There’s a program in Covington with championship pedigree brewing. But if you look in the obvious places, you just might miss.
Certainly, whenever we talk about championships in high school athletics, our first thoughts run toward the Georgia High School Association teams. You know, the “mainstream” programs.
And unless you’re fairly new here, you know that Newton County has three such GHSA schools — Newton, Eastside and Alcovy.
Each of them have had their moments in competition for deep playoff runs, and even state titles. One would only need to go back to last year to find the last time a Newton County school won a team sport GHSA state championship. In fact, it happened twice last year with both Newton and Eastside winning state crowns in track and field.
Newton took home the title in Class AAAAAA (the biggest GHSA classification at the time), while Eastside stood atop the podium in Class AAAA. And although we don’t do it intentionally, our preoccupation with GHSA competition sometimes leads us away from other programs doing it just as big on smaller scenes.
It’s easy to get sidetracked celebrating NCAA Division I caliber talent that regularly comes from the aforementioned schools. And celebrate those we should. But while most of the athletic teams from our three GHSA schools have all packed it in for the 2016-17 season, there’s still a local school winning championships and pushing for more.
Don’t look now, but if you’re thirsting to throw a party for a local champion, Peachtree Academy all of a sudden has a selection of such programs for you to choose from, starting with its boys and girls tennis teams.
It’s a school that’s been around since 2001, and up until the last week in April, had never won a state championship of any kind. But on Tuesday April 25, Peachtree Academy became the standard bearers for high school tennis in the Georgia Independent Christian Athletic Association.
From zero to two state titles in one day. That’s what the tennis teams from Peachtree gave the school. Led by coach Ken Van Ness, who’s also the school’s athletic director, it was a particularly meaningful accomplishment for him. But with the school year dwindling down, and the spring sports season all but finished, Van Ness is hoping to see one more of the school’s athletic programs bring home hardware for a suddenly full mantle.
Peachtree Academy’s baseball team, fresh off a two-game state tournament sweep of Praise Academy on a cold, rainy Friday night, has played its way into the GICAA state championship series with Westminster Christian Academy on Friday.
Led by coach Skip Argo, the Panthers boast an impressive 19-3 record, were a perfect 6-0 during their regular season region schedule and have won their four playoff games by a combined score of 47-10. It may very well be that this same space could be used next Sunday to salute a third Peachtree Academy state champion in as many weeks.
And if that happens, Van Ness wouldn’t be surprised. In fact, when he talks about the tennis accomplishments, he does it in such a way where he seems to call it an omen of what could be to come for Peachtree Academy athletics.
“I think (the tennis championships) are just the beginning, really,” Van Ness said. “It’s this school’s first state championship. But it’s been a great year for us as an athletic program.”
Peel back the record, and you’ll see Peachtree Academy football, basketball and baseball have all won region championships. Van Ness calls the trifecta “the big three.” The football team, coached by David Smith, finished an impressive 2016 campaign with an 8-4 record and ranked No. 15 by MaxPreps out of 30 small school programs — many of which play six, eight or nine-man football.
The boys basketball team, led by Terry McRae, finished 15-8 with a 9-1 region mark, and of course, the baseball is still trucking along, two games away from giving Peachtree Academy a third state championship.
And make no mistake about it: These aren’t consolation prizes. These aren’t the best of the rest. Several GICAA schools right here in Georgia have competed at levels in their various sports that could give some GHSA schools a run for their money.
In nearby Henry County, for instance, Community Christian School — another GICAA football program — has seen more then a handful of players garner NCAA Division I recruiting attention and scholarship offers. One young man has even signed to play football at Navy next fall.
Suffice it to say, there’s talent in the GICAA. And that means they’re talent — perhaps unheralded or unsung, but talent all the same — right here in Covington, even outside of the GHSA programs.
And when Van Ness talks about how pleased he is with the progress of his Peachtree Academy program, he speaks like a proud papa, complete with chest stuck out because of his “child” that’s learned how to walk, and now seems poised and prepared to do a little running.
“Yes, I’m very proud of what this school has accomplished,” he said. “I like where we’re going as an athletic program, but also as a school. This will be our fourth graduating class, and it’ll be the first true graduating class that’s not just a small handful of kids. We had 22 graduating last year, and we’ll have 22 again this year, which means we’re getting to where we need to be size wise in order to really be competitive and compete for championships.”
It’s a reminder that even on what we call “the smaller scale,” these teams in non-GHSA associations want to compete. They want to win. They want titles and they want to be known as the best at what they do. There are even some schools in smaller, private athletic associations that seek to build themselves up to compete in the GHSA, much like a NCAA Division II or FCS program seeks to move up to Division I competition.
Who knows if that’s something in the cards for Peachtree Academy’s future. Who knows if it’s even an aspiration. But what is for sure is that the Panthers are prowling upon success right where they are. And they’re just as worthy of accolades and celebration as any other school in our county, regardless of size.
I plan to double my efforts to cover these schools and tell their stories more frequently. And I hope our community will also throw its support behind our non-GHSA athletes more heartily as well. They deserve it.
That said, hopefully I’ll see you Friday night for what could be another state championship celebration.
Gabriel Stovall is the Sports Editor for The Covington News. He can be reached for story tips and ideas at email@example.com. If you’re on Twitter, follow him @GabrielStovall1. You can also follow our Twitter sports page @CovNewsSports