Like a movie that ends with several plot lines left unresolved, the 2019-20 high school sports year abruptly concluded in the middle of the spring sports season. As a result, we’re left to use our imagination to fill in the blanks of what might have been. Would Loganville have won yet another state baseball title? Would Monroe Area have snapped a 13-year state baseball tournament drought? Would some track star have emerged at the state meet?
While we’ll never know these things, what we do know is that, despite the heartbreaking short-circuiting of the sports year, there were still plenty of many memorable events. Following is The Walton Tribune’s list of the Top 10 Sports stories from the past school year.
Seasons end due to coronavirus.
On April 2, GHSA officially announced the cancellation of the remainder of the spring sports season, prematurely ending not only the high school sports year but the careers of senior athletes across the state. The season had been suspended three weeks earlier as the coronavirus infection numbers began to increase. Coaches, players, and fans had held out hopes that play might resume at least in time for the postseason. But as conditions worsened and more restrictions were placed on mass gatherings, it became obvious that playing games was not an option. The biggest concern now is whether prep sports will be able to resume in the fall.
Legacy carved in stone.
In a much deserved and fitting move, Loganville named its athletics complex after former athletics director and head football coach Tommy Stringer. In his 27 years at the school, the prep sports icon oversaw the remaking the school’s sports programs, hiring dozens of coaches and helping spearhead the building of state-of-the-art facilities, of which the complex was his crown jewel. Arriving in 1989, Stringer led the Red Devils to their first football region championship in just his third year. In addition to his work at the high school, he served on numerous boards with the Georgia High School Association and had a brief stint as a Walton County commissioner. Stringer retired after 55 years in coaching in 2016 and passed away in 2018.
Combining for over 500 wins.
A pair of local girls basketball coaches achieved milestones in their careers this past winter. John Zorn, in his 10th year at Loganville, won his 200th game with a 62-19 rout of Johnson-Gainesville in January. He’s averaged better than 20 wins a season and has taken eight of his 10 teams to the state tournament, including a pair of Elite Eight appearances. Meanwhile, George Walton Academy’s Lori Hines earned her 300th coaching victory, most of which have come during her 12 years at the local private school, including 30 straight regular season victories over a three-season span. The Lady Bulldogs had been to the state tournament for eight straight years before the streak was snapped this season.
New men at the top.
Three area football programs made changes of the helm of their football programs following the 2019 season. Chad Estes stepped down after six seasons at Social Circle, having been unable to produce a winning season or get the Redskins back to the state playoffs. His replacement is former Collins Hill assistant Rob Patton. Loganville Christian’s Patrick Stewart left after just one season, unable to resolve issues with his contract. In his place will be Adam Miller, who was head coach of his alma mater in Florida and was a graduate assistant on the college level. Finally, Mike Humphreys was let go after five seasons at Loganville. He’ll be replaced by Red Devils alum Brad Smith.
Despite finishing the regular season in fourth place in Region 8-AAA with a so-so 14-11 record, the Monroe Area boys basketball team turned things around in the postseason. The Hurricanes won a pair of games in the league tournament to earn the third seed and then won two straight in the Class AAA tournament to advance all the way to the Elite Eight. In round one, Monroe edged out North Murray in a 49-47 thriller. Five days later, they travelled to Macon and knocked off Westside 71-66. But the run ended a week later with a 65-40 loss to eventual state champ Pace Academy.
The Georgia High School Association concluded the reclassification of its 400-plus members in December, and most of the local schools stayed put. The one big surprise was Social Circle, which appeared to be positioned to bump up from Class AA to AAA. Instead, the Redskins were dropped in Class A. However, they won’t be competing for region titles with local rivals George Walton Academy and Loganville Christian. That’s because the state’s high school athletics governing body separated Class A private and public schools into their own classifications.
GWA wrestling history.
For the first time since GWA joined GHSA in 2010, the Bulldogs earned a state championship in wrestling. Actually, they brought home a pair of first-place trophies as seniors Chris Sperin and Patrick Morris took first place in the 145- and 170-pound weight classes, respectively. GWA first fielded a wrestling team in 2005 while a member of the Georgia Independent School Association and won a state title in 2009 as a member of GISA. Among the leaders of that squad was Justin Sperin, who is now heads the Bulldogs wrestling program and is the older brother of Chris.
Softball streak ends.
George Walton enjoyed one of its best finishes at the state softball tournament, finishing third in the Class A private school division. The Lady Bulldogs were within a game of reaching the championship game before losing a heartbreaker to Wesleyan, 5-2. Loganville and Walnut Grove earned state berths in Class AAAAA, but the Lady Warriors were the only one two to reach the championship tournament in Columbus. A year after winning its first state title, Social Circle failed to make the postseason. As a result, Walton County’s six-year streak of sending four teams to state came to an end.
Lady Devils are elite.
After being eliminated in the round of 16 for three straight years, the Loganville volleyball team finally broke through this past fall, reaching the quarterfinals for the first time ever. The Lady Red Devils lost to Buford in the 8-AAAAA championship match but rebounded with a pair of wins in the first two rounds of the state tournament. They blanked Grady in the first round and beat Statesboro in the second. But they couldn’t get past Whitewater, which went on to win the state title.
Movin’ on up.
With the premature end of the high school sports year, Loganville Christian can turn its full attention to transitioning from the Georgia Independent School Association to the Georgia High School Association. Although several sports had already been playing against GHSA opponents, the entire program will ratchet up the competition beginning this fall. The football team is coming off an appearance in the second round of the GISA state playoffs while the boys basketball team made it to the state final before losing a last-second heartbreaker. The baseball team managed to get in only two games before the season was called.