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CLINE: Making a mark

Todd Cline

Todd Cline

When it comes to high school sports, state titles are hardly a rarity around here. This past weekend alone Gwinnett claimed four basketball crowns, with Norcross winning boys and girls championships in Class AAAAAA and the Greater Atlanta Christian boys and Wesleyan girls taking the top spots in Class AA.

Gwinnett wins so much it's easy to take it for granted and, as the former sports editor of the paper, I sometimes did. I remember being in Macon in 2001 when Gwinnett girls teams played in four consecutive state title games, winning the three largest classifications. By the time the horn sounded on the third win, the thrill of seeing a local team victorious was replaced by a feeling of repetition that had me believing I had somehow become part of the movie "Groundhog Day."

It was a different movie I was thinking about this weekend, more along the lines of "Hoosiers." As the Gwinnett teams again played in Macon, my concentration was on my laptop and on a game being played in Peoria, Ill. The high school team from my hometown was playing for a state title, and I imagine the majority of Mason City's 2,700 or so residents were on hand to root Illini Central on against Madison in the Class 1A championship game.

It looked rough for three quarters -- one star player was scoreless, another in foul trouble -- but an impressive fourth quarter saw the Cougars take the lead and eventually a decisive victory. The players from the school -- a consolidation of my town and two smaller ones nearby -- then stormed the court, celebrating the first team state title in any sport from any of those towns. Talk about history.

Living in a metro area, it's hard to put it in perspective how big a deal the title is. The team's success not only had the town's attention, but that of the many alumni now living in different parts of the country. Through social media, I saw that folks were watching in Indiana, Ohio and even Arizona, all pulling for their old high school.

It's always been that way. In Mason City, we don't have football, or stop lights for that matter. The town revolves around basketball and has a proud tradition in the sport despite never before attaining the ultimate title. It's the type of place where if you're playing a rival on a Friday night, there might be a standing-room-only crowd.

It was like that when I played (or, more accurately, when I was on the team). I was a member of one of the more decorated teams in school history before the consolidation, one that went 29-2 in 1985. Our team fell one step short of playing in the Elite Eight at the University of Illinois, but that standout season earned a spot for a large team picture in a prominent spot on the wall in front of the gym.

This year's team got something bigger (and better) than that -- a banner proclaiming them state champs. And the satisfaction of being the first in history to do so.

Email Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.