Like professional and college sports, high school athletics has become more of a year-round activity.
For many years now, football, basketball, baseball and softball at the high school level require much more work and dedication from coaches and players if they want to succeed. A heavy regimen of off-season activities is no longer a matter of choice among coaches. If you want to compete at the highest levels, it's a must.
Players' calendars became so crowded in the summer that parental complaints to the Georgia High School Association resulted in the week of July 4 being declared a dead week for all high school sports activities. Hopefully, this ensures that families could plan vacations at least one week during the summer without their child missing time with his or her team.
After practicing and playing baseball games beginning in January and ending with a semifinal run in May, returning members of the Thomson High team participated in Summer League play during June.
With eight departing seniors who had stellar careers on the diamond, new coach Aaron Hall was able to use this time to get a jump on his rebuilding process.
Twenty-six varsity and JV players participated in 17 games over a four-week period and had a few team practices in between.
With only three full-time starters returning, this time was used to project how the 2012 Diamond Dogs might perform in game situations.
Coach Hall's main objective was to judge the abilities of the younger players he and his staff will depend on next season. While the Dogs won about half their games, Coach Hall experimented with using some of his returning players in different positions. For instance, returning third baseman Josh Jones was given a look in the outfield because of his speed. Also, veteran catcher Austin Cooper saw considerable time on the mound while Trevor Stephens played several positions.
Coaches know that a key to success is placing the talent you have in the best position to help the team win. With several months between the end of summer league play and the start of next season, Hall doesn't think summer league helped develop a lot of team chemistry, but he and his coaching staff got to see how last year's JV and varsity backup players performed under fire.
No baseball team can have enough pitching and Hall will have to replace the bulk of his pitching staff. He cited strong performances by rising sophomore Hunter Bragg, and he also hopes that Andy Grimaud will be the pitching force that he was as a sophomore after being limited on the mound last season after arm surgery. Josh Jones and Austin Cooper also could be depended on for pitching help and Hall says developing depth on the mound will be a key to his team's success.
Some newcomers to varsity play and 2011 reserves showed potential. Hall cited infielders Hank Doupe, who had several starts late last season. and rising freshman Austin Herkel for strong summer performances. Outfielder Austin Whitehouse also performed well.
While next season will be billed as a rebuilding year after three straight region championships, it could prove to be exciting. The Dogs expect to be competitive in region play, but may suffer some growing pains against traditionally strong non-region opponents early. It will also be interesting to see how the new bats which will be used in 2012 will affect play and strategy. Citing safety measures, the GHSA will sanction a much less lively bat in hopes of preventing injuries.
Change can be exciting, and if summer play is any indication, we have a lot to look forward to on the diamond next season.