PROGRESS: Athletic success continues for Gwinnett's largest schools

The iconic water towers off Interstate 85 just north of the Jimmy Carter Boulevard exit, which bore the messages "Gwinnett is Great" and "Success Lives Here," have been gone roughly two and a half years now.

But those message continue to resonate in many respects, including high school athletics.

So far as the Georgia High School Association's highest classification is concern, success still lives in Gwinnett.

Over the past three school years, approximately half of the GSHA's state championships in the state's largest class have been won by county schools.

"I feel like for the last six, seven, eight years we've been on a run," said Norcross head football coach Kevin Maloof, whose Blue Devils became Gwinnett's third straight state champion in the highest classification by winning the Class AAAAAA title in December. "I feel like in Gwinnett, of the two regions, anybody that gets out into the second, third round, they have a chance to win it all. Things have to go your way, the ball has to bounce your way, but you've got to get through the regular season."

As Maloof points out, Gwinnett's success goes beyond just the past three years in several different sports.

County schools have runs of winning or sharing state titles in the largest class in:

-- Six of the last 12 seasons in football, boys basketball and baseball;

-- Eight of the last 12 seasons in girls basketball;

-- 13 straight seasons in boys cross country;

-- Eight of the last 10 seasons in girls cross country;

-- Seven of the last 12 seasons in boys soccer;

-- Four of the last six seasons in girls soccer;

-- Six of the last eight seasons in softball, including the last five straight;

-- 15 of the last 16 seasons in boys swimming, including 15 straight;

-- Four straight seasons in boys track;

-- A combined 10 of the last 11 state duals and traditional tournaments in wrestling.

And the addition of a sixth classification by the GHSA this school year hasn't slowed local schools down.

Recent wins by Archer's wrestling team in the state dual-meet championships and Parkview's boys swimming team has given Gwinnett schools six of the first eight championships awarded in the new Class AAAAAA.

There are plenty of factors that have had an impact on the success local schools have experienced on the fields and courts in the last decade or so.

But as Angie Hembree, who has coached Norcross to two state girls basketball titles in the last three seasons, points out, it eventually comes down to the effort put in by the athletes and coaching staffs.

"For a while now, everybody (in the county) has had quality athletes and quality coaches," said Hembree, who also guided Collins Hill to three state titles in a five-year span from 2001-05. "And it also boils down to the quality of education in Gwinnett County. In this transient society we live in, athletics really aren't the bottom line when people are looking for a place to raise a family. (And) when you combine the athletic piece (of the puzzle) with the educational piece, (Gwinnett) is a no-brainer."