Mark Crews of Brookwood is one of five head football coaches in Saturday’s Corky Kell Classic who has won a state championship. But he has a sense of Corky Kell history that the others don’t.
Crews has been on the sidelines as an assistant or head coach for all 22 renditions of the annual opening-week event that showcases some of the state’s top teams and players in the Georgia Dome.
“People now take for granted that it is feasible to play high school games in the Georgia Dome, but if you go back 20 or 21 years, there was a whole lot of skepticism,” Crews said. “Can you make money? Can you make it work? Now people take it for granted. We’ve played the semifinal games and the championship games in there for several years now.”
Brookwood will play McEachern this season, as they did in 1992 when they started the Corky Kell and participated in the first football game ever held in the Georgia Dome. The Kell Classic added a fifth game last season and drew a record crowd of 33,000. That was despite the games being televised for the first time, by GPB.
The teams that the event draws is the main attraction. Twelve teams that have played in the Corky Kell in August have won state titles in December.
North Gwinnett coach Bob Sphire said that there have been about 12 teams each season in the highest class that could win the state title with good healthy and lucky breaks.
‘’There’s been a pretty large pool of potential winners, and out of that pool, several are Kell-eligible type teams,’’ Sphire said. ‘’I don’t know if you can absolutely predict one of us will in it, but you’ve got to think there’s a pretty good chance that one could.’’
The coaches with state-championship pedigree are Crews and Mickey Conn of Grayson, who won their championships in Georgia, along with Colquitt County’s Rush Propst (five in Alabama), Camden County’s Welton Coffey (one in Florida) and North Gwinnett’s Sphire (one in Kentucky).
Another appeal to this season’s matchups is North-South intrigue. South Georgia teams that are participating include second-ranked Colquitt County and fifth-ranked Camden County. Colquitt plays No. 10 Grayson, and Camden plays No. 4 North Gwinnett.
Crews remembers a time when the metro Atlanta teams would have been the clear underdogs to South Georgia’s best.
In 1992, the only metro Atlanta state champions in the highest class in 20 years had been Morrow in 1987. Starting with Dunwoody in 1993, there have been 12 metro champions. There have been 10 from Gwinnett County alone.
“In 1992, everybody thought that anybody who knew how to play football had to live below Macon,” Crews said. “The Kell Classic, putting [Atlanta-area] football in a venue like that, has advanced metro Atlanta football.”