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Students, community show support for Red Elephants
Gainesville High School cheerleaders Lindy Ellison, left, and Mariana Latimer put up a sign Thursday afternoon along Green Street. - photo by Tom Reed | The Times

Coming Saturday
We’ll have complete coverage of Gainesville’s bid for its first state championship with game stories, photos and videos from inside the Georgia Dome in both print and online.

Tonight the Red Elephants of Gainesville High School have a chance to do something that hasn’t been done in nearly a century: win a state football title.

This year’s squad, which finished the regular season 7-3 after moving up two classifications to Class AAAAA, will get its chance tonight in the Georgia Dome against a one-loss Ware County team.

But, fans say, something about this year seems different.

In 2009, as some high school seniors remember, the Red Elephants fell to Peach County 13-12 in the state title game. No one has forgotten that feeling and fans are confident this team will walk away victorious.

“I think the momentum from not finishing in 2009 has carried into 2012,” said Myraio Mitchell, parent of a Gainesville student. “Everyone has stepped up to the plate and made this happen and to get to this point again in three years — if I had to make a prediction, I think we walk away with it.”

One thing is for sure: There will be plenty of red and white in Atlanta tonight.

“Everyone in the city of Gainesville is into it, whether they’re from different schools or not,” said Meg Callahan, a junior at Gainesville. “It’s a really special thing to see everyone in the community get excited.”

Callahan will make the trip to the Georgia Dome, along with hundreds of her classmates and more Red Elephant faithful in the area.

“It’s like the big event of the year, especially for the city schools,” said Wanda Cannon, parent of a Gainesville senior. “It’s like a big ol’ community here.”

And from the halls of the high school to the lines in the grocery store, a state title is all anyone can seem to talk about.

“I think everything right now is bleeding red and white,” said Mitchell. “From a community standpoint, it is unfinished business. It’s something that we’ve dreamed of and now it’s a reality.”

But entering the season, some had their doubts, especially considering the school was jumping up to Class AAAAA. That was amplified by the opening-game loss to West Forsyth.

“Going into the year, a lot of people had some doubt because we went from AAA to AAAAA,” said Kevin Danz, a senior at Gainesville. “I heard a lot of people over the summer say: ‘Are they crazy? We can’t do that. We’re going to get murdered.’ Then we lost that first game.”

Then the Red Elephants clipped off seven wins in a row and earned not only the momentum, but the attention from the fan base.

“At first, not many people had confidence in the team, but they showed us what they can do and we’re putting our support behind them,” said Wesley Sims, a junior at Gainesville.

And that support, some students said, is rooted in the idea of a “Big Red family.”   

“People are really, really pumped,” said Danz. “You see (the football players) on a day-to-day basis so the school as a whole is going crazy over it because we know they’re with us — we’re all the same group.”

Danz will be at the Dome tonight and said there will be thousands more paying close attention.

“Nobody is going to miss this game, whether they’re there or not,” he said.  

Mitchell will be there and, he said, he’ll be sure to recruit as many as possible to make the drive down Interstate 85.

“We (are) going to stake our claim at the Dome (tonight) and we’ll be there in full force in red,” he said. “We have a lot of pride about it.”