In politics, change is often promised. In the world of high school athletics, it’s delivered. Year in and year out faces and names change with the season.
The year 2002 brought a big change. Two new high schools opened in Hall County and with them came two new football programs. Chestatee High opened in the northern part of the county and Flowery Branch in the southern.
In a six-year span, these two schools have changed the landscape of Hall County high school sports, creating new rivalries and climbing to local prominence in various sports.
Each program made its first football state playoff appearance in its fourth year of existence and has continued that success. Thanks to vision, community and continuity the Chestatee and Flowery Branch football programs have thrived in tradition-rich Hall County.
Thanks to building their own tradition, it’s almost a certainty that the War Eagles and Falcons will continue to.
But there’s one thing that has escaped both programs so far: a football region championship.
Both the War Eagles and Falcons, though, are hopeful that 2008 is the year that changes for for them.
In 2002, the two expansion schools met in the first game of the season.
The Matt Fligg-led War Eagles won their only game of the year that night by one point against Lee Shaw’s Falcons.
In that first year, Chestatee played a varsity schedule with 17 freshmen, Flowery Branch with more.
"Those first few years neither team had full senior classes or four-year players," said current Chestatee coach Stan Luttrell who was an assistant under Blair Armstrong at Johnson in 2002. "They were playing varsity schedules with junior varsity-caliber talent."
In their first three years of existence, Chestatee and Flowery Branch combined for a 9-51 record with both teams experiencing one winless season.
"In the lean years you’ve got to have faith in what you’re doing," Flowery Branch coach Lee Shaw said. "You also have to have spiritual faith, and I had to rely on it all."
In 2005, the two programs turned four years old and experienced a turnaround.
Both had winning seasons for the first time and topped that by making it to the state playoffs the same year.
"I had a vision," Shaw said. "I didn’t sell the kids on false hopes when the program started. We knew we weren’t going to be very good, and we knew being good would mean a lot of time in the weightroom and taking battles and getting better from it."
Since that first taste of success, Chestatee and Flowery Branch have remained a force on the local and state level.
"The things that happened early, we made a promise wouldn’t happen down the road," Shaw said. "Coaches don’t forget, and our early failures have ensured future successes."
Consistency and community
Flowery Branch has had one coach since its inception — Shaw.
Shaw has had the same offensive and defensive coordnators in Shawn Conley and Chris Griffin respectively, since he became the coach of the Falcons.
"That’s huge in building a program," Shaw said. "We’ve hung in together and watched this program develop.
"I felt like if the three of us could hang on, success was coming."
Chestatee has had only two coaches in Fligg and current coach Luttrell, who took over in 2006.
"I was very thankful to have come in when I did and for the work Coach Fligg did," Luttrell said. "He did the hard part. I was just able to take a program that was already scratching the surface to the next level."
Shaw has gone to the state playoffs the last three years while boasting a 30-6 record, Luttrell once in two years while going 14-7.
Both coaches attribute community involvement to the continued growth of their programs.
"Community support has been great from day one," Shaw said. "They’ve done outstanding things for this program. As has the school’s administration with the support they’ve shown.
"If you don’t have the backing of those two groups, you will struggle."
For Luttrell and the War Eagles, the community surrounding the school has embraced the idea of having a football team that is consistently top notch.
"People ask me constantly how they can help, what they can do to make the program better," Luttrell said. "They want a solid football program and are giving me the things that help make that happen."
Players past, present and future
Shaw thinks that sometimes coaching is overrated.
When it comes to building the Falcons’ program from the ground up, he is sold on the fact that players did it.
"We can’t kid ourselves," Shaw said. "You can work all you want to but if you don’t have those dynamic type players that are catalysts to help get you wins and build programs around, you’re going to struggle."
For Luttrell, having dynamic players in your program goes back to community support.
"There has to be a commitment to being at Chesatatee," he said. "These days kids pick up and move on a whim, but our guys stick it out. They want to be here. Loyalty and commitment from the community is key to having a great program."
So is starting them out young.
"Youth leagues are your foundation," Shaw said. "You won’t see the benefits immediately, but now all the kids around here want to be Falcons.
"That’s the mentality we want, and that mentality takes them right on through Davis (Middle School) and high school. They’ll build memories that are much more important than 48 minutes of a game."
Chestatee had more than 100 area youth participate in its summer camp this year and for Luttrell, that was as big as college scouts coming to practice.
"Building a program, maintaining a program is only helped when you have kids looking up to older players," Luttrell said. "They want their jerseys and wear them with pride and eventually that will turn into them wanting to wear a real War Eagles jersey and play in it with pride."
The culmination and possible coronation
Now the foundations have been laid, the tradition is building, and the dynamic players are in place at both schools.
The year, will compete with seasoned offensive lines and potent backfields and both defenses should shine.
"We’re excited about this year," Shaw said. "We have the tools to do special things."
For Luttrell, special things would entail a return to the playoffs.
"We were disappointed in the way we finished last year," he said. "We know what we have to do and, luckily, through a lot of hard work, we have the program to do it."