MACON, Ga. Situations like covering the Kendrick High girls victory over Wesleyan in the Class AA state basketball championship on Friday are what make my job difficult. Thats not a knock on the Lady Cherokees, though. Quite the contrary.
Let me explain:
In my position, I am supposed to cover games without bias, without emotion and without any favoritism to any player or team. It doesnt matter if the opponent is a hometown school or one from north Georgia, I am supposed to treat it as I would any other.
When Kendrick starts the game ahead 8-3, my demeanor should be the same as when Wesleyan goes on an 11-3 run to take a lead going into halftime.
Therein lies the difficulty. Whether Im allowed to cheer for a team or not, I cant turn off how I feel about the people involved with it. Ive spent too much time around the Lady Cherokees, written too many stories about senior Kahlia Lawrence and discussed the season too much with coach Sterling Hicks not to like these people. At the end of the day, it is impossible not to experience an overwhelming feeling:
Nobody deserves this more than Kendrick.
I cant think of a team more worthy to hoist the hardware at the end of the season than one that spends as many hours in the gym, pouring blood and sweat during practice, as Kendrick.
One that suffers as many bumps and bruises as the Lady Cherokees, whose players refused to sit throughout the season despite injuries significant enough to relegate them to the bench.
One with players who wanted it as badly as Kendrick. Every player wants to win a championship. Not every player is willing to lay everything on the line in order to achieve it.
When Kendricks dream season nearly came to a screeching halt in overtime against Greater Atlanta Christian in the state quarterfinals, it was Lawrence outside the locker room fighting back tears. She had fouled out with seven minutes left in regulation and saw her high school career flash before her eyes.
The relief and genuine appreciation for her teammates in that moment was inspiring. As were the tears she, fellow senior Deja Cheatham and other teammates shed at half court as they accepted the state championship trophy on Friday.
And then theres Hicks, who puts so much of his energy and emotion into his players performances that by the end of a stressful game, he is nearly as exhausted as they are. He yells, he pulls them from games to bark orders when they do something he doesnt like, but he always brings the best out of the girls in his charge.
Thats why they are champions. Because nobody is willing to let anyone else down.
So, I didnt cheer for Kendrick on Friday. Like a good, balanced sports writer, I observed both teams in anticipation of either result.
But that doesnt mean I cant be satisfied with the result.