Thomson Middle School's athletic performance has been nothing short of spectacular this year. The championship fever was contagious.
After winning the region championship in football and cross country this fall, the school's other athletic teams decided they wanted in on the action. The school also claimed championships in boys' basketball, soccer and baseball.
The dominance is something TMS Athletic Director Nick Brinson has not seen, and is not likely to see again, he said. Coach Brinson, who also serves as the head football and boys basketball coach, said this year's seventh and eighth graders were abnormally talented.
"I think this is one of those unusual years," Coach Brinson said. "For the past three years we've been in this league and haven't been close to winning anything. ... I believe it's a rarity."
"The thing about our team was the willingness of the players to help each other grow and learn," said Julie Gerlach, one of the TMS soccer coaches. "We also had some very coachable players. You didn't have to keep telling them something over and over; they'd work on things and make improvements."
Coach Brinson and others said that the TMS winning streak also has a great deal to do with the importance the coaching staff places on preparation and helping the students strive to do their best.
"It's also how much time you put into those kids," Coach Brinson said. "Any given day we practice two hours. Some of those schools may only practice an hour or an hour and a half. That extra thirty minutes, that's what makes the difference."
The importance placed on athletics in McDuffie County has also played into the championship mentality. While many think sports are given too much weight, the TMS coaching staff heavily emphasizes academics as well.
"Of course we are an athletic town, but we've got good kids that keep up their grades. They let their school work come first so that they can play athletics," said Aaron Hall, assistant football coach.
"We had a discipline code that required students to behave in the classroom and on the field," Mrs. Gerlach said. "We followed the code and if it meant a player was benched or dismissed, regardless of talent-level, we enforced it. I believe that the integrity of a program is essential."
Going hand in hand with the balance of academic and athletic performance is the idea that middle school coaches are preparing their student-athletes for high school and life in general.
"Our main goal is to provide each coach at the high school a chance, and to try to get each kid the fundamentals," said Brett Chalker, TMS baseball coach. "When that kid gets to the high school, that coach doesn't have to spend as much time on it as we do."
"We prayed with the kids before games and always emphasized God first, family second and team third," Mrs. Gerlach said. "Our motto was 'One heart; one team; one family.' The kids earned a 7-1-1 record, but I think they learned a lot of things beyond that."
Several other theories have emerged that could have contributed to TMS' supremacy. Some schools include sixth through eighth graders on athletic teams. TMS reserves sports for seventh and eighth graders only, partially because the school is so large.
"A lot of times we do play against other teams that have to play sixth graders, so we have a size advantage and a strength advantage also," Coach Chalker said.
"We have a little of an advantage because we are the largest school, I think," Mrs. Gerlach said. "Theoretically, the talent pool could be bigger than that of our opponents."
No matter the cause, one thing is for sure; next year's sports teams have tasted victory. With the returning athletes, it's not likely that they will give up on winning very easily.
"I'm going to give credit to the kids," Coach Brinson said. "The kids did exactly what they wanted to do, and they did it to our level of expectations playing the kind of competition that we played."
"I think we're going to still be strong," Coach Hall said of next year's teams. "We've got a real good athletic class of sixth graders, and we had several seventh graders that played key positions in just about every sport this year. ... We may not win everything again. This is probably a rare thing to win everything like they've done this year."