If you have worked around sports for as long as I have, you have seen the look on a child’s face when they try a sport for the first time and discover that they can do it. I like to call it the “Light Bulb Moment”. As a tennis volunteer I have seen the light go on countless times, when a child picks up a racquet and discovers that they have the ability to play. It unlocks a thirst that in time turns into a passion and they simply can’t wait until their next opportunity to play.
If that is the feeling that a single child gets when finding success at a new sport, I can only imagine what it was like when girls lacrosse was introduced at Henry County High School 3 years ago. James Thomas, a football coach, was issued the task of organizing a new sport for girls. Jason Harris was the Warhawks Athletic Director at the time, ” Coach Thomas was a football coach who stepped away from a sport that he had experience playing “, recalls Harris. ” He himself had to become a student of the game before he would be able to successfully coach those girls.”
A new sport, with players who had never played it and a coach who had never coached it . The results were what you might expect. ” Our first year we didn’t win anything, ” says Thomas. Following his college football career at the University of West Georgia , James Thomas set his sights on climbing the ladder as a high school football coach, then lacrosse happened. Thomas challenged the girls to hit the gym for strength and conditioning along with doing agility drills on the field. The players responded positively to the challenge from Thomas and a special bond was starting to form.
Last season the Henry County girls were a junior varsity team that played a varsity schedule and finished 6-3. There was this sense of pride as they started posting updates on social media. “Hawkette Lacrosse” was proving to be a competitive force on Atlanta’s southside, and it caught the eye of this reporter. Who were these girls from Henry County who weren’t just winning at a new sports but branding it and making it their own ?
Last week I had the chance to catch the Hawkettes in action , playing a big region match at Woodward Academy. When a coach and players take on a new sport, it is also a challenge for parents, most of whom had no prior knowledge of lacrosse before their daughters decided to play. It was kind of neat to see and hear these parents yell and scream as the Hawkettes squared off against a Woodward Academy program that started playing lacrosse 10 years ago. The Hawkettes traded goals with the War Eagles, even taking the lead for a while before experience kicked in and Woodward Academy hung on for a 17-14 win.
“Sometimes you eat and sometimes you are on the menu”, says Thomas. ” Overall we’re still learning the ins and outs of being a program that people are watching”. Despite the setback, The Henry County girls made history by securing a spot in the GHSA lacrosse state players for the first time, and that’s not all. The Hawkettes join the Southwest Dekalb girls as the first all black girls lacrosse teams to earn state playoff berths.
Henry County will open the post season this week against Henry County School District rival Union Grove after finished the regular season with an overall record of 8-6, 4-3 in region play. Jason Harris is now Athletic Director at Rome High School but continues to follow the progress of the Hawkettes and Coach James Thomas. ” He is a pretty fast learner and a great teacher/coach,” says Harris. “He really built that program from the ground level. I am proud to see what they have accomplished in just 3 years.
In just a few weeks the doors will close at Henry County High School to make way for the new McDonough High School,which is set to open next fall. One thing that I don’t expect to change is the determined spirit of the Hawkettes. The team that I met had smiles on their faces and a collective gleam in their eyes, leading me to believe that brighter days are ahead. I guess that is what happens when a new sport is introduced and the light goes on.