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MARCH 5, 2003

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Big tourney coming up
If the upcoming week doesn’t get the Leopards ready for region diamond competition, nothing will.
They’ll play three games in four days against three triple-A schools. Two of those games will be on the same day.
Later next week, Banks gets a single-A school then a doubleheader against another triple-AAA school. And by the way, all six games are on the road.
“I think this is going to be a real big test for us,” coach Mike Williams said. “It’ll be a good test before we get into the region.”
The Leopards were scheduled to host Commerce Wednesday afternoon. This weekend, they’ll play in the Flowery Branch Invitational.
Banks will see some good competition as they head into the tourney. Saturday, they’ll face West Hall at 12:30 and then Johnson at 3 p.m. (see schedule for other games).
The Leopards’ final non-region game will come next Saturday in a doubleheader against White County in Cleveland.
Williams said the win Monday wasn’t pretty, but he’ll take the “W” anytime.
“Anytime you can beat Commerce, that’s good,” he said. “We didn’t look outstanding by any means, but we looked good enough to win.”
Banks County jumped out 2-0 before allowing Commerce to get on the board.
The Leopards started early, putting lead-off hitter Chase Martin on base on an error to start the game. C. Martin stole second and then scored off an infield grounder off the bat of Ross Oliver.
In the top of third, the Leopards added their second run. C. Martin again reached base, this time off a hit up the middle. He grabbed another stolen base to move up.
R. Oliver followed with a shot to third. C. Martin was able to come around from second to score. But R. Oliver got caught trying to stretch a single into a double on the play.
Commerce knotted the game in the fourth, both runs coming off a deep ball from the Tigers’ Casha Daniels.
Up until that point, pitcher Kyle Duncan had held Commerce scoreless. He also shut them down for the first two innings, sitting the batters down in order.
But an error in the fourth allowed the lead-off man to reach base. C. Daniels came up and capitalized on the second of two straight change-ups to go deep.
“That was partly our fault because we started him with a change-up and came back with another change-up,” Williams said. “We shouldn’t have. That homerun was partly the coaching staff’s fault.”
The run was Duncan’s only earned run through four innings. He gave up only three hits and bagged six strikeouts.
Later in the same inning, Commerce put in what looked like the go ahead run. But Banks County pointed out that the Tigers had batted out of order. The error took the score off the board and stole Commerce’s momentum.
The Leopards were able to secure a lead in the top of the sixth.
R. Oliver led off, reaching first on a ground ball. He then stole second before Kris Drummond reached on an error. K. Drummond proceeded to steal second to put runners at second and third.
Tyson Baxter put up a sacrifice fly that allowed R. Oliver to get in for the score. K. Drummond crossed the plate on a balk to give Banks a 4-2 lead. That was all they needed for the win.
On the mound, Tyler Scroggs came in to relieve K. Duncan, pitching three hit-less innings and bagging one strikeout.
Offensively, C. Martin led the team, going 2-4 with a single and a double. He reached base three times and had two stolen bases and two runs scored.
“Chase did a good job for us leading off,” Williams said. “We weren’t exactly sure what the lineup would be and it still may change.”
Jacob Williams went 1-2. Chris Denton hit 1-3 and R. Oliver had one hit.
Third baseman and catcher Michael Haynes may miss a game with a nose injury suffered Monday. Williams said a grounder popped up and hit M. Haynes in the nose.

Panthers expect to need scoring this year
Each time the Jackson County boys soccer team takes the field this spring they will need to find a way to reach the back of the net. That’s the outlook the squad will be taking following several changes that have left the team far from the 10-4-3 squad that was so successful in 8-AAA a season ago.
With the loss of several key players for various reasons from last season’s roster, combined with the fact that the Panthers are moving up into arguably the most demanding region in the state, it’s clear that an array of tough challenges definitely lie ahead.
But, according to Jackson County head coach Bob Roller, thus far in the team’s young season, the squad has shown tremendous resilience in their play and with time, the hope is that the Panthers can make some noise in Region 8-AAAA. But nobody is expecting success to come with ease.
