Legacy of excellence

Gryphons establish winning athletic tradition

Coach Tony Whicker flaunts his five state championship rings. Girls’ soccer won three of his five state championships, and the boys’ team won two.

Open the 2004 St. George’s yearbook to the athletic section. Flip past the fall sports and winter sports. When you reach the second page of spring sports, examine the small, black-and-white varsity boys’ tennis picture closely.

You will see three boys included in the varsity tennis picture – two awkwardly sitting in front of the net and one standing behind it. All three boys are in their school clothes and squinting into the sun. They are joined by their coach, Mr. Bill Taylor.

Compare this picture with the most recent boys’ tennis picture. You will notice that the tennis team now consists of fourteen boys and Coaches Mark and Ronny Bran.

These two pictures indicate that St. George’s athletics have come a long way in a short amount of time. According to Coach Cole Hoppe, 295 of 387 St. George’s high school students, or 76.22 percent, participated in at least one varsity sport last year. In only twelve years, the athletic program has won 17 team state championships and 11 individual championships.

When the St. George’s Collierville Campus first opened in 2002, the school did not have a single varsity athletic team, just junior varsity teams. School President Bill Taylor said that even then, families came out to watch and support the small, junior varsity teams.

“I remember a football game when we had to line cars up because it was getting too dark. There were no lights of course, so that’s how we finished the game- with car lights,” said Mr. Taylor.

After two years, varsity tennis teams were formed. These teams were shortly followed by varsity cheer, football, cross-country, golf, soccer, wrestling, and basketball teams.

Sophomore Sydney Brown said that this switch from junior varsity to varsity was essential to the school’s athletic progress.

“Playing on JV means you get to develop more as a player, but playing on varsity means that you get to excel at the highest level of play,” said Brown.

The St. George’s athletic record suggests that the program did indeed excel.

At the beginning, independent sports such as golf thrived because they relied on individual competitors instead of large teams.

“We’ve had two golfers, [alumni Hunter Kraus and Grant Hirschman], who have won three individual medalist awards,” Ms. Sharon Lathum, the executive athletic assistant, said. “There’s only three boys in the whole state of Tennessee to ever have done that.”

Despite having teams that were new to varsity sports, after two years, St. George’s won four state championships: football, boys’ golf, girls’ soccer, and boys’ soccer. Freshman Kate Seabrook attributes this early accomplishment to St. George’s athletics being underestimated by other schools.

“You have more fire in you when you’re an underdog,” said Seabrook.

Within the next six years, the success dramatically increased as 12 more team state championships and seven individual championships were won. Recently, the St. George’s legacy has started to include more unconventional sports, such as water polo, whose first team won a state championship this past year. Despite these victories, Coach Cole Hoppe denies that these accomplishments make it harder to be successful.

“Our student-athletes know that success is not defined by championships,” Coach Hoppe said. “Our athletes work hard every year to create their own legacy.”

However, the school’s legacy of excellence has not just been about state titles. 50 St. George’s student-athletes have gone on to play a sport in college; one alumnus, Elliot Williams, currently plays in the NBA. The late Coach Ken Netherland became the winningest high school football coach in Tennessee history while he was at St. George’s.

St. George’s has also had numerous athletes named to all-district and all-state teams. Nine individual athletes, 11 coaches, and four scholar-athletes have won awards at Best of the Preps. As a school, St. George’s has won four times in the Best of the Preps team champions’ category.

According to the new athletic director, Mr. Tom Densford, the school is looking to continue upholding this legacy for decades to come.

“It’s amazing that we are where we are in twelve years. I don’t know where it’s going, but it’s going to be a fun ride,” Mr. Densford said.