Every year about now, Ben Layson walks this emotionally fine line, cheering for his school’s football team, and ironically, against himself.
When Calhoun’s basketball coach roots for football players during Friday’s Class AA semifinal against visiting Lamar County, he’ll be urging for another week without about eight of his 12 players, whose focus is the gridiron.
“I’m definitely torn two ways,” Layson said. “It’s kind of like you’re rooting against yourself. You want kids to be successful in everything they do, but at the same time, the farther behind the eight ball it puts (basketball).”
The Georgia High School Association allowed basketball practice to begin Oct. 29 and games Nov. 10. But at a roughly 900-student school like Calhoun’s, whose football team has reached the last four state football finals in mid-December, basketball programs lack players. Unavailable are versatile athletes including Taylor Lamb, Calhoun’s quarterback who averages about seven points as a basketball forward; Austin Byrd, a lineman who averages roughly nine at forward; and Brett Moss, a wideout who contributes five a game on the court. Some of football’s freshmen reserves, like quarterback Kaelen Riley and running back Jireh Wilson, who are dressing out with the varsity but playing little, have been allowed by football coach Hal Lamb to practice a few days a week with the basketball team.
“Across the board, we try to get as many kids playing as many sports as possible,” Hal Lamb said. “We have a lot of tri-sport athletes at our school, some very good athletes.”
Relying on basketball opponents to be understanding, Layson has put off as many games as possible, but is scheduled to play Dec. 11 at Chattooga, then Dec. 15, the night of potentially the state football final, against visiting Pepperell. Those first two games might be played with a makeshift team of second-stringers and junior varsity call-ups.
If defending football champion Calhoun reaches another final, Layson hopes to have his basketball players the day after. Though banged up, he plans to have them out for a walk-through to refamiliarize themselves with the basics basketball players already have been focusing on. Those guys might get just one or two action practices before Calhoun plays in North Murray’s Mistletoe Classic on Dec. 20. Definitely, it’ll be a challenge for them to get focused on basketball, having not played since eight games at camp last summer at Tennessee-Chattanooga.
With playing basketball so often a complement to football, it’s a fair assumption football semifinalists Lamar County, Jefferson and Greater Atlanta Christian are in similar situations. Like the Jackets, they potentially face condensing basketball’s 14-week regular season into as few as nine weeks.
“Most teams have played five or six games before we even have a practice,” Layson said. “Opposing teams have already worked out their basics and are fine tuning, when we’re still working on the basics for several more weeks.”
But if Calhoun’s boys and girls basketball teams go deep in the playoffs, that’ll likely need the patience and support of spring sports coaches, whose practices begin in January and February, long before basketball’s state championship games in early March. Last year, Calhoun’s boys and girls respectively reached the first and second round of state in basketball the last week in February, weeks beyond the start of spring sports.
No doubt, Calhoun’s baseball, lacrosse, track and golf coaches want success for basketball kids. Surely, they have that same cooperative spirit, too. Come basketball playoff time, they’ll likely be among basketball’s most ardent supporters, cheering loud and walking that emotionally fine line.