By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Chestatee's Riley Black building a stellar reputation as basketball standout, finds fulfillment in working with special-needs kids
Riley Black
Chestatee's Riley Black drives past a Jefferson defender during a game Jan. 4 in Jefferson. Photo by Robert Hernandez For The Times

Riley Black is driven to be successful on the basketball court, while also helping individuals who might otherwise fall through the cracks. 

Only 15, this Chestatee High sophomore has ascended to becoming one of the top players in Hall County. 

However, it’s her work away from the court that highlights her empathy for children who have special needs. 

Black is one of the main catalysts for the Lady War Eagles (12-5, 3-2 Region), which are showing all the signs of being a force in Region 8-4A and potentially the postseason in 2022. 

However, Chestatee coach Sutton Shirley points out, the work Black does away from the spotlight that makes her different. 

In the summer of 2021, after completing her freshman season, Black orchestrated a basketball camp for nine kids with special needs at Chestatee High. 

A well-liked player, Black enlisted some of her friends from other schools to help out so each participant could have more individual attention. 

“Riley is a really good kid, high-character girl,” Shirley said. “She’s the kind of person who can be friends with anyone and has a special place in her heart for special-needs kids.”

Black’s interest in the particular area is a direct result of her mother, Tina, who is an occupational therapist and specializes in working with children who have special needs. 

It’s Riley’s intention in the future, maybe the spring, to do a similar camp — maybe even bigger — than the one she previously set into motion. 

Black’s first camp was to fulfill a volunteer project for the RACE program through Chestatee High. 

It’s an idea that has clearly grown momentum for future events. 

And, on the basketball floor, Black’s career is flourishing. 

On Jan. 7, Black scored 34 points with nine assists against North Oconee, a program that has been ranked in the Top 10 periodically during the season. 

More importantly, Chestatee won against the Lady Titans, for the first time in school history, Black said.

The game was such a battle that neither Sutton or Black had any clue of her scoring total until the 75-63 win was in the books.

“For her to score 34 points against North Oconee, a program that’s been in and out of the top 10 this season, is very impressive,” Shirley said. 

Nearing the midway point of the region schedule, Black is averaging 23 points and 12 rebounds and 4 1/2 assists against teams in Region 8-4A. 

Black, who stands 5-foot, 8-inches tall, helps provide a big boost to a talented program, which is also led by skilled seniors Riley Allison and Bowen Corley. 

This season, Black has played beyond anyone’s expectations. 

Ultimately, she wants to play in college. 

If she keeps this up, those offers will likely start coming in by the time Black hits her junior season. 

Black said she’s meshed particularly well with Shirley, and his fiery demeanor on the court. 

In fact, one game Black’s freshman season stands out for both of them. 

Against Madison County, Black said she was having a frustrating first half, plagued with fouls and some sloppy plays. 

At halftime, Sutton voiced his displeasure with Black and the entire program. 

In frustration, Chestatee’s coach let the seniors pick the starting five for the third quarter. 

To Black’s surprise, she was picked, despite being disappointed in her own performance. 

She made it count. 

To the best of her recollection, she knocked down a few 3-pointers in the second half of that game. 

“When those seniors said they believed in me, that lit a fire in me,” Black said. “I’ll remember that game for a long time.”

Black has naturally God-given ability at basketball, but also works extremely hard to maximize her potential, Shirley said. 

Riley credits her development in coming from an extremely athletic family. 

Her father played baseball at Anderson College, while her mother was a three-sport standout at Banks County High. 

Her older brother, Ryan, is a senior standout basketball player at Lakeview Academy. 

Growing up, Riley said there was always a game going on in the driveway at their home. 

Riley and Ryan were also playing 1 on 1 for bragging rights. 

And having that influence from both parents and her sibling gave Black the encouragement to do as many sports as possible. 

In addition to the immediate family, Black is also extremely close with her uncle, Nick Mullins, who is a welcomed presence at her games and provides constructive feedback. 

Taking part in gymnastics for eight years helped with her strength, she said. 

Black’s talent was apparent when Shirley took the job four years ago. 

Even as a seventh grader, Black was allowed to practice with the varsity squad. 

Since Riley’s been around Shirley’s program for so long, it’s easy to forget she’s only a sophomore. 

“Riley’s a deceptively good athlete,” Shirley said. “She sees the floor very well and is a great passer. She’s a very, very good rebounder. Riley’s a better defender than you might she by looking at her.”