By Maurice Patton
COOKEVILLE – Philip Sherry ran so Summit could win.
Sherry opened the Spartan football era in stellar fashion, fielding the team’s first kickoff in its inaugural contest and returning it 98 yards for a touchdown – albeit in an eventual 34-12 loss to visiting Northwest on Aug. 19, 2011.
Nearly a decade later, in their second state championship game in as many seasons, the Spartans capped their third double-digit victory campaign in four years with a 28-7 victory over Class 5A foe Oak Ridge in the BlueCross Bowl at Tennessee Tech’s Tucker Stadium.
“I was thinking back this morning about those 10 years,” said Sarah Lamb, an assistant principal when the school opened who ascended to its helm seven years ago. “We went from 400 kids and 35 staff members, to this – 1700 students, 100-plus staff.
“We’ve built a championship football program. A lot of kids along the way have helped us become this success tonight. Those first couple of years we were competing with varsity teams and we’ve got freshmen and sophomores. To get to this point where baseball, basketball, wrestling, football competing (for) state championships, it’s just amazing for our kids.”
Brian Coleman hasn’t been around quite as long as Lamb, but it may have felt like a longer climb to the top for the seventh-year coach.
“When (defensive coordinator Alex) Melton and I hugged, he said ‘that’s a long way from 0-10’,” said Coleman, who went winless in 2014, the program’s fourth season and his first. “We just believed in the process of doing the right thing in the weight room, building around kids that want to work hard. I think that’s what happened.
“We never knew how long it was going to take. It’s been a steady climb. I think that’s the way you have to do it.”
In his third season, Coleman led the Spartans to their first winning record and their first postseason berth, as they fell to Cane Ridge in the opening round of the 2016 Class 5A playoffs.
“The first year we went to the playoffs, we’re up 21-0 at the half (before suffering a 35-21 loss),” he said. “We’ve just got stories on stories of how our kids have grown.”
A year later, it was a quarterfinal loss to Beech that ended Summit’s campaign, followed by a first-round defeat at the hands of the Buccaneers. Then, in 2019, the program’s first title-game appearance ended with a 30-7 loss to Knoxville Central.
“Last year I think was just priceless for these kids, coming here and experiencing,” Coleman said. “We were big-eyed last year. I didn’t think we were this year. They were focused all week and the whole time here.
“You’ve got bumps and hills, ups and downs, (but) these kids are just great. We love ‘em and they respect that. We take care of ‘em, and they fight for us.”
For Lamb, the success is part of the effort to make the high school years enjoyable for her school’s students.
“We want them to have an amazing high school experience,” she said. “There are a lot of good teams at all the schools in Williamson County. It’s one of the things we pride ourselves on, and not just athletics, but academics, the arts.
“We’re all striving to get to those championship games. We feel like we’re well supported, whether it be in the community or at the central office. We’re just thankful to be here, and in the (school’s) 10th year, it makes it special.”
Maurice Patton is the editor for Southern Middle Tennessee Sports. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @mopatton_sports.