The team’s opening game at White County last week was indicative of the type of game the Panthers will most likely be involved in this season, as they fell 2-1 via a late Warrior penalty kick. Prior to the goal, the Panthers had played vigorously throughout the contest, however in the end their relative inexperience and sub-par skill caught up to them, according to Roller.
“We played hard and we hustled hard, but we’ve just got some young soccer playing guys and I think when you look at White County’s skill level I was very impressed,” Roller explained. “They were a lot more skilled than we were, but I was pleased with the effort out there considering we have some novices (on out team).”
The Panthers return six players from last season’s successful squad, however the number was below the expected 10 returners Roller stated he thought the squad might have back. The biggest hole to fill will be up front, Roller said, with the team’s leading offensive weapon, Jeremy Freeman (26 goals).
Arturo Ricardo and Tyler McKinley will anchor the Panther midfield and be called upon to do much of the play-making this season. However reaching the back of the net will likely be the team’s biggest challenge. Roller stated that he expects sophomore Michael Rudio to be his top scoring threat at forward, while a senior-laden central defense will be led by Jordan Breit and Jacob Porter.
“We lost some speed, skill and experience from last year, but its an opportunity for some other people to come in and play.”
Region outlook
The step up in classification will likely be the biggest hurdle the Panthers will have to overcome this season, with three perennial powerhouse teams to be contended with in 8-AAAA. Defending state champion Heritage enters this season as the favorite to once again bring home the state crown, and with a talented returning nucleus from last season’s dominating team championship team. They are currently rank No. 1 in the state.
Following the Patriots in the region pecking order is the team they defeated handily (10-1) in the state finals last season, Clarke Central. The No. 4 Gladiators once again look to be strong, however the loss of star midfielder Blake Camp to graduation and the addition of a new head coach will present some challenges for the potentially skilled squad. But expect them to be in contention with all things are said and done this season.
Rounding out the top teams in 8-AAAA is a potentially lethal squad from Salem, which enters the season ranked No. 7 in the state, along with a solid Rockdale County outfit that figures to crack the top ten before the season’s conclusion.

Diamond Tigers Continue To Ready Themselves For Region Play
The Commerce baseball team will have the rest of this week to shift personnel around and finalize its offensive and defensively lineups before opening region play Tuesday against Towns County.
With Tiger head coach David Cash saying last week that the squad would use its first three non-region games like scrimmages, all 14 Tigers got into the ball game in Monday’s 4-2 loss to Banks County and Cash said those who didn’t get to bat in that game will likely start today (Wednesday) when the team takes on Banks County in Homer.
But much is still up in the air after one game according to Cash with only the catcher and first base positions being somewhat claimed right now.
The coach said that Jesse Smith and Chad Jordan look like they’ll be behind the plate this year while it’s likey that Jordan will see extended time at first.
The team will hope to know more after their next non-region contest, a tentatively scheduled Thursday matchup with Apalachee.
Originally set as a road date in Athens, the game with the Wildcats might, however, be played in Commerce since the Apalachee hasn’t secured a home field yet for the game.
If the teams do play, Cash said his group get some game-time experience against an Apalachee team, coached by former University of Georgia player and former Athens Academy coach Tony Alfonzo, that should be a very sound outfit.
“We look forward to playing them,” Cash said. “You can learn a lot from watching his teams play.”
Commerce will have a tall order in its region opener with a Towns County team, led by long-time coach Larry Kimsey, that’s no stranger to success in Class A baseball.
“They went up to AA and didn’t have the same success,” Cash said. “They’re very excited about going back down to Class A.”
Banks County broke a 2-2 tie in the top of the sixth with runs off a sacrifice fly and a Commerce balk and then shut the Tigers out over the final two innings to down Commerce 4-2 in Monday night’s season-opener.
Despite the loss, Cash said he was encouraged with what transpired Monday.
“We were well-pleased with how poised we played for the first game.”
Though the team scored just twice and had three hits, Commerce hit the ball fairly hard in the loss.
“I told the guys that the scorebook is not going to reflect how hard we hit the ball,” Cash said. “There were half a dozen balls that were hit hard but to Banks County’s credit, they made the plays.”
