Giving thanks for practice

Unless you're a part of the experience, it appears to be a hassle.

The last thing high school football players and coaches want to do on Thanksgiving is have a practice, right? Wrong.

Eight Gwinnett area teams will go through some sort of practice, walk-through or team meeting today in preparation for Friday's second-round state playoff game. And they'll be thankful that they're practicing, not sitting at home wondering what could have been this football season.

"As a coach and a player, everybody wants to get to Thanksgiving," said Grayson head coach Mickey Conn, whose team scheduled a 9 a.m. walk-through today. "That's one of those goals as coaches. You want to play at least until Thanksgiving. That means you had a good year."

At the perennially strong programs, Thanksgiving practices are expected. Parents at those schools know not to plan out-of-town holiday trips because more than likely the team will still be in the thick of the playoffs.

Buford hasn't missed Thanksgiving practice very often, although head coach Jess Simpson remembers one painful holiday in 2005, when the football season started much earlier. The Aug. 19 opener meant the semifinals were Thanksgiving week, and the Wolves were at home that year after losing 26-21 to Charlton County in the quarterfinals.

There's no doubt he and his fellow coaches and players wanted to be on the practice field, instead of munching on turkey and dressing.

"When we haven't practiced on Thanksgiving, it's an empty feeling," Simpson said. "It was tough in 2005 after we lost to Charlton. That was a long Thanksgiving day."

Greater Atlanta Christian head coach Jimmy Chupp is in the same situation as Simpson. His team typically practices on Thanksgiving - the Spartans have done so 11 of the past 14 years.

"It has become a tradition for us and we feel very blessed to be able to do it again," said Chupp, whose team has a run-through practice this afternoon.

The holiday practice tradition certainly isn't a Georgia phenomenon.

"Practicing on Thanksgiving at Lexington Catholic (Ky.) under the lights was a pretty great thing," North head coach Bob Sphire said. "If you did that, you knew you'd accomplished quite a bit."

Even though most football families still are able to celebrate Thanksgiving today, they also don't mind spending time with their other family - their team.

"We always take some time out to say thanks, to give the players and coaches a chance to say what they're thankful for," Simpson said. "It's a real special day for us."

Will Hammock can be reached via e-mail at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays.