High school soccer playoffs showcase Georgia’s rising star nationally

The Director’s Cup competition awards points to each school based on its performances in the playoffs and state meets for the GHSA’s 26 championship sports.

The Director’s Cup competition awards points to each school based on its performances in the playoffs and state meets for the GHSA’s 26 championship sports.

In his 25th year as McIntosh boys soccer coach, Bunky Colvin says it’s getting tougher to win championships, even as his Chiefs are one victory from their eighth this century.

“In those early days, you had some really good players and teams in metro Atlanta and in some pockets around the state,’’ Colvin said. “Now there’s great players everywhere. There are more opportunities in club soccer. There’s great high school coaches everywhere in the state. There’s growth in soccer among people that culturally love the game as our international population has grown up. Our best can compete with anybody in the nation today.’’

The Georgia High School Association will crown 16 soccer champions over four days starting Tuesday with finals at Mercer University and McEachern and Duluth high schools.

After surviving three straight one-goal playoff victories, McIntosh will play Decatur for the Class 5A championship Thursday. McIntosh also can claim a third national championship. United Soccer Coaches places McIntosh’s boys No. 1 nationally in its spring rankings. Four other Georgia boys teams and three girls teams are in the coaches’ top 25.

Georgia’s national soccer reputation wasn’t always so shiny.

In 1995, when Colvin joined McIntosh’s staff as an assistant, the GHSA staged only four championship matches (two boys, two girls). There were 221 boys teams and 185 girls teams. Today, there are 385 and 386 teams, respectively. The number of boys and girls players has doubled to 22,068 from 10,908.

Megan Hill, coach of Class 7A girls finalist Buford, was playing youth soccer in Gwinnett County in 1990s.

“I started playing when I was 5 and I had to play on boys teams because there were no little girls teams,’’ said Hill, who later played four years at North Gwinnett and four at Southern Miss. “Now you look around and there are little girls teams everywhere. I coached my 5-year-old girl’s team. Moms are allowing little girls to play youth sports. Girls sports have definitely taken off.’’

In 1996, women’s soccer became part of the Olympics for the first time and set an American attendance record for a women’s sporting event at Sanford Stadium in Athens. Then came the 1999 Women’s World Cup victory won on Brandi Chastain’s penalty kick.

Hill, whose childhood idol was 1996 Olympic star Mia Hamm, links more recent girls soccer momentum to the rising popularity of women’s sports in general. She said Georgia high school soccer has gotten so good that college coaches come to watch. Until a few years ago, they generally limited scouting to year-round club soccer, she said.

College coaches will find plenty of talent at Friday’s Buford-West Forsyth showdown. Buford is 20-0-1 and ranked No. 11 in a United Soccer Coaches poll while West Forsyth is 20-0-2 and No. 16.

“It’s not like one team has this in the bag because one doesn’t have as many college signees as the other,’’ said Hill, who has six signees in her senior class. “It’s definitely a battle of two quality opponents.’’

Another boost to Georgia high school soccer has been the state’s rising Hispanic population, which doubled between 2000 and 2010 and now makes up 10.5% of Georgia residents.

Dalton, with a majority Hispanic student body, won the first of its eight boys state titles in 2003. Many other predominantly Hispanic teams have won championships since. One is Johnson-Gainesville, whose history dates to the 1950s but had never won a state championship in any sport until 2018, when its boys soccer team claimed one.

Now the soccer Knights can win their fourth overall and third in a row with a victory over Westminster in Class 4A on Wednesday.

“It’s been amazing to see how popular the sport is becoming here and the unique connection the team has with the community,’’ Johnson coach Frank Zamora said. “During soccer season, the stadium is going to be packed with a good environment similar to what football is for other schools. The boys love playing in front of their community.”

Good soccer news keeps pouring in.

In December, the U.S. Soccer Federation announced it was relocating from Chicago to Fayette County, not far from McIntosh, and is building a National Training Center covering 200 acres. Arthur Blank contributed $50,000.

Blank is owner of the MSL’s Atlanta United FC, which played its first season in 2017. The team won the MLS title in 2018 and averaged a league-leading 47,526 in attendance last season.

Colvin had 105 players try out for his team this season. He says Georgia high school soccer now ranks second to none.

“California is going to have more players; Florida is going to have more just because of population,’’ Colvin said. “But quality? No. Georgia is equal. Even 10 years ago, that was not true. We go to an MLS game, and I’m sitting there with kids, and I say, ‘Hey that goalkeeper for Philadelphia, he used to play in Georgia, and that kids from Kansas City, he played in Georgia. The quality of player here has exploded.’’

Championship schedule


Class A Division II at Mercer University

Girls – Montgomery County vs. Greenforest Christian, 5 p.m.

Boys – Atkinson County vs. GMC Prep, 7:30 p.m.

Class A Division I at McEachern

Girls – Social Circle vs. Paideia, 5 p.m.

Boys – Paideia vs. Atlanta International, 7:30 p.m.


Class 2A at Mercer University

Girls – Fellowship Christian vs. Mount Paran Christian, 5 p.m.

Boys – Toombs County vs. Model, 7:30 p.m.

Class 4A at Duluth

Girls – Lovett vs. North Oconee, 5 p.m.

Boys – Johnson-Gainesville vs. Westminster, 7:30 p.m.

Class 3A at McEachern

Girls – Oconee County vs. Wesleyan, 5 p.m.

Boys – Hebron Christian vs. Columbus, 7:30 p.m.


Class 5A at Duluth

Girls – Greater Atlanta Christian vs. Cambridge, 5 p.m.

Boys – McIntosh vs. Decatur, 7:30 p.m.

Class 6A at McEachern

Girls – Roswell vs. Marist, 5 p.m.

Boys – Sprayberry vs. River Ridge, 7:30 p.m.


Class 7A at Duluth

Girls – Buford vs. West Forsyth, 5 p.m.

Boys – Campbell vs. Kennesaw Mountain, 7:30 p.m.