CHICKAMAUGA, Ga. — There's a lot of new bling being seen around Chickamauga in recent weeks — with more still to come.
Less than a week after winning the first basketball championship in the history of Gordon Lee High School, members of the title-winning girls' team spent part of last Wednesday being sized for championship rings. It's become a common sight at the Class A school, which now boasts a total of four team titles this school year.
"I told the guy from the ring company today that we've made a lot of money for them," associate athletic director Greg Ellis joked. "Any time your school wins a championship it's special, but to win four in one year?"
Before the girls' basketball team upset top-seeded Randolph-Clay in the state title game, the wrestling team won both dual and traditional state championships and the ultra-successful softball team won its third consecutive title.
And it may not be over. The golf, track and tennis teams always are competitive, and the baseball team is ranked in the top five with what many believe is one of the school's best teams ever.
A search of the GHSA archives proves this is a rare season in northwest Georgia. Ringgold came the closest in 2005 with three team titles: softball and two in wrestling.
"Everyone knows that athletic talent, especially in Class A, runs in cycles," Ellis said when asked to explain the success. "Obviously, this is probably the best cycle we've ever had."
Or as girls' basketball coach Lester Galyon explained, it's talent and timing. The GHSA, after much debate, decided to have separate championship tournaments for Class A public and private schools in most sports beginning this school year. Galyon readily admits the split benefited his program greatly, though he also believes it doesn't diminish the accomplishment one bit.
"[The split] is a definite factor for us," Galyon said. "We've had good teams in the past, but we've always run into private schools in the tournament and lost. This is perfect timing because we also had the talent with five seniors and several good younger players."
The split didn't just remove teams in Gordon Lee's path that had inherent advantages. It also gave the players and coaches even more enthusiasm than usual.
"Really, the biggest thing it did was we knew coming into the season we had a chance," Galyon said. "We had a different attitude because, realistically, we knew we had to play a perfect game to beat the private schools. This year we knew we could hang in a game even if we weren't playing our best."
Five members of the basketball team also have softball championship rings, including Kalei Kimbrell, who was the lone senior on the 2012 softball team. Moments after leaving the court in Macon, she tried to explain what it was like to win two titles in one year.
"It's really overwhelming," the future Shorter University softball player said. "I've been so blessed to be on two really good teams. Our school and parents expected this from us, and we've worked so hard all year to prove them right in both sports. It's a dream come true to win two state championships in one year."
The three title-winning programs also have another thing in common: failure. Even Dana Mull's softball program had to use losing big games as motivation. After her second team captured a state title, the next four seasons ended with painful runner-up finishes.
"That was not a very fun time," Mull said. "That was a whole graduating class that knew nothing but second place, so the girls that followed didn't want that to happen."
What followed were title-winning seasons of 38-0, 37-1 (before the public-private split) and 34-3. It's a path the wrestling team knows all too well. The Trojans were considered title contenders in Steve McDaniel's final season as head coach but finished second in the state duals. Brent Raby's first season also ended in disappointment and caused his wrestlers to amp up their training.
"The next year, with most of the team being juniors, they wanted to end that run of losing," said Raby, whose team won what turned out to be a co-championship in duals that year. "This year they wanted to win both titles and they did. I think, in every sport, as a coach you want your next team to be better than your last one was. That definitely is the feeling here."
Each of the title-winning coaches points to one major behind-the-scenes factor in this unprecedented season of success, something that happens to be a common theme in almost any winning program.
"What most people don't see is the dedication of the people in this community and the love they have for Gordon Lee," Raby said. "The parents put in the time to make sure their kids get everything they need to be successful, and you can't have what we have here without that.
"As a coach it's good to be a part of a situation like this."
Ring salesmen don't mind it, either.
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...
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