WAYNESBORO, Ga. — The message was clear in the handshake and in the calls from colleagues: Enjoy this. Savor the first title.
For about six weeks, Burke County will do just that as the school and its coach celebrate a state championship following the 28-14 win against Peach County.
In leading the Bears to the Class AAA crown, Burke County coach Eric Parker is The Augusta Chronicle’s Georgia coach of the year in football.
“Even (Peach County) coach (Chad) Campbell during the postgame handshake said, ‘Look, the mistake that we all made was, we never stopped to enjoy the first one.’”
Parker received similar messages from coaches John Starr (title with Josey in 1995), Jeff Herron (Oconee County in 1999, Camden County in 2003, 2008, 2009) and Franklin Stephens (Tucker in 2008 and this season).
The coach and his players listened.
They served as grand marshals in the local Christmas parade on Dec. 17 and were also invited to be a guest of Gov. Nathan Deal in January, Parker said.
For Parker, the success was the reward for the work and dedication these past few seasons.
From the coaches and the players to the teachers and the administration, this is a title thanks to all and one the community can share.
The coach has been around high school athletes most of his life (his father was a basketball coach at Mitchell-Baker). While in college, Parker coached at local schools and in the rec department.
He knew this was what he wanted to do.
After winding up at Laney and getting two semifinal appearances, Parker found an even bigger victory at Burke County this season, his fifth at the school.
Not only did the Bears win the Region 3-AAA title again, outscoring foes by more than 30 points a game, they finished No. 1 in the state.
Parker, who won a state championship as a player at Mitchell-Baker in 1983, bestowed much credit to his players and his staff.
“When you get down to the nuts and bolts of what holds this thing together and makes it run smoothly, those guys ... I don’t think there’s a better staff in the state of Georgia,” he said.
Though 21 seniors are departing, now’s not the time to focus on the 2012 season.
That’s for another day.
Until then, it’s about getting sized up for championship rings – designed after Auburn’s BCS Championship rings but with a “downgrade of material,” Parker laughed – and pats on the back and smiles around the community.
“The one thing that they all told me, that was just universal, is that this thing is not going to come around very often,’” Parker said about the advice given to him. “I don’t care how good of a program you have. You need to take at least a month and enjoy it. You and your coaches, you and your players, just celebrate.”