he West Hall High School Spartans define a Spartan as a person of great courage and self-discipline, who is brave and undaunted by pain or danger.
And the 11 senior members of the West Hall High School football team seem to exemplify what it means to be a Spartan, and will be honored on senior day at tonight’s football game against Flowery Branch High School. The football game will be the last high school game ever for the seniors.
With four different head coaches in four years, eight seniors have been mainstays on the team since their freshman year, and have endured grueling summer practices and agonizing training schedules without a single winning season in their four years on the football team.
"Every year we had a new playbook," said West Hall football team co-captain Jake Copeland. "As soon as we started to get good at it, then we’d have to learn a new one. Getting used to the new head coaches was very hard."
One former West Hall football coach resigned. Another left for a new coaching job, and yet another left for health reasons.
But two coaches have remained with the football team through all the turmoil. Assistant coach Eddie Suggs has coached many of this year’s group of seniors since he was the football coach at West Hall Middle School, and coach Mike Newton was defensive coordinator for the team during the seniors’ sophomore and junior years. It was Newton who stepped up to take charge of the team when yet another head coach left West Hall.
"He’s probably the best head coach we’ve had over the four years," said senior football player Will Edge.
"Things are finally starting to fall into place. But now we’re leaving, so we don’t really get to reap the benefits of what we’ve been working for," Copeland said.
But many parents, coaches and administrators said the boys who have stayed with the football program, through good times and bad, have learned life lessons and will reap the benefits in places other than the scoreboard.
"When you stick with something, you do get to reap the rewards," said Suggs, whose son Reed is one of the team’s four co-captains. "Good things do happen, even though records don’t indicate it."
Suggs said that for him, the high school football record, 10-30, of the eight four-year players, does not capture what these teenage boys have accomplished.
"Even though the record has not turned out quite like what we wish it had been, they have never quit. They keep on fighting and fighting and fighting," Suggs said. "They work hard and they play hard and they want to win so bad.
"You don’t play games for fun. You play games to win," he said. "And that’s the spirit these kids have."
Senior co-captain Tray Malone said that it’s true Spartan pride that has kept the team going.
"We love the game of football," Malone said. "It’s a brotherhood."
The eight football players who have been on the team all four years at West Hall are co-captains Suggs and Copeland, Kevin Jones, Steven Eckenroth, Sam Buchan, Seth Hagedorn, Will Edge and Adam Turner.
West Hall High School Athletic Director Greg Williams said the fact that the team stayed together through so many inconsistencies is admirable.
"They love the game of football so much. They have gone through the learning curve four times and have put in all the hours and effort," Williams said. "It’s a testimonial to their love of the game."
Newton said that he used his time with the team as an opportunity to coach them to be good players on the field and good people off the field.
"One of the things I tried to stress to them is that football is just a part-time endeavor, and it’s how they act off the field and what lessons they learn with me and our coaching staff that is going to, or should, last a lifetime," Newton said. "One of the things I’ve tried to instill in them is to believe in themselves and in what they do."
"If you ask my kids what’s their purpose, they’ll give the answer, and the answer should be to serve," Newton said. "We like to win, don’t get me wrong there; we’re still going to compete, but I try to make an impact outside the football game."
A room full of senior football players said the tumultuous years on the West Hall football team have taught them never to give up, how to deal with adversity and how to adjust to new surroundings and situations.
"I think perseverance is one of the key things, especially with this group, with having so many different coaches," Newton said. "And to do their best, and they’ve always done their best. I don’t think we’ve ever really had bad practices, because they come every day and try to get better.
"You wouldn’t know by their attitude that we’re two and seven," Newton said.
Although some West Hall players may go on to play college football, as the last week of high school football practice comes to a close for the team, many senior players are preparing to put on that chin strap for the last time in a face-off against Flowery Branch tonight at West Hall.
"It’s my last game ever," Jones said. "I’m going to miss being on the team and Friday nights under the lights."
"It’s been a really bumpy road, but no matter what the outcome of the game, we want to leave on a good note," Copeland said.
"We’re going to remember this game for the rest of our life—our last high school football game," Malone said.
Newton said that he’s sad to see them leave.
"I’m proud of them. They did stick with it," Newton said. "They’re good kids. I’ll miss them."