The Tigers got both their runs off one swing of the bat from Casha Daniels who smashed a two-run shot to left in the bottom of the fourth to knot the contest 2-2.
Later in that same inning, after Richard Dailey put runners on first and third with a single, Adam Weddington seemingly put his team ahead 3-2 with and RBI single to score Josh Haynes from second.
However, Commerce batted out of order in getting the run, wiping the score off the board and giving the Tigers their second out of the inning.
“That hurt,” Cash said. “Those are the kinds of things you overcome. That was just our second out of the inning, we had runners on first and second, but that’s the kind of thing that happens in first games. It’s more my fault than anyone else’s. I accept full responsibility.”
Jesse Smith got the team’s only other hit, doubling in the bottom of the third.
Cash said the team accomplished it’s objectives of getting everyone into the game, moving the 14 players on the roster around to several different positions as well as using several pitchers.
In fact, four Tiger pitchers took the mound with Chad Jordan starting the game, giving up two runs and four hits in three innings; Casha Daniels using 13 pitches to work a scoreless fourth and fifth; Justin Beauchamp, in his first varsity appearance picking up the loss after surrendering the pair of Leopard scores in the sixth; and Hank Tiller, working a scoreless seventh.
Caleb Jordan will likely be out until mid-April after breaking his fibula. Cash said Jordan was in the team’s plans at short stop, outfield and on the mound as well as occupying the fifth spot in the batting order.

Fourth-quarter blues bite Dragons in state tourney
ROME, GA — For about three fourths of last Friday’s second-round state tournament game against Temple, the Jefferson boys were the best team on the basketball court and then, suddenly their youth seemed to catch up to them.
Facing what was by far a more veteran-laden Tiger line-up, Jefferson saw their opponent’s eight seniors control play in the fourth quarter during which they outscored the Dragons 19-5 en route to a 59-50 come-from-behind win.
The loss ended what was another successful season for Jefferson (19-11), whose climatic run through the latter half of the season earned them a top seed in the state tournament, as well as the Region 8-A championship last month.
But in the end head coach Bolling DuBose’s greatest fear came true, as a Temple team that he knew was explosive erupted down the stretch and claimed the win to advance to the elite eight of the state tournament the next night. The Tigers were then subsequently eliminated by Southwest Atlanta Christian.
“It was disappointing in the sense that we led for three quarters of the ball game,” DuBose explained. “It’s always tough to lose that last game...but I’m really proud of this team. They really came a long way and I don’t think that anybody outside of our team expected us to do the things we did during the second half of the season after the way we started this year.”
Jefferson led throughout much of the first three quarters of play, mounting an early 18-14 lead on the strength of a quick 6-0 spurt. Senior Shuadrick Martin was effective on the low blocks early, scoring seven of his team-high 15 points in the first quarter. Although often adept at taking his man away from the basket and draining 3-pointers, Martin instead battled the Tigers inside and was able to effectively sink quick turnaround jumpers from the left block.
By halftime Martin’s point total had reached 11 and with fellow Dragon Jarvis Hunter nailing a late 3-pointer in the second quarter, Jefferson remained ahead 30-27.
Things remained similarly in control for the Dragons to start the second half, as their solid defensive effort against the Tigers continued. Only the play of senior Robert Reese kept Temple within striking distance, as he led his team with 12 points at the half. He finished with a game-high 22 when all was said and done, while the Tigers’ 6-foot-8 Robert Shoups was held in check for much of the game inside. He finished behind Reese in the scoring column with 13 points.
Jefferson remained tough in the third quarter, outscoring the Tigers 15-13 to increase their lead to 45-40 heading into the fourth. And then things began to unravel for the Dragons.
Seven Dragon turnovers in the final period allowed the pressing Tigers to surge ahead as the five-point Jefferson advantage quickly evaporated to a 47-47 game.
A free-throw by Reese with 3:41 remaining gave the Tigers their first lead since the opening quarter. Later, a three from the top of the arc increased Temple’s lead to 53-47 with 2:30 remaining during part of a 17-3 run to close the game.
