Great sports stories abounded for Jackson County residents in 2012. But none of them seemed to captivate audiences more than the unexpected state title run of the Jefferson High School football team.
It was estimated more than 3,000 people, about a third of Jefferson’s population, arrived at the Georgia Dome from this community to support the Dragons on Dec. 15.
The end score — Jefferson 31, Calhoun 14 — culminated the post-season trip of a lifetime for many with ties to the school’s football program. After all, the last Dragon teams to advance to the final game took the field in the 1970s.
So the rare experience of playing for a title, let alone winning one, made last month’s lopsided upset over Calhoun that much sweeter to the alumni, team members and coaches who continue gathering accolades in the wake of the championship.
“It has been a whirlwind,” said coach T. McFerrin, who has yet to process the series of events leading to the championship. “I’ve told everybody that I think a great thing to do one night soon will be to sit in front of the fireplace some evening and just think about what has really happened.”
The entire season was filled with remarkable moments, both good and bad, which vie for special attention in a sports review of 2012. The stunning loss to Commerce in the season-opener. The regular season upset of Class AAA’s North Hall. The pandemonium inside Memorial Stadium after the three-overtime quarterfinal win against Fitzgerald.
But clearly, JHS raising the title trophy at the Georgia Dome is the No. 1 sports moment of the year and perhaps many more years to come.
There were no shortage of individual and team achievements at the high school level beyond the football field, however.
Athletes collected titles, achieved program and personal firsts, made comebacks and continued a legacy of winning.
Racing ahead of these remarkable stories is East Jackson graduate Cale Pirtle. He literally fought his way through challengers at times en route to his one and only state title in track. Pirtle’s 3200-meter championship came by way of a photo finish as he edged his long-distance competitor by two-hundredths of a second with a winning time of 9:45.99.
The Lady Panthers surprised many with their midseason turnaround on the diamond and run at Columbus. The underdog Jackson County team advanced to the Final Four in the post-season softball tournament.
Three high school soccer teams offered a glimpse of the sports future in Jackson County, each one advancing to the state playoffs for the first time.
And then there were the wrestlers. Both Jefferson High School and Jackson County produced title winners with JHS’ Forrest Przybysz collecting his third state title in February.
The 2012 feat helped the program gain its 27th overall championship in the sport.