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On March 3, 2016, the Americus-Sumter Lady Panthers won the AAAA state championship title. The Lady Panthers finished their amazing season with a record of 30-1, winning their last 20 games and remaining undefeated in the state of Georgia (their only loss came at a tournament to a team in Florida). Coached by Sherri Harris, the Americus-Sumter Lady Panthers declared that this season, they came to handle unfinished business: last season, despite an amazing run, the Lady Panthers lost in the elite 8.  My niece was on the team then as the only senior and it was hard for her to lose after coming so close. Scared by the loss, the Lady Panthers were determined to win a state championship. And with seven seniors on the team, the Lady Panthers fought their way to the school’s first basketball state title. The last basketball state championship was in 1966 which was before Americus High was desegregated and before Americus High and Sumter County became one school system.

One thing I found more impressive than the Lady Panthers 2015-2016 basketball season was what it did for our community: the support the team received was exciting to see. I know it’s easy to support a winning team, but the last few years in Americus has been difficult. It seems like there are far less positive things going on with our kids. A series of murders, senseless deaths and other acts of violence have plagued our city recently. It was a far cry from the Shining City on the Hill from years ago. Yes, violence and crime can be found anywhere in the world, but this…this is personal.  This is home. Small town living means that when someone is a victim of crime or death, if you don’t know the victim, you know someone that knew them.  Race relations were becoming difficult. Kids were getting into so much trouble. People were dying senselessly. Our community was suffering.

I’m not going to pretend that sports, basketball in particular, has ended our community problems. Some real changes are going to have to take place.  But…to see the way our entire community rallied behind these girls was nothing short of amazing.  On March 3, my facebook timeline was jubilant and full of pride.  Even my fellow Rams supported these ladies on their journey! I was proud the Lady Panthers won but I was also proud of my community.  I was overjoyed to see the support the team received.  If we can come together to support this team, imagine what we can do to make changes in our community!

Americus: the same support we gave the Lady Panthers, we need to give to all of our kids! We showed up for the Lady Panthers. We showed up to see who Tyler Clark would sign with (Go Dawgs!). We show up for our recreation team sports. We show up to see the Prancing Pearls. Let’s go further. Let’s rally behind ALL of our kids. Academically. On the court. On the field. In the classroom. I’m a firm believer that the Lady Panthers worked very hard in practice to secure their title as State Champs. But the community support was also definitely a factor (think the 12th man in Seattle).

This win for me was about more than a game. Yes, I am very proud of the accomplishment of these young ladies, especially the seven seniors on the team. For me, this was about the way we came together as a community. This was about the way we can put aside differences, where we live, where we went to school, where we go to church and focus on what’s important. As adults, we have the responsibility to show our kids the way, to support them, to fuss at them, to push them.  We are raising the next community leaders and it would be a great disservice to them if we don’t get behind them 100%

Once again…congratulations to the Lady Panthers Basketball team, coaches and staff. And Americus…thank you for your support!

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