Four Questions with GHSA director of media relations Steve Figueroa

GHSF Daily is expanding its Four Questions feature this season beyond head coaches to other voices in high school football. Today's interviewee is Steve Figueroa, director of media relations for the Georgia High School Association.

Steve Figueroa, GHSA director of media relations 

1. What does your job entail? "I deal directly with the media, of course, answering the questions I can, setting up interviews with other staff members, running the press areas at the state football and basketball finals. I also issue contracts for radio and television broadcasts of playoff events. But my background of 30-plus years in newspaper journalism made me a natural fit for such duties as publishing the GHSA monthly newsletter and updating our constitution and calendar. I am also the tennis coordinator, which means I have run the state tennis tournament for the past 17 years."

2. Where did you get your start in high school sports? "I developed a passion for high school sports as a student at now-closed Avondale High School in DeKalb County. The Blue Devils were a football powerhouse under Calvin Ramsey while I was there and for many years afterwards under Crawford Kennedy. With great players like Charlie Dudish, Chip Kell, Billy Brice, Danny Buggs and Kim Braswell, just to name a few, Avondale had a run from 1958 through the 1970 season where they never lost more than one football game in any single season, including playoffs. After I finished up at Avondale and then Georgia Tech, I really didn't have any career plans when I happened to hear about an opening for an apprentice sports writer at the weekly Clarkston Neighbor newspaper. I had never taken a single journalism course, but I sat down at my typewriter - didn't have computers then - and wrote a story from memory about an Avondale game from my high school days. I submitted the story with my application and somehow got the job. It paid $100 a week. From there, with the help of some good editors, I learned the business and worked my way up until I landed the job as high school sports editor for the Atlanta Constitution in 1975. I was still in the newspaper game in 2001 when Dr. Ralph Swearngin decided he wanted to create the new position of media director at the GHSA. I had been running the press box for Dr. Swearngin at the Georgia Dome games for several years, so I had an inside track for the new GHSA position."

3. What are some of the most memorable players and teams you've seen in watching high school football for more than 40 years? "Wow, I've seen some of the all-time greats, of course. In football, I covered Herschel Walker and George Rogers, two Heisman Trophy winners. And my list would have to include Garrison Hearst, James Brooks and Larry Kinnebrew. More recently, Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence may be as good at the QB positions as anybody I've seen. But the best athlete I ever saw on the football field was probably Stan Rome of Valdosta. He was a man among boys. He set every receiving record in the books, breaking most by a wide margin. And he was such a good athlete at 6-5 and 215 pounds that he chose to play in the 1974 North-South All-Star basketball game instead of the football game. Well, all he did was go out and dominate a game that had a bunch of Parade All-Americans in it, most notably Anthony Flanagan, Jackie Dorsey, Myles Patrick and Lucius Foster, by scoring 29 points and capturing MVP honors.

"As for football teams, I've seen some great ones. I have to mention the 1976 Warner Robins team with James Brooks, Ronald 'Sugar Bear' Simmons and Jimmy Womack, of course, but I still have not seen a team I would take over the 1971 Valdosta team, led by Rome, Stan Bounds and Steve Stanaland. That team scored 629 points in just 13 games, including a 62-12 rout of Avondale in the finals. Wright Bazemore would never go on record saying that team was his best ever, but most feel it was by far.

"I've seen some great football games in my time, but nothing tops the 1978 AAA semifinal game between Swainsboro and Westminster. That was in the days of the old 'penetration' rule, and Westminster actually decided to let Swainsboro score late in the second overtime period because Swainsboro had the game won on penetration at that point. So, Westminster's defense stood completely still while the Swainsboro fullback rumbled into the end zone from the 5-yard line to put the visiting Tigers ahead 28-21. Westminster got the ensuing kickoff at its own 32 with 1:48 left in the overtime and no timeouts. Gordon Beckham calmly marched his team down the field, mostly on passes to Cole Egan, and Westminster scored with seven seconds left to win 29-28 because of an earlier penetration. Westminster went on to win the state championship the next week at Dalton."

4. As media director, part of your job is to explain to the public, sometimes through the media, a GHSA position or stance. What are some things (or even just one thing) that many parents, fans and even school officials such as coaches and athletic directors sometimes don't understand about the GHSA? "What most people don't understand is that the folks at the GHSA office do not make the rules, we are just charged with enforcing them. The member schools actually make the rules through representatives to the state executive committee who come from every region in the state and can vote to change any rule they wish to. People also don't understand that we can't arbitrarily stop parents and players from transferring to another school as long as they do so within the existing rules. We get complaints all the time about us 'letting' certain schools recruit players. As long as parents are willing to move to a new school district in order to let their child play for a certain program or a certain coach, there is very little we can do about it - even if we would like to."

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