You know, the thought occurred to me Monday night during the annual Athens High School All-Sports Banquet that the school district should be very proud of its athletes and coaches. Without question, something very special is going on again within the athletic program.

As I watched the dozens and dozens of athletes come to the front of the multi-purpose hall at Cain Center to be recognized and receive awards before the overflow crowd, and listened to the coaches talk of them and their teams, it became very obvious to me what was again present. There is a genuine love and mutual respect among athletes and coaching staff.

It’s not for me to say those emotions — emotions I personally believe are vital if an athletic program is to be successful — have been absent in recent years. Maybe they haven’t been. But I sure know I hadn’t sensed them as strongly as I did Monday night.

If you buy into my belief intangibles such as those have been missing within the AHS athletic program the past few years, then join me in saying an important corner has been turned. Maybe I’m wrong on this (I don’t believe I am), but for the first time in quite awhile everyone within the athletic program appears to be on the same page.

Please don’t take that as a criticism of anything or anyone in the past. It’s certainly not meant to be. It’s merely an observation — one I hope others have also had.

I believe the AHS athletic program now has the potential to take off in a way in which we haven’t seen in a long, long time. From top to bottom, it’s already strong. More teams and individual athletes are experiencing success. And the teams not quite at that level yet aren’t that far away.

Athletic Director Dan Hamrick deserves a lot of the credit for where the program is and is headed. He understands the importance for not only having good coaches leading the athletes, but having good people as well. The coaching staff he has assembled is a strong one and appears to be one that is unified and supportive of each other.

As the coaches spoke of their athletes Monday night, you could sense the genuine love they felt for them. Perhaps some emotions can be faked, but not the kind of love it’s obvious AHS coaches feel for the young women and men who proudly don the Maroon and White.

I believe the most telling comment heard from the podium came from tennis coach Julie Red. She said when people ask her how her kids are she has to figure out if they are talking about “her” kids or the kids on her teams, because she also considers the players “her” kids.

Folks, that right there wasn’t just “coach talk” either. It was honesty in it’s purest form flowing freely and it spoke volumes of not only the way she feels about her athletes, but the way the coaching staff as a whole feels.

It was so refreshing to see the well-mannered way in which the athletes conducted themselves at the banquet. When it was their turn to be recognized, they stood at attention and accepted accolades with humility.

It’s obvious AHS coaches have had a tremendous influence on the athletes. You can tell that by the way they act — even by the way they dress.

AHS coaches are demanding of their athletes both on and off the playing fields and courts. And that’s the way it should be. High expectations and discipline make for better athletes today and women and men tomorrow.

Whether anyone wants to believe it or not, kids really do want people to expect things from them, push them to succeed and to make them do things the right way. It’s just become too convenient through the years to think otherwise.

The success of an athletic program goes beyond the athletes and coaches. It also involves parents, friends and the community as a whole. That’s another aspect of all of this that is a positive sign. Starting this past football season and continuing through the banquet, the community appears committed to doing its part to make this thing work.

As the school year winds down, the athletic year continues. The AHS softball and baseball teams are currently in the playoffs and senior high jumper Morgan Mayse will later this week try for a second straight gold medal at the state track meet.

As for the future of the AHS athletic program, there’s no reason not to believe the best isn’t yet to come. At least that’s the view from here.

Benny Rogers is sports editor for the Athens Daily Review.

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