Pope’s championship in Class AAAAAA baseball on Monday put a wrap on the 2016-17 year in Georgia high school sports.
Seven Georgia schools celebrated especially long and hard. It was their first-ever state championships.
Those were East Jackson (fastpitch softball, boys cross country), Langston Hughes (boys basketball), Meadowcreek (boys soccer), Rome (football), Upson-Lee (boys basketball), Southeast Whitfield (boys soccer) and West Forsyth (gymnastics).
That’s a goodly number considering that among the 421 GHSA schools that field football teams only 60 now remain that have never won state titles in any sport.
Southeast Whitfield, dating to 1975, is the oldest among the first-time winners. Meadowcreek goes back to 1986. Both broke through in boys soccer this spring.
“I’m just so happy we finally got what we always dreamed of,'' Southeast Whitfield senior Diego Landeros told the Dalton Citizen after his school’s historic victory over Druid Hills in the Class AAAA final on May 12. ''We’re finally state champs.”
Rome and Upson-Lee are similar, too. Each opened in 1992 from the merger of schools – Rome from East Rome and West Rome, and Upson-Lee from R.E. Lee and Upson County. Each of those predecessor schools had won state titles, but it took the newer, bigger schools 25 years to break through.
East Jackson and West Forsyth opened in 2007. Langston Hughes opened in 2009.
The opportunity for first-time champions is greater than it's ever been. There were only 10 schools that won state titles for the first time in the decade of 2000-09. Opportunity has come largely from the expansion to seven classifications and the public-private split in Class A.
Here’s more trivia about this academic year’s state champions and a list of each below.
-Westminster and Buford won seven state championships apiece, the most among Georgia schools. Westminster has a state-record 210 state championships that the GHSA recognizes, including a high of 11 in 2013. Buford has 38 all-time - 34 of them since 2002. The Wolves have won 11 of those in football, but ironically none the past two seasons. Also ironic is that both were moved up in classification last year under the GHSA's new 3-percent rule designed to level the playing field with private (Westminster) and city (Buford) schools.
-Despite Westminster’s continued dominance, private schools were less dominant overall. They won 40 of 159 state titles (25.2 percent), their lowest share since the 1980s. In 2015-16, privates won 49 of 139 (35.3 percent), about the usual number since 2000. One reason for the decline is the expansion to seven classes. There were no private schools in the highest three classes this year, and only two in Class AA. Class A also expanded, taking in Wesleyan and Holy Innocents’ among others and placing them into the private-only division. Some of it is harder to explain. Woodward Academy, winner of 66 state titles through history, failed to win one for the first time since 2000-01. Lovett, with 104 state titles, went without for the first time since 2011-12.
-Lambert won five state titles overall, the most of any school in the highest classification. The Forsyth County school has won 23 this decade. In just eight years of existence, Lambert already ranks 40th all-time in state titles. For this decade, Buford (27) is the only public school with more state titles. Walton also has 23. Walton added three this year fofr 70 all-time, the most of any public school.
-Bleckley County won four state titles, the most of any AA school. That can be attributed partly to the exodus of private schools from AA in the most recent re-classification. Bleckley had won four state titles in its history before this academic year. Bleckley swept boys and girls titles in tennis and cross country.
-Bleckley was among 11 schools that swept the boys and girls titles in the same sport. The others were Buford (basketball), Chattahoochee (soccer), Columbus (golf), Gordon Lee (golf), Johns Creek (tennis), Landmark Christian (cross country), McIntosh (soccer), Starr’s Mill (golf), Westlake (track and field) and Westminster (soccer and tennis).
-Jefferson is home of the GHSA’s most dominant sports dynasty. The Dragons have won both duals and traditional state titles in wrestling each year since 2002, the first year that duals championships were contested. They won a traditional wrestling title in 2001, which adds up to 17 straight state seasons of state championships. That’s the longest unbroken dynasty in GHSA sports history. Westminster’s girls cross country program won 13 straight titles from 1992 to 2004 (and 20 of 21 over a longer stretch).
-Walton’s girls tennis team is right up their among the all-time great programs. The Raiders have won five straight titles, 13 of the past 14, and 15 of 17.
-Milton’s girls won the title in lacrosse after missing a year. They’ve won 11 of the 13 ever contested.
-Towns County, a mountain school, is a girls cross country dynasty. Towns has won five straight in the A public division.
-Cedartown’s cheerleading team won the school’s first state championship since the 1964 football team.
-Georgia Military College has become a sports power since the public-private split in Class A. The Milledgeville school, which dates back over 100 years, won the boys cross country title this academic year. GMC has won seven state titles in five years after winning only two prior, none in the previous 35 years. GMC has won in girls track and field and fastpitch softball.
-Gordon Lee of Chickamauga is another school that is rolling in state titles lately. The Trojans won four in 2016-17, giving them 16 since 2010-11. The latest came in cheerleading, fastpitch and boys and girls golf.
-The return of slowpitch softball helped Haralson County return to the winner’s circle. This west Georgia school hadn’t won a state title in any sport since its girls basketball team in 1995. Slowpitch was contested as an open-division sport this spring for the first time since 2008.
-Irwin County has won four Class A titles in tennis since the public/private split. The Indians got their first boys title this year after the girls had won in 2014-16.
-Harlem’s fastpitch team won AA. That marked the Augusta-area school’s first championship in any sport since 1986 (baseball).
-Jeff Davis had won only one state title in any sport since 1961 (2008 boys track and field) but got two this year – girls track and field and baseball.