Jefferson’s Montray Riley cut the advantage to three on the next possession with a trey of his own, however the bucket would be the Dragons’ last of the game. Riley and teammate Jarvis Hunter finished with 10 points apiece, but the depth of the Tigers was apparent late as Jefferson’s trio of double-figure scorers combined for just five points in the final quarter. Jefferson finished the game with 20 turnovers, many of which led to Temple points.
“We did a real good job in our half court defense,” DuBose said after the loss. “But we just didn’t handle the ball well down the stretch...we had four or five turnovers in a row there and that was the difference in the ball game. Our biggest problem was that when we turned it over, (Temple), to their credit, did a great job of converting those turnovers into points.”
The Dragons, who only lose Martin, the Region 8-A Player of the Year, to graduation off of this season’s team should be the experienced team next time around, providing the team remains intact. If it does, DuBose stated he likes his team’s chances come this time next year.
“Our challenge next year is can we get back to the state tournament like we did this year and then advance on to the Final Four,” he said. “We’ll have a junior dominated team and if we can continue to set high goals for ourselves then we’ll see what happens.”

Glory Days
Aside from handful of middle school students clanking shots off a side-goal, the old brick gym that was once home to Raider basketball a generation ago sits silent on this lazy Thursday February afternoon.
Former Madison County assistant basketball coach Mike Barger looks out over the nearly four decade-old facility which now serves as the middle school’s gym, almost as if he’s gazing into the past and not the touched-up floor and brand-new bleachers.
“This place has seen some great basketball,” he says reflectively as he surveys the distinguished, 1960’s-style building which hasn’t hosted a high school basketball game in over 10 years.
While quiet on this day, 15 years ago, however, was quite a different story.
In 1988, high-level decibels rocked the old building as Raider fans fought to fill the seats, aisles and the lobby to get a glimpse of what would become the Madison County High School’s first and only state champions boys’ team.
Armed with three guys taller than 6’7,” eight seniors and a cast of players that went 11-deep, the Raider basketball team wowed on-lookers in the old gym and on the road week in and week out in a 27-3 season.
All eyes in the state were on the team from the beginning, starting the season ranked number one and finishing it that way with a 73-60 win over Marist March 5, 1988 — exactly 15 years ago to the day — at Georgia Tech’s Alexander Memorial Coliseum to take the Class AAA state crown.
For some teams, a championship comes unexpectedly, as a story-book culmination of a Cinderella season.
For those who brought the trophy home to Danielsville a decade and a half ago, it was something the up-and-coming program was primed to do from day one, fresh off an appearance in the state tournament the year before.
“People look at your overall records and your region championships, but we weren’t going to be content with anything other than a state championship,” Barger, then 31, said.
With the expectations, of course, came the tremendous pressure.
The Raiders were gunning for a state crown which meant everybody was gunning for them.
“We had a target, we had a bulls’-eye on our chest for 30 games,” he said. “Everybody’s goal that year was to beat Madison County.”
Guided by head coach Charles Wilkes, who was in his third season at Madison County, the 1988 state champions were stacked in every sense of the definition from its balanced scoring attack to it’s role players off a bench deep enough to provide a starting five for any school in the region.
Up top, the team had a talented guard duo in the Sorrells brothers, Tony and Clarence. At 5’8” Tony could dunk a basketball and was the best passer on the team. Clarence, known to his teammates as the “Ice Man,” was the go-to man in crunch time, draining over 300 free throws in his Madison County career.
“Clarence, to my knowledge, hit every free throw in the clutch that entire year,” Barger said.
The team was equally impressive down low featuring a 6’10,” future Georgia center in Arlando Bennett and a 6’8” force in Keith Gantt.
Bennett was the team’s most noted player, being sought-after by every Southeastern Conference school. Aside from his presence on the court as a near-seven foot player, Barger remembers the dedication Bennett had toward his studies so he that he could go on to play college ball.
“For Arlando, it was basketball and books,” Barger said. “...He had to spend so much time taking the academics he needed to qualify for college...It’s a real tribute to him that he managed to juggle a schedule that most seniors don’t have to take.”
