Hall’s home fields
In honor of high school football season, The Times continues a series on Hall County’s high school football stadiums: Their histories, key memories and what makes them unique. Next week: Lakeview Academy’s Jock Horner Stadium. Fans who would like to share their memories can email Dallas Duncan at email@example.com.
The smoke, the lights and a stadium full of blue-clad fans means one thing — the West Hall High School Spartans are out for blood.
The deafening roar at Spartans Stadium culminates as the team runs through the tunnel and onto the field.
"It's the only school in the county with a tunnel," said Trevor Catrett, West Hall's offensive line coach and a former Spartans guard. "That was always a big deal for us. There's smoke and the lights — something just happened when you stepped out of that tunnel."
The Spartans' legacy began in 1988 when West Hall opened its doors. The first game was against Towns County, which West Hall won 28-14.
"The kids that came on here, they were interviewed and let to choose what the name would be. They chose the Wolverines," said Eddie Suggs, assistant football coach. "It got changed to the Spartans to go along the lines of the other schools in the county."
Though the school was built in 1988, the first football team didn't have a stadium to play in.
"The first year, the stadium wasn't complete," said Eric Radich, the team's strength and conditioning coach and a former Spartans defensive tackle. "There's a picture in our trophy case of the team, and behind them is just a dirt hill."
Jay Hargis, now wrestling coach at North Hall, came to West Hall as a "young coach" the first year the stadium was open. He remembers the first time he saw the goal posts up.
"We as coaches thought that they were oddly close, and Jeff McCord, the first head coach, informed the athletic director and the county. He was told that we were wrong and that they had carefully measured the field before installing the post," Hargis said in an email to The Times.
"A few weeks later as we lined off the field for a scrimmage, it was clear that the goal posts were placed on the goal lines and not the end zone lines."
So in the days leading up to the first home game, a crane and fire truck were employed to move the posts 10 yards back, leaving huge, sandy holes in the field.
"Tom Taylor, our defensive coordinator, decided to take advantage of the situation," Hargis said. "In typical defensive coach style, he schemed up a plan to motivate our boys before a big game. He had all the boys semicircle the sandy spot near the field house and had a very stirring speech about how a dog will protect his prize buried bone."
Hargis said Taylor then presented a hambone and buried it underneath the sand.
"He told our boys to defend the goal line like a ferocious dog defends his bone," Hargis said. "I assume the bone is still there underneath that goal line today."
The biggest rivalry on the field is the annual faceoff between the Spartans and Johnson High.
"In the late 1990s, we started calling it the Battle of Oakwood," Radich said. "It's been a game that both teams want to get up for. When it comes to that game, kids play differently on both sides of the ball."
The big games that stand out in Catrett's mind are a 2000 game against North Hall and a matchup three years ago against East Jackson. In the North Hall game, the Spartans trumped the Trojans 70-7.
"That's the most points ever scored by the home team," Catrett said. "The (junior varsity) played most of the game."
Against the East Jackson's Eagles, quarterback Shunquez Stevens passed to Rodney Gibson for a 20-yard touchdown in the last few seconds in the game for the victory.
"To this day, I still don't know how he made that play," Catrett said.
Suggs remembers the game in the late 1990s when West Hall became the first Hall County team to beat Clarke Central, won in the pouring rain.
"I think it was in 1995. There was a subregion playoff game against East Hall," Radich said. "Everybody came out."
The game ended in a tie between the Spartans and the Vikings. In those days, tie games were decided in overtime by the penetration rule. Each team started at a spot on the field and whoever advanced the farthest won.
The Spartans won that game and advanced to the playoffs for the first time.
Several notable players have worn the Spartans' jersey, Martrez Milner of the Atlanta Falcons and Jermaine Chaney of the Indianapolis Colts, for example. But the school chose to honor one of its own in November 2007.
"We had the dedication for one of our students, Channing Moss. We had a big thing for Veteran's Day and dedicated the weight room to him," Athletic Director Scott Justus said. "The City Council of Oakwood made it Channing Moss Day."
Moss, a former defensive end and linebacker for the Spartans, was wounded by a rocket-propelled grenade while serving in the war in Afghanistan in 2006, but he recovered and returned home to Hall County.
"It went through his whole body and didn't go off. ... Six or eight doctors performed the surgery," Justus said.
"(The dedication) was really neat. We had the whole school, local folks from the community come out."
Changes to the community as the years went on were evident on the football field, but the Spartans aren't giving up any time soon.
"When Chestatee and Flowery Branch (high schools) were built, it split west Hall," Catrett said. "We lost almost 600, 700 kids. It's the only high school I've ever known.
I'm here to get it back to the way it was and we're busting our butts every day to get to that goal."