By Devin Golden
Once again, a local coach will lead recent high school graduates in The Stump on Sports All-Star Classic series.
And Whitfield County and Murray County command more roster spots for today’s two basketball games than the other Georgia counties involved combined.
Five players from Dalton, Northwest Whitfield and Southeast Whitfield are on the Peach State squad for the girls’ 6 p.m. tipoff at Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga. The boys game, which begins at 8 p.m., includes six local standouts.
The games, which started in 2003, pit recent graduates from a dozen counties in southeastern Tennessee against those from a dozen counties in northwestern Georgia.
Southeast Whitfield girls coach Michael Durham will command the Georgia girls squad. At Southeast, Durham took over a program that went 1-25 in 2011-2012 that finished 15-11 this season.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Durham said. “I don’t know a lot of what we can do. We only can practice one time. We got together yesterday and went over some things.”
Among the players on the Georgia roster are Tavi Parris and Megan Collins, who played for Durham’s Lady Raiders. Brooke Thomas will represent Dalton, while Kaitlin Wade and Autumn Blackwell will represent Northwest Whitfield. Also playing are Calhoun’s Carly Curtis, Dade County’s Erika Woodfin and LaFayette’s Michaela Suttles and Tori Hunter.
“It’s going to be different,” Collins said, “but it’ll be cool because we get to combine the schools into one.”
Said Durham, “Megan is excited because she gets to play with Kaitlin Wade. They are friends. I couldn’t get them to stop talking. ... I’ll definitely try and match them up together on the floor.”
Wade said the high number of Whitfield County players invited to participate isn’t a surprise.
Dalton and Northwest each reached the Class 4A state tournament this year and shared the Sub-region 7B-4A regular-season title after they split their home-and-home series, although Northwest won a coin toss to get the sub-region’s No. 1 seed for the region tournament. Southeast, which was swept by Northwest in the season series but split with Dalton, finished third in the sub-region and came within a win of making the state tournament.
“I expected it because we had great competition from Southeast and Dalton,” Wade said. “I knew they had girls with high potential for being on the team. I was shocked when they called me. I didn’t think I’d be called.”
Dalton has three players in the boys game — Alex Bautista, Rico Mears and Demond Rucker. Other local players expected to participate are Murray County’s Brady Todd, North Murray’s Zach Vess and Northwest Whitfield’s O’Shea Hill. Also on the roster are Calhoun’s Grayson Arnold, Dade County’s Cole Birchfield, Gordon Lee’s Daniel Brooks and Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe’s Daniel Parrish. Dade County’s Glen Hicks will coach the team.
Vess said the number of players from Whitfield and Murray counties is a testament to how much stock local high schools put into developing basketball players and programs.
“I think this area takes a lot of pride in basketball,” Vess said. “I think Northwest, Dalton, North Murray and Murray — and even Coahulla Creek and Southeast — make a big effort in their basketball programs.”
In addition to the games, the competition includes a 3-point shooting contest among the girls players during halftime of their game and a dunk contest among the boys during their halftime.
Saturday’s football game at McCallie School in Chattanooga was the start of the annual summer all-star series. North Murray head coach David Gann led the Georgia all-stars in a 10-7 loss.
In addition to the basketball and football games, the series will include games for girls and boys soccer (1:30 and 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga), baseball (6 p.m. Monday at Ridgeland High School in Rossville) and softball (6 p.m. on June 19 at Frost Stadium in Chattanooga).
Stump Martin, the Classics’ creator, was a reporter for the Chattanooga News-Free Press and Chattanooga Times Free Press for 19 years and also was on ESPN Radio’s 105.1 The Zone in Chattanooga. He is managing editor of Friday Night Football Live Tennessee and co-owner of Tennessee’s high school Rivals.com website, TNVarsity.com. He has hosted “Stump on Sports Late Nite,” a live sports television show, for nearly 30 years.