Fourteen banners proudly hang from the rafters on one side of Lucy C. Laney High School’s gym, celebrating captured titles and long playoff runs.
But one gray banner interrupts the line of red. It’s the largest, honoring the 2012 Laney boys basketball team’s Georgia High School Association Class AA state title.
This year, it could be the Lady Wildcats’ turn to add one of their own – and make school history.
Today, Laney’s girls basketball team faces Wesleyan in the Class AA state championship game in Macon, Ga. Laney girls won Georgia Interscholastic Association state titles in 1956 and 1961, before integration, but have never won the GHSA crown.
“This is why I coach, to see young people elevate their level of skill, to go to college,” Laney coach Otis Smart said. “This is great for them, the community and the school. I think the kids are hungry.”
A Laney girls championship would continue a string of recent state basketball titles for area schools.
Before Laney’s boys’ title last year, Washington County’s girls team won in 2011. Such a run of titles has happened just once before, from 1996-1998, when the Swainsboro boys, Academy of Richmond County girls and T.W. Josey girls won in successive seasons, according to the GHSA Web site.
“It’s a blessing to actually watch them compete for a state title,” Laney boys coach Jerry Hunter said. “We’re going to get down there and support them. Coach Smart deserves it.”
Smart built his program into a power soon after he started working at Laney in 1979. Since he took the girls basketball head coaching job in the mid-1980s, he has piled up more than 700 wins.
“He’s too good of a coach to not have a ring,” guard Destiny Brewton said.
Laney’s recent run is a golden era. The Lady Wildcats have reached the state semifinals five seasons in a row, putting together a 139-12 record.
The Lady Wildcats – the only remaining undefeated team among boys and girls in the state – have been dominant all season. They are 30-0, and 25 of their wins have been by at least 20 points. The routs haven’t stopped in the state playoffs, either, with the average margin of victory 33.8 points.
Standing between Laney and the state crown is Wesleyan, the winner of five consecutive state titles. Wesleyan’s established history and pressure defense combine to form a big challenge for guard Destiny Brewton and her teammates.
“It’s an amazing opportunity,” Brewton said. “We’re expecting to put on a show.”
Smart, who usually sits down while coaching, not afraid to deliver advice demonstratively from a chair, understands today could be special.
“Well, I’m going to be standing up,” Smart said with a smirk. “I have to coach my best; they deserve the best.”