Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Shoutout to My Former Squad...and the Story of the Rebirth of Raider Tennis, through my eyes...

Yesterday, I found out that my former team, the (mighty) Shaw High Raiders made the GHSA AAA State Playoffs for the fourth year in a row. Of course as a former alumni, I can't help to be proud of the guys who were Freshmen and Sophomores my Senior year have stepped up and become the leaders of this revtalization of the program.

For those of you who don't know, in 2007 (my Freshman season) our team was a joke. We lost to some of the worst teams in our region (I won't name names) and were screwed out of wins multiple times, including the Region 2-AAA Tournament, where we lost to Harris Co. and were eliminated from playoff contention. In 2008, our current coach, Laurie McInroy (but she's Coach Mac to us) took over. It was a dream season. Beat our 2 main rivals, Harris Co. and Northside. Had the Ledger-Enquirer Bi-City Player of the Year. Going into the region tournament, even I had won 8 of my last 10 going in. But of all the times to pull a chokejob, I had to pick April 15, 2008. That dream season came to a crashing and sudden halt.

Then the proverbial bottom fell out. Whether due to graduation, transferring, moving, injury or quitting, we lost every person on the roster except me. All of a sudden, I went from role player to team captain. But I have to give Coach Mac credit because when it comes to recruiting players from unlikely sources in the school, she is like John Calipari. Before I knew it, we had a team of dedicated, determined players. And that team led to the most improbable season in recent Shaw High memory.

Beating region contenders, winning tournament matches, the public started to notice who we were. But the perception of our team was far from what you would think. Street thugs. Dysfunctional. Cheaters. The best feeling about it though was that we didn't care what they thought. It was like a "us vs. the world" mentality we played with. We knew no one thought we could win, nonetheless make state.

Fast forward to April 15, 2009. One year to the day of the previous year's disaster. I'll be honest, I was nervous. I was praying that I didn't blow my shot, this team's shot at history. What history? The 13 year playoff  drought that several great players fell victim to. Going into that game vs. Troup Co., I didn't feel like I was going in it to win for me. I was playing for my teammates, last year and all the great players that had strapped up the silver, black and red and never got to experience the state playoffs.

And what made that day so gratifying, so satisfying, was that so many things changed once I hit my last shot of my match and completed the sweep of the Tigers. All the pain, the heartache, the nightmares went away and were replaced by the congrats of my teammates and friends. And strike the fact that we haven't made it into the Sweet 16. Just the fact that in my 4 years, that team went from people chanting "You Suck" in the hallways when you had your tennis gear on, to respect from state powers like LaGrange, Crisp Co. and West Laurens. That in 13 years prior, we always lost in the region tourney. We have hit it big 4 years running now. And the one thing I take away from it?

I graduated in 2010. 2 years ago. The team moved into a new region...and in 2 years, have 2 playoff appearances. That's what makes me proud to have played for the Raiders. And whenever I get a chance, whether it's the offseason or regular season, I show up to support them and as long as I'm able, will continue to do so. That's not just my legacy, that is a new tradition. A tradition that several new stars have become a part of. I'm proud to say I'm a part of.

If it wasn't a tennis team, the phenomenon known as the "Jack Attack" doesn't leave the boundaries of the University of Georgia. Well, that and I don't develop the charisma that came with it.

And that old adage rings loud and clear in my mind right now...

Once a Raider, Always a Raider.

Congrats to the Raiders and go out on Wednesday and unleash the beast on Woodward Academy!

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