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Hammock: Schools, sports foster community

It happens all over small-town America and throughout Georgia, from Folkston to Blairsville.

The community stays connected through its high school sports teams, and through its school system as a whole. The school and its many events are places to gather, to catch up and to make lifelong friends.

It's tough for folks from those rural places to imagine a similar scene in a metro Atlanta county like Gwinnett, home to close a million people and with 22 (soon to be 23) GHSA high schools crammed into one county.

But that sense of community is still alive and well here.

Each time a new high school cluster pops up, it creates a new mini-community. It's already happening at two high schools that opened in August, Archer and Mountain View, and will happen again in a few months when Lanier opens its doors.

The schools' roles in those communities will only expand in the coming years, much like it has the past six years at Mill Creek. Anyone who doubts what kind of impact schools and sports have on towns and districts should have been at the Goals for Grace fundraiser last Friday night.

The event was meant to raise money for Grace Callahan, a first-grader at Ivy Creek Elementary in the Mill Creek cluster who is awaiting a heart transplant. It no doubt succeeded in that mission, but it also showcased a community bond that has grown in the Mill Creek area in recent years — not unlike what has happened in other clusters in Gwinnett, from Brookwood to Norcross to Peachtree Ridge.

The gym was packed with students, faculty and community members who made the night a community gathering as much as a fundraiser. They rooted for faculty members of Ivy Creek, Jones Middle and Mill Creek in basketball games and chatted with some of their closest friends all night long.

And they did it for a good cause, rallying to the aid of a young girl and a family in need. They did what any good community would do — lend a helping hand and then some. Ivy Creek principal Yvonne Frey said she'd never been prouder of her community.

With good reason.

That one event proved just how much schools and sports can build a community.

Even in the booming suburbs.