While Bennett was the team’s blue-chip prospect, Gantt was the team’s most physical player underneath the glass. Barger called him “one of the strongest rebounders I’ve ever seen in high school basketball.”
Gantt also made dunking a spectacle. In fact, he broke three goals dunking basketballs in practices and games in his career.
“There’s three he broke and he damaged a couple more,” Barger recalls.
And then there were Eugene Brown, the sharp-shooting eventual-hero of the state championship game; Jay Booth, a 6’7” force off the bench; Brian Turner, a versatile guard who could post up down low, and other contributors like Kelly Michaels, Joe Wood, Bobby Appling and Dexter Willis.
With the philosophy that “you’re no better than your second team,” Wilkes was never afraid to put anyone of the team’s 11 players on the floor as there was little or no drop-off between the first and second squads.
“I think the most exciting games our first team would play were probably against us in practice,” said Joe Wood, the team’s second-team point guard.
During the week, the subs would beat the first team a couple times during scrimmages. Then during games, the reserves would run 16- to 18-point leads on up to 30 or 40 points.
“People would accuse us of running up the score, but in all reality, they (the second team) were just that good,” Barger explained.
Ringing up scores that some college teams would envy, the Raiders scored in the 90’s four times that year and surpassed the century mark three times, averaging 81.4 points a game.
“And we could play defense. We could press,” Barger added. “We were not really week in any phase of the game.”
With an abundance of talented players, there was always the possibility of internal problems—bench players feeling they were entitled to starting spots, seniors resenting being subs after starting as juniors. But the team maintained a family-like atmosphere with each player accepting the role they had to to make the team a champion.
“You’ve got guys sitting there on the bench knowing they could start anywhere in the region that night,” he said. “But they managed to come together and accept their role, whatever it might have been.”
If you didn’t make it to the old gym before the conclusion of the JV boys’ game on a Friday or Saturday in 1987-1988, chances are you were having to stand up to watch the varsity Raiders that evening.
Aside from the talent on Madison County’s side, people flocked to see games against a region loaded with electric players that year like Stephens County’s Dale Davis who still plays in the NBA.
“We never had any other atmosphere around here than a packed house,” Barger said.
For some Madison County players, they couldn’t fathom basketball in any other setting. Wood remembers being bored when watching games out of state after he graduated.
“The gym wasn’t packed, there were no dunks and looking at those teams, I remember thinking that ‘Our B-team looked bigger.’”
Current Madison County assistant coach Tim Drake, who was a member of the JV team that year, said every game in the old building seemed to have something riding on it.
“It was great seeing a huge crowd,” he said. “The students were loud and even the parents were vocal. There was a sense that everybody we played was a rival—Franklin County, Hart County, Stephens County, Elbert County and even Monroe Area had some good teams.”
On more than one occasion that year, late-arriving fans would have to hear about the game the next day. Barger remembers a minimum of six or seven times that year that the doors were locked and hundreds of people were turned away.
Similar chaos followed in the post season.
During the sub-region tournament that year, 200 people who couldn’t get a seat, paid to cram into the basement at Elbert County’s gym to watch the team play on television.
In Franklin County, law enforcement officers had to secure the gym doors with wood braces to keep out droves of fans wanting to see Madison County play Hart County for the region championship.
In a humorous anecdote, Barger remembers Wilkes, of all people, being one of those unlucky ones locked outside the “Lion’s Den” after the coach left the gym momentarily through a locker room door. Wilkes had propped the door open with a rock and upon his return, found the door closed and locked.
“Someone moved his rock and shut the door,” Barger explained.
With only minutes to spare before the start of the game, Wilkes found himself having to convince a security guard that he was indeed Madison County’s head basketball coach amongst a mob of 500 fans that had arrived too late to enter the gym.
“He’s back there saying, ‘I’ve gotta get in, I’m the coach from Madison County!’ and someone would say, ‘Yeah, right, buddy!,’” Barger said with a laugh. “But luckily, I think coach (Jeff) Davis recognized him out there and got him in the gym in just about time to tip off for the region championship. We’ve laughed about that over the years several times.”
