Photo: AJC
Photo: AJC

‘Prepare for the stuff that you can see coming’

Each week we explore one question that affects Georgia high school sports with five coaches. 

At Issue: Has it been possible for you to turn the coronavirus pandemic into a life lesson for your athletes?

The skinny: Starr’s Mill’s golf program has been at the top of Class AAAAA for years and this season was set to be special. The boys team had won two of the last three Class AAAAA state championships — 2017 and 2018 — and was a runner-up to Ola in last season’s state tournament. The girls program has won the past three titles and was going for a four-peat. This season should have been another banner year for the Panthers, but Starr's Mill coach Burt Waller said he is learning things he never knew about as a coach, teacher and mentor.

“We have every single kid back who played for us in the state tournament last year, when we finished runner-up, and Ola lost five of their top six (players),” Waller said of the boys’ team. “And we beat them pretty good in a 9-hole match, which doesn't translate to the state tournament. But I really liked where we were as a team as far as our talent and our makeup and all the experience that we had under pressure situations.” 

Waller has been at Starr’s Mill for 15 years, eight as the head golf coach. He and his team spend their time practicing at various courses around Peachtree City, whether it’s Flat Creek, Planterra Ridge, Whitewater or his team’s home course, Braelinn. The team has spent the last three years becoming one of the best in the state.

Waller knew his team had a chance to win another championship this season. Then it was gone.

Waller: “I would like to see this team be able to compete for a state championship, but as far as what to tell them? I mean, we just tell them all the time, ‘Look, it’s golf.’ You’re not going to play well every single time. And there’s going to be some adversity. And the great, great players know how to overcome that adversity. And that's basically what we’ll have to tell him. 

“So how do you handle it? You can make excuses, or you can go out there and play hard and focus and do what you need to do (in case we get to come back). But you know, the CDC released today that they’re recommending no large gatherings for eight weeks. If you if you apply that to athletics, you’re looking at, you know, two weeks into May before we get any kind of chance to try to play anything. And then you have to come up with a way to qualify, and you got to come up with a way to play the state tournament. ... I would hope (we’d) try to give the kids a shot because we’re not in the NCAA. We don’t get to give them a redshirt to have an extra year. And I would hate it for my seniors. We have six of them. And I think that would be devastating to them.

“But you know, this is something that can help. It’s just another part of life; you got to deal with it. Life’s not fair. That’s lesson No. 1: You’ve got to deal with the hand you’re dealt. You prepare for the stuff that you can see coming. And then you just kind of play it by ear with this kind of stuff. I mean this is kind of unprecedented for anybody. I think we’re all kind of learning as we go. And I think that there will probably be a very large learning curve, honestly, from everybody in the world of athletics, as far as dealing with this kind of thing. And because of that, I’m not sure. I heard this from a doctor who said, ‘You know, if we’ve done too much, then we’ll never know, because that means that it didn’t spread. But we would know if we didn’t do enough, right?’ You know, (things) could really get out of control.” 

AT ISSUE: Teaching adversity

• Chan Brown, Parkview baseball coach
• Brad Harber, Crisp County football coach
• Clark Meyer, Westminster girls soccer coach
• Josh Sagel, Lambert lacrosse coach
• Burt Waller, Starr’s Mill golf coach

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