When Kathy Walton was named coach of a state all-star team recently, she didn’t choose other DeKalb County coaches out of obligation. The Southwest DeKalb girls coach did it to send a message.
“Just like players make each other better, the coaches in this county make each other better,” said Walton, whose Panthers are one of six county teams to advance to the GHSA state basketball semifinals. “There is a certain amount of respect among the coaches, some more than others. I get a lot of help from some of the coaches in the county. There’s no way I would do what I do without their help.”
Walton, who will coach the North team in the upcoming Georgia Athletic Coaches Association Junior All-Star game, chose head coaches Chantay Frost of Columbia, Robin Potter of Tucker and Kim Hixon of Marist as her assistant coaches.
“I definitely wanted to keep it in the county and pick coaches that have helped me,” Walton said. “If we’re playing someone [from outside the county] that another coach knows about, it’s good to be able to get information from them. It’s been like this ever since I’ve been in the system.”
The combination of talented players and coaches has led to a long string of basketball success in the county. Walton led Southwest to three straight girls state titles from 2008-10. This year, Southwest and Miller Grove advanced its boys and girls teams to the Class AAAA semifinals, and both of Columbia’s teams are in the Class AAA semifinals.
Miller Grove’s boys are shooting for their fourth straight state championship while the Columbia boys have won four state titles in the past six seasons. Frost led the Columbia girls to their first state title in 2010.
“To have three schools with both teams in the semifinals speaks volumes not only of the talent in the county, but how it’s cultivated,” said Miller Grove boys coach Sharman White. “I think we have some of the best coaches in the state here. That bodes well for the kids who have talent and are put on a path to be able to play for a championship. Until we play each other, we all pull for each other. If I don’t win it, I want someone else from DeKalb County to win it.”
Miller Grove girls coach Renee Breedlove recently had that sentiment passed along to her by another county coach.
“A Chamblee assistant coach told me as long as someone from Region 6 wins it, he’ll be satisfied,” Breedlove said.
Three teams from Region 6 had advanced to the quarterfinals of the boys and girls AAAA tournament. Miller Grove eliminated Marist in the boys’ tournament and Southwest eliminated Chamblee in the girls’ tournament.
“Region 6-AAAA for years has been the most competitive region,” Breedlove said. “We know we have to get in the gym and work. That’s what’s expected. You’re expected to win. And it’s the same tradition for both the boys and the girls.”
Columbia boys coach Phil McCrary knows a little about tradition. McCrary won his 500th game with the Eagles last season.
“You always have to have a forerunner, and I’m happy Columbia has been able to do that,” McCrary said. “Now you have teams likeMiller Grove, Southwest DeKalb and Redan girls able to showcase other talent within the school system. When you have good coaches and good players, being able to go on the road and bring that recognition to the school system says a lot.”
Not only has McCrary been able to build tradition within the basketball program, but the boys’ and girls’ basketball programs are a source of community pride.
“We’ve always had that school pride and being able to keep that pride in the community is a plus for us,” he said. “We always want to make sure we represent DeKalb County and our community well.”
The six teams that have advanced to the state semifinals can be sure of that.