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: Chestatee High Schools' War Eagle Stadium. Fans who would like to share their memories can email Dallas Duncan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When the Lakeview Academy Lions take the field on Friday nights, they're stomping turf named for former coach Jock Hornor.
But Hornor didn't coach football. He coached soccer.
In 1996, nearly a decade after Hornor began at Lakeview, the field was named for him.
"It was kind of a blindside, crazy thing," Hornor said. "They had a little podium set up. I can't remember how they sucked me into going out there. I couldn't figure out what was going on."
He knew something was up when he saw his wife and other family members on the field.
"It was a great honor," he said.
The honor, however, could go to no one else, school officials said.
Ferrell Singleton, who was the head of school from 1979 to 2006, had been at Lakeview for several years when Hornor came into his office asking about enrolling his children there.
"He said he was the kind of person to get involved," Singleton said.
And Hornor got involved.
He was a middle school soccer coach, an athletic team bus driver, a business teacher, a varsity soccer coach, a director and a board member before his tenure at Lakeview was up.
Hornor coached first on a field that pulled double duty for both soccer and football.
"It was very rough," Singleton said. "Kids would tell me about picking rocks off of it before they could play."
The school raised money to fund a new soccer field, the one later named for Hornor, in the mid-1980s.
"It was quite a project," Hornor said. "A good portion of that area was woods."
As the years went on, it became evident the school needed something else in its athletic program.
"Football is key to the South. It was time for us to look at adding that kind of sport," said Deuce Roark, Lakeview's athletic director. "We're excited to have football here. It's a point of pride for the school."
Though the existing Lion football traditions have only been around since 2006, the pigskin legacy started at the school long before.
"In the very formative years of the school they had a football team, but soccer was the big fall sport," Singleton said. "There was a practical reason (for a new football team). Many of the schools that we were playing in soccer started getting football teams and they moved soccer to the spring. We saw our numbers of competitors dwindling."
Matthew Gruhn, son of the late Gainesville High School Coach Bobby Gruhn, was recruited to coach the Lions team.
The team is a third the size of ones in Class-AAA.
But a small size wasn't going to stop the Lions from playing. And neither was a slightly under-regulation-size field.
The Georgia High School Association requires that football fields have five yards from the back of the end zone as a safety area.
"We didn't have that, so Coach Gruhn and I talked and decided it was better to have those yards so nobody got hurt," Lakeview Dean of Students John Simpson said. "So what we did was for two years we had eight yard end zones, and nobody really knew about it."
The shortened end zones might have been a valuable asset in a game against the Pace Academy Knights from Atlanta.
"We won the ballgame against Pace Academy because they threw a long pass in the back of the end zone and he was out of the back," Simpson said.
The field finally became regulation size when Northeast Georgia Medical Center built its north tower and Lakeview officials decided to get their hands dirty.
"They gave us 78 dump truck loads of dirt," Simpson said. "It was unbelievable."
Simpson and Gruhn worked for two hours a day for several months spreading the dirt and laying the turf. They recruited students to help put down the sod at a "sod party." Athletic officials raised money to build the 400-seat bleachers and put them up in a day's time, and Roark's brother built the press box and concession stand.
"It really was homegrown," Simpson said.
Football begins early for even the littlest Lions.
Third, fourth and fifth-graders get to play in the Blue & White League, which practices on Tuesdays and plays Thursdays and sometimes during halftime at Friday home games. The league began last year with 18 players and doubled in size for 2011.
"It's been a really good experience for our kids to be introduced to football at a little different level," Gruhn said. "By taking ownership in it and our kids being coached by our own dads and coached our way, we feel like it'll benefit us greater in the long run."
There is also a team for the lower school, but many of the memorable moments come from the varsity Lions.
Big games that stand out are the first Lions win ever, when they played the Banks County Leopards.
"The third or fourth year we played (Wesleyan School) for the first time, that was a big game. They won the state championship that year," Gruhn said. "They beat us pretty good but it was quite an experience for all our kids to be there."
Georgia Military also proved a worthy opponent for the Lions in 2010.
"We played the best we ever had. We went in and certainly on paper we weren't picked to win and we won 31-nothing," Gruhn said. "Everything kind of went our way."
Gruhn said football has a way of teaching his boys about life, and he doesn't see the program going away like its predecessor.
"I think it's gonna grow. It's here to stay," Simpson said. "We've done football with 130 kids and now we've got 189. That's a tribute to Matthew Gruhn. His leadership is amazing. Those boys, we don't have the biggest kids in the world, but they'll run through a brick wall for him."