On Tuesday and Wednesday, Mercedes Benz Stadium will host more sports championships. This time, for Georgia high school football.
In the AAAAA bracket, one team from Southwest Georgia qualified against all kinds of odds.
The Bainbridge High School Bearcats haven’t made it to the state football championship since 1982. They began this season with a young team, a new starting quarterback, and some losses. And then an unprecedented storm hit, said Scott Miller, associate athletic director.
“Hurricane Michael hit and gosh, we just had a hard time even getting our players back together for practice,” he recalled. “Homes were destroyed.”
Players and coaches were without power, roads were impassable, and they lost seven days of school. A “skeleton crew” kept showing up to football practice, he said.
Hurricane Michael brought 150 mph winds to Southwest Georgia, causing an estimated $2.5 billion in damage. It toppled about a million acres of Georgia timber, nearly 100 chicken houses, 20 percent of Georgia’s pecan trees. The agriculture industry that Southwest Georgia depends on has taken an unprecedented hit as a result.
“Southwest Georgia is the heart of our agriculture production area, and so this was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that maximized the damage,”Jeffrey Dorfman, professor of agricultural economics at the University of Georgia, said in a previous interview. “This is a very serious threat to a way of life in Southwest Georgia.”
“We really limped into our Warner Robins game right after the hurricane,” Miller said.
The team lost that game 38-0. Since then though, they’ve been on a surprise winning streak that’s carried them to the championship.
“These young kids started getting a little more confidence in what they were doing, and next thing you know we were playing really good, sound football,” he said.
Phil Long is a Bainbridge City Councilmember who calls the games for Live 101.9 FM in Bainbridge.
“It’s just a positive situation in a really gloomy atmosphere at the moment in time in Bainbridge,” he said.
How did they do it?
“It’s hard work and a lot of heart,” he said. “There’s just no quit in them, at this moment in time. Every week we’ve had to play under a lot of adversity.”
Miller said the community helped.
“Our community just kind of rallied around the football team,” he said. “We were in such devastation after the hurricane it was the rallying point for the whole community.”
Storefronts have painted windows purple and gold, and people have bought a lot of Bearcat gear, he said.
“You know our whole community is affected when we have a team go to a state final like this. It just has this ripple effect throughout the community,” Miller said. “A lot of excitement, a lot of pride.”
Bainbridge will face Warner Robins again in the championship Tuesday afternoon.
“From the first time we played Warner Robins until now, we’re a completely different team, from a mental standpoint, from a confidence standpoint,” Miller said. “It’s going to be really exciting to see the difference from the first game to [Tuesday’s] game.”