2014-16 Region: 7-AAA
New head coaches this year: John Hardison, boys tennis
The East Hall community might be the most unique in Hall County.
The school district has largely avoided the kind of dramatic reshaping brought on by new high school openings in other areas of the county, and the community is passionate about its rich basketball tradition.
Meanwhile, Vikings athletic director George Morgan is particularly proud to see multiple generations of the same family still attending the school, and in some cases playing the same sports. The Times sports editor Jared Putnam sat down with Morgan to discuss the Vikings’ recent past and what he sees for the future of the sports programs, in the last of a series of question-and-answer sessions with county athletic directors.
What stood out to you about East Hall athletics last season? Softball was a historic season for you.
“Yes, historical, because it was the first time the softball team got into the playoffs, and then we had both our basketball teams get into the sweet 16. The (girls team) grew together and were able to reach some of their potential. Because they’re very young, they have a lot more to look forward to this year. The volleyball team just missed the playoffs, and so did the (boys) soccer team. ... I see great strides going forward with the football program. Our wrestling program with coach Stoudenmire, he took over from Coach (Matt) Morkel, who is now one of our assistant principals. Coach Morkel laid a great foundation. Coach Morkel came from a great, historical program, Iowa. ... He laid some foundation to rebuild the program. All the programs are doing extremely well, being very competitive, and more than anything they are representing to school extremely well with their behavior.”
The boys basketball team always seems to field a strong team, but was the girls team something of a pleasant surprise with a first-year coach and a young team? They went into the region tournament as a low seed, then everything really seemed to click. Often, a team in those circumstances may not really make that kind of turnaround until Year 2.
“You saw flashes with what could be, and it took time for them to understand exactly what (Coach Wheeler) wanted. I wouldn’t call it a surprise because you saw the flashes (of potential) throughout the year, it was just a matter of whether, instead of showing you sparks here and there, could they continue doing it for an entire game. And he really began to understand his personnel and utilize them to the most. It’s a tribute to Coach Wheeler as well as the student athletes that they could get on the same page (so quickly).”
Region 7-AAA looks a lot different this year. East Hall narrowly missed some playoff spots last year, and now with Buford, White County and North Hall gone, do you feel like that opens the door for you guys to make big strides this year?
“I really don’t base it on the participants in the region. What I base it on is the growth each program has continued to experience. That is much more important because each program is growing and has continued to exceed (results) from the previous season. We’re very, very fortunate to have all the coaches we have.”
Is there a particular challenge that’s unique to East Hall, or a challenge with high school athletics in general that stands out in your mind?
“I would agree with my colleagues about growing costs (being an issue). I’d also say that we have changing demographics, and I’m thinking of our Latino brothers and sisters. It’s different because of the lack of exposure, sometimes, to different American sports. The current generation is probably a second or third generation of being in America and are more acclimated to American sports. We say, here at East Hall, we’re probably the last of the true community schools here in Hall County. My grandfather went here, my grandmother went here, my mother went here, my dad, my cousins ...”
So when you say the last of the true community schools, you’re talking about having so many multiple generations of the same family attending the school?
“You’re exactly correct. Even today we had a family transfer from Meadowcreek, and the mother as she was sitting there, very proudly says, ‘I used to go to East Hall High School.’ So, again, she’s bringing her children back so they can experience the East Hall traditions and atmosphere. We have a lot of that.”
Is there any particular goal you most want to accomplish here?
“What would be a great testimony would be to have the former student athletes come back and give back to the community by being examples to the student athletes who are here. Sterling Bailey, now playing football for the University of Georgia, has come back a couple of times. Lee Coleman went to Northwestern; he’s come back several times. That is what I would like to see.”