Georgia is one of the top five producers of elite high school athletes and teams in the country, and it’s no longer only football. The proof is easy to find.
In baseball, there have been 17 first-round picks from Georgia high schools in the past five years of the MLB Draft. Only California (29) and Florida (24) have had more. Lambert High entered the Georgia state playoffs this season as the nation’s No. 1-ranked team, according to USA Today.
McIntosh’s boys soccer team is ranked No. 1 by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, which places three other Georgia teams in the top 10. It has been only since 1992 that Georgia sanctioned girls soccer as a championship sport. Now, there are more registered year-round club players in soccer in this state than in any other sport, according to the Georgia Soccer Association.
In the 14 events the GHSA offers for girls and boys, one in 20 track-and-field athletes whose personal bests rank among the top 50 nationally this spring are from Georgia. Only California, Texas and Florida have more than Georgia’s 70.
In tennis, there are 19 Georgia high school seniors ranked among the top 100 boys and girls recruits nationally by TennisRecruiting.net. Only Florida (35) and California (33) have more.
Even sports that don’t have tradition in Georgia, such as lacrosse, are gaining ground. Milton’s girls lacrosse team is rated 48th nationally by LaxPower.com. Milton is second among girls teams in the South in a sport still dominated by the Northeast. Lacrosse didn’t become an official Georgia High School Association sport until 2005.
Georgia’s success in a variety of sports might be as simple as population and opportunity. With nearly 10 million residents, Georgia is the eighth most-populous state. Georgia’s warm climate is well-suited to the trend of year-round specialization in sports.
But note that Georgia’s population remains only about half of Florida’s, a third of Texas’ and a fourth of California’s.
And even indoors, where weather is not a factor, Georgia is making a name for itself beyond basketball. There were almost no volleyball scholarship winners from Georgia 20 years ago and fewer than 10 a decade ago. Now there are more than 50 annually as year-round participation grows at a rate of 15 percent per year, according to one local volleyball club.
Georgia’s standing as a high school sports powerhouse is especially pertinent this month. The GHSA will determine 66 team state champions in its seven spring sports in May. Several more athletes will win individual state titles in sports such as golf, track and field and gymnastics.
State championships are the dream of any team and athlete. In Georgia, maybe those championships mean a little more.
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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC