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Hammock: Sterling year for Bulldogs

For all North Gwinnett's athletic successes over the years, reaching the state's ultimate peak has rarely been among them.

Prior to this school year, the Bulldogs had four state championships. Three were in a sport that high-schoolers no longaer play (slowpitch softball in 1985, 1988 and 1989) and the other came in 2000 in cheerleading, which some people (not me, of course) don't consider a sport. And it's not like the school didn't have time to rack up more championships since it opened in 1958.

That history doesn't have any sort of impact on what happens at North these days, but it puts its 2009-10 prosperity in much better perspective -- since state titles haven't happened there often.

The Bulldogs won two state championships this school year alone, in girls cross country and girls soccer, the latest highlights of an athletic program that has grown into one of the state's best. North's baseball team also had an exceptional season in reaching this week's Final Four, while the football team won the Region 7-AAAAA title back in the fall. In between, Caroline Kenney won the fourth and fifth individual state championships of her career and fellow swimmer Eric Madden became North's first boys individual state champion in his sport.

"It was a great year for us as individuals and teams," said North athletic and activities director Mark Karen, in his 10th year at the school, fourth as AD. "We have a strong coaching staff at North, but our student-athletes are really the ones who make it happen."

Karen is one of the main components in North's success. He's put a heavy load of work into all of the school's programs, not to mention that he's personally responsible for winning both team state titles this year as head girls cross country and head girls soccer coach.

A full-time AD has enough tasks at hand to stay plenty busy, yet Karen finds time to coach two sports to the highest of levels each season. It's a path that his mentor, Karl Bostick, took at Parkview back when Karen was a student there. Bostick also coached cross country, soccer and was AD.

Karen doesn't have the Bulldogs up to Parkview state-title standards yet -- the Panthers have a county-best 47 all-time -- but with more years like this one, they can close the gap.

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