The team knew they had something special that year as far back summer camp, whipping some of the state’s best teams in a 40-50 game schedule.
“If we lost a camp game, I don’t remember it,” Barger said.
The summer foreshadowed greater things to come that winter.
Lopsided wins like its 104-65 season-opening throttling of Franklin County or its 105-64 dismantling of Elbert County left little doubt that Madison County was amongst the elite in Class AAA basketball.
“If we won a close game people would come off saying ‘What’s wrong with y’all,” Barger explained.
In what Barger called “one of the toughest schedules I’ve seen any Madison County team play,” the Raiders ripped through the regular season with a 19-2 record with wins over the region 8-AAA titans and Atlanta-area powers like Brown, Lassister, Marist, South Gwinnett.
Of all those teams gunning for the Raiders, only one actually toppled them, Hart County—three times.
In a rare five-game series, the Bulldogs downed the Raiders in two out of three meetings in the regular season and once in the sub-region tournament.
However, the round that mattered most—that region championship contest in front of that overflow crowd in Franklin County—went to Madison County, 77-69
“That region tournament win was...It was almost like we’d won a state championship,” Barger said.
It could have all ended the first night out in the state tournament, though.
With top teams like Brown falling in the first round, Madison County had its scare against Lakeside.
Barger said the team came out flat in the contest and Wilkes eventually seen had enough, substituting in that reliable second team.
The Raider backups erased the four-point deficit and gave the first team a four-point lead when it came back out on the court.
Madison County held on to win 60-56.
Barger doesn’t think the team would have ever gotten past Lakeside with out that spurt from the bench.
“To me, that proved how valuable that second team was.”
Surviving a first-round wake-up call spurred Madison County to breeze past Southeast Whitfield 79-60 and then pick up its 26th win with a 74-65 victory at Alexander Memorial Coliseum over Dodge County in the semifinals, moving Madison County one win away from the title.
The last college game played in Alexander Memorial before the AAA semifinal round with Dodge County was Georgia Tech and North Carolina in a game that featured future NBA stars like Dennis Scott.
The Raiders were a bit awed by the setting.
“We were sitting down here on the same bench that North Carolina which had been to the NCAA tournament what, 27 straight years had sat on,” Barger explained. “...We wondered how we would respond but we told the guys that the goal is still 10 feet from the ground and the floor is 94 feet long,” he said.
For the most part, Eugene Brown, who earned a starting spot during the region tournament, was quiet in the three previous state tournament games leading up to the championship.
But the Cedar Shoals senior transfer, who moved back to Madison County during the summer after the death of his grandfather, would etch his name into Madison County basketball history when it mattered most.
Barger explained that he and Wilkes noticed in the third state tournament game that foes were starting lock down on the Sorrells duo, leaving Brown loosely guarded.
They would exploit that against Marist.
“Coach Wilkes and I told the players, ‘Alright, they’re going to be on Tony and Clarence tight, look for them to come out on the perimeter on y’all, so that’s going to leave Eugene open. Get him the ball.”
Madison County executed the game plan perfectly as Brown drilled six three pointers and racked up 29 points against the War Eagles.
Brown’s deft aim from beyond the arc helped the Raiders hold an eight-to-10 point lead for the first half and maintain a double-digit lead for most of the second half before Marist made a late run to trim the lead “to seven or eight,” with approximately four minutes remaining in the game Barger recalls.
After Wilkes challenged his team to pickup its game during a timeout, the team went down the floor and Brown drained a three-pointer to extinguish Marist’s run and ultimately seal the win for the Raiders.
The team that everyone gunned for finally had its championship.
Fifteen years later, the emotions felt after the clock hit 0:00 that night in Atlanta are still hard to convey.
“It was a feeling of euphoria that you’ve got to win one to understand,” Barger, now 46, explains from his office in the old gym. “On the bus ride back, I can remember us saying the we were ready to play someone else, we didn’t want it to be over...We ready to take on a AAAA state champion.”
