SUN­DAY

The Covington News - - SPORTS - Gabriel Sto­vall is the Sports Ed­i­tor for The Cov­ing­ton News. He can be reached for story tips and ideas at gsto­vall@cov­news.com. If you’re on Twit­ter, fol­low him @GabrielS­to­vall1. You can also fol­low our Twit­ter sports page @CovNewsS­ports

It’s a school that’s been around since 2001, and up un­til the last week in April, had never won a state cham­pi­onship of any kind. But on Tues­day April 25, Peachtree Academy be­came the stan­dard bear­ers for high school ten­nis in the Ge­or­gia In­de­pen­dent Chris­tian Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion.

From zero to two state titles in one day. That’s what the ten­nis teams from Peachtree gave the school. Led by coach Ken Van Ness, who’s also the school’s ath­letic di­rec­tor, it was a par­tic­u­larly mean­ing­ful ac­com­plish­ment for him. But with the school year dwin­dling down, and the spring sports sea­son all but fin­ished, Van Ness is hop­ing to see one more of the school’s ath­letic pro­grams bring home hard­ware for a sud­denly full man­tle.

Peachtree Academy’s base­ball team, fresh off a two-game state tour­na­ment sweep of Praise Academy on a cold, rainy Fri­day night, has played its way into the GICAA state cham- pi­o­nship se­ries with West­min­ster Chris­tian Academy on Fri­day.

Led by coach Skip Argo, the Pan­thers boast an im­pres­sive 19-3 record, were a per­fect 6-0 dur­ing their reg­u­lar sea­son re­gion sched­ule and have won their four play­off games by a com­bined score of 47-10. It may very well be that this same space could be used next Sun­day to sa­lute a third Peachtree Academy state cham­pion in as many weeks.

And if that hap­pens, Van Ness wouldn’t be sur­prised. In fact, when he talks about the ten­nis ac­com­plish­ments, he does it in such a way where he seems to call it an omen of what could be to come for Peachtree Academy ath­let­ics.

“I think (the ten­nis cham­pi­onships) are just the be­gin­ning, re­ally,” Van Ness said. “It’s this school’s first state cham­pi­onship. But it’s been a great year for us as an ath­letic pro­gram.”

Peel back the record, and you’ll see Peachtree Academy foot­ball, bas­ket­ball and base­ball have all won re­gion cham­pi­onships. Van Ness calls the tri­fecta “the big three.” The foot­ball team, coached by David Smith, fin- ished an im­pres­sive 2016 cam­paign with an 8-4 record and ranked No. 15 by MaxPreps out of 30 small school pro­grams — many of which play six, eight or nine-man foot­ball.

The boys bas­ket­ball team, led by Terry McRae, fin­ished 15-8 with a 9-1 re­gion mark, and of course, the base­ball is still truck­ing along, two games away from giv­ing Peachtree Academy a third state cham­pi­onship.

And make no mis­take about it: These aren’t con­so­la­tion prizes. These aren’t the best of the rest. Sev­eral GICAA schools right here in Ge­or­gia have com­peted at lev­els in their var­i­ous sports that could give some GHSA schools a run for their money.

In nearby Henry County, for in­stance, Com­mu­nity Chris­tian School — another GICAA foot­ball pro­gram — has seen more then a hand­ful of play­ers gar­ner NCAA Di­vi­sion I re­cruit­ing at­ten­tion and schol­ar­ship of­fers. One young man has even signed to play foot­ball at Navy next fall.

Suf­fice it to say, there’s ta­lent in the GICAA. And that means they’re ta­lent — per­haps un­her­alded or un­sung, but ta­lent all the same — right here in Cov­ing­ton, even out­side of the GHSA pro­grams.

And when Van Ness talks about how pleased he is with the progress of his Peachtree Academy pro­gram, he speaks like a proud papa, com­plete with chest stuck out be­cause of his “child” that’s learned how to walk, and now seems poised and pre­pared to do a lit­tle run­ning.

“Yes, I’m very proud of what this school has ac­com­plished,” he said. “I like where we’re go­ing as an ath­letic pro­gram, but also as a school. This will be our fourth grad­u­at­ing class, and it’ll be the first true grad­u­at­ing class that’s not just a small hand­ful of kids. We had 22 grad­u­at­ing last year, and we’ll have 22 again this year, which means we’re get­ting to where we need to be size wise in or­der to re­ally be com­pet­i­tive and com­pete for cham­pi­onships.”

It’s a re­minder that even on what we call “the smaller scale,” these teams in non-GHSA as­so­ci­a­tions want to com­pete. They want to win. They want titles and they want to be known as the best at what they do. There are even some schools in smaller, pri­vate ath­letic as­so­ci­a­tions that seek to build them­selves up to com­pete in the GHSA, much like a NCAA Di­vi­sion II or FCS pro­gram seeks to move up to Di­vi­sion I com­pe­ti­tion.

Who knows if that’s some­thing in the cards for Peachtree Academy’s fu­ture. Who knows if it’s even an as­pi­ra­tion. But what is for sure is that the Pan­thers are prowl­ing upon suc­cess right where they are. And they’re just as wor­thy of ac­co­lades and cel­e­bra­tion as any other school in our county, re­gard­less of size.

I plan to dou­ble my ef­forts to cover these schools and tell their sto­ries more fre­quently. And I hope our com­mu­nity will also throw its sup­port be­hind our non-GHSA ath­letes more heartily as well. They de­serve it.

That said, hope­fully I’ll see you Fri­day night for what could be another state cham­pi­onship cel­e­bra­tion.

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