David Johnson is a correspondent for The Walton Tribune.

In 2014, it appeared the long-suffering Walnut Grove football program had turned a corner.  

Prior to the start of that season, during the Georgia High School Association’s semiannual reclassification, the Warriors opted to play in Region 4-AAAA, which required longer road trips for away league games than locally oriented 8-AAAA but offered an easier schedule. The result was Walnut Grove’s first winning season at 6-4. 

Alas, that fall proved to be but a brief detour in what has been a difficult journey for Warriors players, coaches, and fans. 

Walnut Grove hasn’t enjoyed a winning season since, though they did make the playoffs for the first and only time in 2016, sneaking in as the fourth seed out of the region with an upset of Cedar Shoals in the regular-season finale.

Over the past six seasons, counting this year’s first two games, both losses, the Warriors have compiled a record of 12-41. With Friday’s setback to Monroe Area, they’ve lost 15 straight. 

In the four full varsity seasons before 2014, they won just five games.

What gives?

Heading into its second decade of football, Walnut Grove is still searching for a winning formula. It’s tried new coaches. Current head man Robert Andrews is the fourth since the school opened in 2009.

Each coach has tried a new system, different processes and clever motivational ploys. So far, nothing’s worked. 

One of my favorites was establishing a cemetery just outside the stadium where they figuratively buried vanquished foes. Given the Warriors’ record, it was more of an intimate family plot than an Arlington National. 

Of course, winning isn’t everything. We’ve been told that losing builds character and that we often learn more from our losses than our victories. 

That’s all well and good. But at a certain point, consistent failure becomes an insidious disease for which winning is the only cure.

Given that, might I offer a suggestion? Maybe the Walnut Grove powers-that-be should consider taking a page from the playbook of Johnson of Gainesville, which ironically is the only team the Warriors have played consistently and have compiled a winning record against (5-1).

After years of unrelenting losses, the Knights opted to play a non-region schedule.

There are pros and cons.

On the negative side, compiling a schedule is more difficult, road games are often further away, gate receipts can suffer, and there’s no goal of winning a region title or making the state playoffs.

On the plus side, and the whole point of the exercise, is the ability to cherry-pick opponents that give you a better chance of winning. 

The Warriors could still schedule local rivals Loganville and Monroe Area, against whom they have a 2-14 record. But they also would have the ability to select schools closer to their size and talent level.

Based on Full Time Equivilent enrollment, Walnut Grove is the smallest school in Class AAAAA. It has 668 fewer students than the largest school in its classification. 

Digging out of a hole under these circumstances is asking for the near impossible.  

I admire Walnut Grove’s players for their tenacity and resilience in the face of adversity. Entering last week’s game against Monroe Area as 27-points underdogs, they fell behind by three touchdowns before halftime. But to their credit, they battled valiantly until the end though they were clearly overmatched. 

It’s time to give the players an opportunity to reap the rewards of their hard work.

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