weekends of champions

State titles elusive for Midlands schools

Special to The StateDecember 1, 2012 

Dutch Fork's Omar Staley late in the fourth quarter of a dissapointing 34-20 loss to a strong Gaffney team in the Class 4A division I state championship game between Dutch Fork and Gaffney played at Williams-Brice Stadium.

C MICHAEL BERGEN — mbergen@thestate.com Buy Photo

  • More information WEEKEND OF CHAMPIONS TODAY’S GAMES At Williams-Brice Stadium CLASS 4A, DIV. II Noon: Northwestern (12-2) vs. Greenwood (14-0) CLASS 4A, DIV. I 3:00 p.m.: Gaffney (11-3) vs. Dutch Fork (11-3) CLASS 3A 6:30 p.m.: Union County (9-5) vs. Hartsville (13-0) Tickets: $10 TV: Time Warner Cable digital channel 522

When people gather to talk about high school football in South Carolina, the discussion quickly turns to the powerhouse programs in the Upstate, and rightfully so. Perennial powers Byrnes, Dorman, Gaffney, Abbeville, Greenwood and Northwestern reside in that part of the state and they routinely bring home state championship hardware.

The Lower State has its moments as well. Bishop England, Goose Creek and Timberland all reside in Berkeley County and they won state championships in 2011. Myrtle Beach has carried the banner for the Grand Strand schools for several years.

When talk turns to the Midlands, the chatter is somewhat quiet. Blythewood won the last state championship for the area in 2006 until Fairfield Central and Dutch Fork advanced to the title games this year for the Weekend of Champions. The Griffins came up short in a bid for their first state championship since 1997 when they suffered an xx-xx loss to Dillon in the Class 2A Division I title game Friday night. The Silver Foxes get a chance to end the drought today when they play Gaffney for Class 4A Division I championship at 3 pm at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Fairfield Central coach Demetrius Davis believes things go in cycles and he fully expects to see a resurgence for Midlands schools in the near future.

“There are some real good teams around the Midlands and several have made some noise in the playoffs in recent years, but for whatever reasons have come up a little short of a state championship,” Davis said. “You can’t take away the body of work each of those teams has accomplished. It’s difficult to get to a state championship much less win one. I think what has happened is everybody is getting better; it goes in cycles. You might see it come back around very soon.”

A.C. Flora is arguably the most successful program over the last two years. Dean Howell has led the Falcons to 23 wins – the best two-year run in school history – but they have come up just short of playing for a state championship. Last season, they lost to Bluffton in the state semifinals. This season, they lost in the third round to Union County, who will play Hartsville in today’s Class 3A title game.

Howell believes tradition and kids growing up wanting to play for programs that are successful year-in and year-out makes a difference.

“Traditionally the Columbia area has good football but not a lot of teams are winning state championships,” Howell said. “We’re constantly working trying to get kids to buy into our programs. There are so many other options for kids in Richland and Lexington counties. They can drive five or 10 minutes and be at a movie theater or at something else they want to do on a Friday night instead of playing football.”

The decade of the 1990s was a boom for state titles for this area with nine state championships. Swansea won three in a row from 1992-1994. Batesburg-Leesville won in 1995 and 1999. Fairfield Central won titles in 1996 and 1997, Camden added one in 1990 and Richland Northeast won a state title in 1993.

Camden won again in 2001, Batesburg-Leesville won again in 1995 before Blythewood won its title in its first year of playing varsity football in 2006. Since 1997, that is three state titles for the area.

As you can see, the pool is very small even for the schools that have won state titles. Only six different programs have claimed championships since 1990. Howell believes that’s where tradition plays a factor. In towns that have had success, kids grow wanting to play under the lights on Friday nights. They grew up going to the games, and the pride of playing for the hometown school was instilled in them at a young age. That might not always be the case with Midlands schools.

“You see a lot of times, programs in small towns with only one or two schools have that type of tradition where it basically recruits itself,” Howell said. “We might have three or four schools within less than 10 miles of each other in the Columbia area. That makes a difference. But I do see schools in this area making progress.”

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