davis said. "We're working to get the girls involved before they get to middle school. We're hosting camps to get them involved and teach them fundamentals in the third, fourth and fifth grade."
For the Lady Gamecocks, the road to success will not be built overnight. It doesn't help that they currently reside in a crowded, nine-team Region 4-AA that houses the top-ranked Laney Lady Wildcats, who are AA's defending state champions. The Lady Wildcats (20-0) are currently on a streak of their own and have a legitimate shot at finishing the season undefeated.
And while the Lady Gamecocks continue the climb, they can hang their hat on ending a losing streak that hung over the program like a dark cloud. They can also play knowing they have a young team that will return all but four players next season.
"I think next year we'll win even more games," Roberts said. "We are improving every game."
As Scott finishes her final prep season, she said the streak — and ending it — has given her something to take into adulthood.
"I learned to never give up on something that's so close because if you do, you'll never get it," she said.
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