Corky Kell Classic renames event to honor Dave Hunter

Credit: Score Atlanta

Credit: Score Atlanta

The Corky Kell Classic, the August football games that have signaled the start of the Georgia high school season for more than 30 years, is updating its name to honor co-founder Dave Hunter, and this year’s event will serve as a trial run the GHSA’s new video-replay protocols, event organizer Score Atlanta announced Tuesday morning at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Hunter is retiring, and the 11-game event that started as a doubleheader in 1992 will be called the Corky Kell Dave Hunter Classic.

“The partnership group felt very strongly that it was time to add Dave’s name to the event,’’ said Score Atlanta president I.J. Rosenberg, a co-owner of the Classic. “Dave won Gwinnett County’s first state championship when he was the head coach at Brookwood in 1996, but his legacy has to include the Classic and the fact that the event is perhaps the biggest and longest-running of its kind in the country.’’

The event was called the Georgia Prep Classic in 1992, when it began as a two-game affair featuring Southwest DeKalb vs. Newnan and McEachern vs. Brookwood. Those were the first football games played in the old Georgia Dome.

It was a vision of Corky Kell, a former Wheeler High football coach who then was Cobb County’s athletic director, to showcase high school football in the Falcons’ new NFL arena. The GHSA took notice and emulated the Classic by bringing state semifinal games to the Falcons’ stadium two years later.

Kell became terminally ill in 1994 and asked Hunter to keep the event going, which Hunter did. Hunter renamed it the Corky Kell Classic to honor the man that Hunter befriended when he got into coaching in 1966.

“I made a promise to the guy and tried to live up to it,’’ Hunter said. “Now I’m just so humbled by this honor. My family is humbled. It’s so special because of the longevity of the event and the name of it. I feel like a proud grandparent.’’

Hunter’s close connections with Georgia football coaches and his promotional skills were the driving forces, though success was never guaranteed, Hunter noted.

Selling enough tickets to pay NFL-sized rent was a challenge, and the marque facility wasn’t always reliable. The Georgia Dome’s roof collapsed before the 1995 Classic, forcing a late venue scramble. Weather events, the Falcons’ schedule and COVID-19 also have wreaked temporary havoc, but each was overcome.

The Classic is now played at four venues, including Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and is televised. There are two team luncheons. The Corky Kell brand also includes a summer 7-on-7 event that brings in 60 teams.

Hunter said the most satisfying part of his 32-year run is the impact the Classic has had on the players.

“It’s about the kids in the end,’’ Hunter said. “Seeing the smiles on those kids’ faces, man alive. And the exposure they get, you can’t put a price on that. When you say you’ve played in the Corky Kell, everybody knows what that is.’’

The honor is one of many in the career of Hunter, who won 149 games in 15 seasons at Brookwood, where the field is named for him.

For a quarter century, Hunter was one of the most influential members of the GHSA’s executive committee, and he is a member of the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame, the Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame and the Gwinnett County Sports Hall of Fame.

The video review testing, the first of its kind in Georgia, will take place during the Classic’s four Mercedes-Benz games Aug. 19. The GHSA is expected to approve video replay for the eight football championship games at its executive committee meeting April 17.

Score Atlanta also announced Tuesday that the Corky Kell 7-on-7 tournament, previously played at Roswell Park, is moving to Georgia Tech and will be played June 13, 14 and 20.

Corky Kell Dave Hunter Classic schedule:

Aug. 16 at Kell High School, Marietta

4:30 p.m. – Johns Creek vs. North Atlanta

8 p.m. – Parkview vs. Kell

Aug. 17 at West Forsyth High School, Cumming

4:30 p.m. – Archer vs. North Forsyth

8 p.m. – Cherokee vs. West Forsyth

Aug. 18 at Barron Stadium, Rome

2:30 p.m. – Mount Pisgah Christian vs. Fellowship Christian

5:30 p.m. – Creekside vs. Kennesaw Mountain

8:30 p.m. – Cass vs. Rome

Aug. 19 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta

10 a.m. – Norcross vs. Marietta

1 p.m. – Brookwood vs. McEachern

4 p.m. – Mill Creek vs. North Gwinnett

7 p.m. – Grayson vs. Walton