Overcoming obstacles to guide their teams to a memorable season was a common theme for this year's six finalists for Scrappy Moore Best of Preps Coach of the Year.
Each of these mentors found success — their teams won a combined seven state titles during the 2020-21 high school season — despite adversity, allowing them to stand as examples to their players.
This year's finalists are Ringgold's Daniel Hackett, Coahulla Creek's Aurelio Jacobo, Red Bank's Mandi Munn, Baylor's Gary Partrick and McCallie's Ralph Potter and Mike Wood.
The winner will be announced during Thursday's Times Free Press Best of Preps banquet, which due to COVID-19 concerns will again be a virtual event, shown at 7 p.m. at timesfreepress.com.
Hackett's Lady Tigers softball team, which graduated nearly all of its pitching after 2020's GHSA Class AAA title run, didn't find its footing until the postseason and then needed to find a way to get past a region rival to repeat as state champion. Ringgold lost both regular-season games to region winner Rockmart, then fell to the Lady Yellow Jackets in the region title game. The two matched up again in the winner's bracket final of the state tournament in Columbus, with Rockmart again winning, this time 7-6 in extra innings. Undaunted, Ringgold made it back to the title round and this time defeated its nemesis 9-2 and 7-6 in eight innings to win it all again.
It wasn't just the fact that Coahulla Creek's boys' soccer team won the first team state championship in school history in any sport; it was how it happened that will forever be talked about in Varnell. Jacobo's Colts had an up-and-down regular season, going 9-2-2, but a 2-2 tie with Chattanooga power Baylor just before the state playoffs seemed to ignite Coahulla Creek. What followed was a 5-0 run through the GHSA Class AAA bracket, including two especially memorable wins. The Colts had to win a penalty kick shootout to get past favored Morgan County in the quarterfinals, and then after a 6-1 win over Greater Atlanta Christian, in the final they faced nine-time champion Westminster, the same team that defeated Coahulla Creek two years earlier in the title round. This time the Colts prevailed, 3-1, scoring two goals in overtime despite playing most of the second half and all of OT a man down.
Despite starting the season without enough players to field a full team, Munn's Red Bank softball team made up for its lack in numbers with heart on the way to a final four finish in the Class AA state tournament — the program's first appearance since 2005. Due to injuries and two players being under quarantine, Red Bank won two postseason games despite having just nine players available.
Partrick's ninth season as Baylor's golf coach was one filled with personal obstacles, but he helped his players maintain their focus, and ultimately both the boys' and girls' teams won TSSAA Division II-AA state championships last fall. Just before the season began, Partrick was diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent surgery on July 31. Days later he contracted COVID-19, and he said he's still recovering from the effects of the virus. The Lady Red Raiders proceeded to finish first or second in every tournament they played in, capping the season by winning the program's first team state title in seven years. Baylor entered the second day of the state tourney down two strokes but wound up blistering the course to pull away and win by 17 strokes. The boys' team, which had graduated four of its top six players from the previous season, won the City Prep and region titles before winning state by nine strokes.
In his 19th season as McCallie's football coach, Potter guided his alma mater to its second consecutive Division II-AAA state championship and third overall. The Blue Tornado finished with an 8-3 record, including an impressive 19-point win over rival Baylor during the regular season and an even more impressive 44-0 win over Memphis University School in the state title game as the Owls were held to 97 yards of total offense. That shutout in early December came against a team that had scored an average of 45 points per game in the playoffs, and it capped a four-game run in which McCallie — with Potter calling the defense — held opponents to an average of 11.5 points per game in double-digit wins. Three of those wins came in the playoffs, where McCallie outscored opponents by an average of 23 points.
Wood's Blue Tornado athletes swept the cross country and track and field state championships in Division II-AA, an incredible feat that occurred after the coach recovered from a massive heart attack he suffered in late December 2019. At the time, doctors feared Wood might need a heart transplant, but that turned out not to be necessary, and after a year spent recovering, the veteran mentor returned to guide his teams to unforgettable seasons. The track title was the first TSSAA team state championship in program history.