Wood remembers that the win over Marist fulfilled a promise that he and some of his teammates had made long ago.
“It something we dreamed about,” he said. “I remember talking about it when I was in seventh grade and some of the guys who were in eighth grade. It was like, ‘we’re going to win state when I’m a junior and you’re seniors.”
Barger went on to coach 10 more seasons under Wilkes before hanging up his coaching whistle after total hip replacement surgery in late 1997.
The Christmas tournament games at Salem that year where his last on the coaching bench. In the five years since leaving the game, he has continued to teach physical education, farm “and do a lot of hunting and fishing.”
Wilkes went on to maintain a powerful program over the next nine years in Danielsville, eventually coaching the team back to the state tournament in 1996-1997.
However, his tenure in Madison County ended on a down note. Months after Barger’s final game courtside, Wilkes, amid complaints from some parents, stepped down after a 6-19 season in 1997-1998, exactly a decade after the program had reached its greatest heights.
Wilkes moved on to coach four seasons at Treutlen County and still works at that high school.
As for the players, Bennett, after battling injuries at Georgia, went on to have a stellar career overseas in Taiwan and Brown went on to play at Layola Marymount and serve a stint in the military.
Several have remained in the county like the Sorrells brothers, Gantt and Wood, who is the pastor at Riverside Baptist Church.
And some have gone on to coach as Turner is currently the girls’ head coach at Elbert County.
Each player on that team has come back to Madison County basketball games over the years and Bennett even furnished shoes for both the JV and varsity one year.
Barger said he now has a deeper appreciation of what that team accomplished.
“A lot of times when things are happening like that, you don’t really realize what you’re doing for the county. People in a county like that, they cling to it, they’re proud.”
It hadn’t dawned to Wilkes this past week that it had been a decade and a half since he coached Madison County to the school’s only state title.
“I can’t believe that 15 years has gone by,” said from Treutlen County High School in a phone interview. “I don’t know where the time went.”
While Wilkes spoke at length about the overwhelming depth, talent level and balance on the team, what sticks with the 24-year coaching veteran is the team’s unselfishness.
“There were no individuals on that team,” he said. “There were some personalities, now, but no individuals.”
One of Wilkes most vivid memories came after the team’s lackluster, opening-round showing against Lakeside when he found the team huddled together before its matchup with Southeast Whitfield, critiquing what it had done wrong the previous game.
“And you’ve got Dexter Willis, who was the 11th or 12th man on that team, saying ‘ya’ll know ya’ll didn’t play your best.’ That was important,” Wilkes explained.
For Wilkes, who coached for 13 seasons at Madison County, six at Metter, one at Rabun County and four at Treutlen, winning the championship was especially meaningful after some near misses at other schools. Before arriving in Danielsville in 1985-1986, his teams at Metter reached the final four twice and the championship once, losing that contest by a point.
“It’s been a very big win for me,” Wilkes said of winning the title with Madison County. “At least you can say you’ve done it.”
Wilkes, five years removed from his coaching days with the Raiders, said he still makes a few trips back to Madison County and in fact, was in town a couple weekends ago.
“I make it up there every once in a while,” he said. “I see some old people. I mostly go see Coach Barger and I’d go see Coach (Tim) Cook, but he left, but I still see some people.”
Even though a large, framed picture of the 1988 team now hangs as a reminder in the current boys’ locker room in the new gym, Drake, who’s been a varsity assistant and JV head coach for three seasons, said that today’s players rarely ask about the glory days.
“The players these days don’t realize the kind success the basketball program had years ago,” he said. “We’ve been down for the past five or six years. They don’t look at the past. It’s kind of surprising.”
Current head coach Steve Crouse, who’s been in Danielsville since 2000, has tried to change that.
Drake said that Crouse has embraced the old Raider tradition since day one on the job. In fact, one of the first practices the team had under Crouse was held in old gym so that the team could scrimmage on the same floor that the program had seen it’s greatest glories all those years ago.
Drake said: “We told them that, ‘This gym has a lot of Madison County wins, Don’t disrespect this gym. There are banners. There is tradition.’”

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