Despite school mergers throughout the Technical College System of Georgia, its young sports program is going forward. And David Stephenson remains coordinator of the TCSG association as well as head coach of its dominant basketball team.
Stephenson's Northwestern Tech -- now Georgia Northwestern Tech -- squad went undefeated in the 2007-08 pilot season and was 5-1 in league play last year, when the Mustangs also played several community colleges and four-year schools' junior varsities and were 6-7 overall. They won 73-72 at Hiwassee, a tradition-rich junior college transitioning to four-year status, but sustained their lone TCSG loss four days later, 62-60 at Warner Robins against the Middle Georgia Titans.
The merger situation left only three schools in the league last year. Northwestern Tech, based in Rock Spring, didn't have a chance to repeat some of its first-year wins because of its combination with Rome's Coosa Valley Tech.
That led to the Georgia Northwestern name and a much bigger geographic range from which to draw student-athletes, although the bulk of Stephenson's squad so far is from the old Northwestern area. But similar athlete-pool expansions are going on throughout the TCSG, and other teams as well as the Mustangs are starting to attract standout players who had or could have signed with established college programs.
Stephenson is expecting Georgia Northwestern applications soon from two players who signed with NJCAA or NCAA schools.
"This shows we're taking another step with our program," he said. "High school players and coaches from this area have seen that this is not an experiment anymore. This is something that obviously is going to fly."
But while he still wants to beat the other teams in the league, he also wants them to improve, and he's delighted that Central Georgia Tech from Macon and Chattahoochee Tech from Marietta have joined his school, Middle Georgia Tech and Carrollton-based West Georgia Tech for men's basketball.
Women's volleyball already is part of the TCSG association, and Central, Middle and West Georgia Techs plan to start women's basketball this school year, Stephenson said.
He spent several hours recently with the coaches and other personnel involved with the athletic planning at Central Georgia Tech.
"I really enjoy that part of the job," Stephenson said. "They're starting from scratch. I told them, 'Here are basic things you need, and here are luxuries -- gravy on the biscuit -- you can include if you're able to.' If somebody starts something right, it's usually going to be right, but if it starts bad it's always going to be a struggle."
Even after Stephenson's teams beat all their first-year opposition, Dr. Skip Sullivan -- president of the Carrollton school -- recommended him to take over running the league.
"The presidents who were involved had great heart and vision, but they have a lot of other things to do and they didn't really understand some of the athletics aspects," Stephenson said. "For example, we had to play two games in one day.
"I had the coaching experience and the administrative experience. I have a master's in sports management, and I had been commissioner of other leagues, including athletic associations that started from scratch."
To protect against conflict-of-interest issues, he sends his team's eligibility materials and other paperwork to another conference school for monitoring.
Another positive development for Stephenson is that the Mustangs will be able to practice and play in the same facility this year: the old Rossville High School gymnasium. As much as he appreciated LaFayette High for making its gym available for games the past two years, he had to scramble for practice places and times.
The league allows tryouts when the fall quarter starts in late September. A jamboree and media day is scheduled for Nov. 7, and the season will start a week later.