Veronica Coats stands out in a crowd.
Coats, who works as a certified nursing assistant, is vocal in her support of the Wilkinson County boys basketball team. She’ll be one of the first fans on her feet, leading cheers or reacting to what happens on the floor.
“We are very close when it comes to our basketball players,” Coats said. “We love our basketball boys. We go hard for them.”
Her gray, short-cut hair was easily spotted Thursday near the front of the Wilkinson County fan section at the Macon Coliseum during the GHSA Class A public school championship game. She was up on her feet throughout what turned into an adventure of a game, as Wilkinson County jumped out to a double-digit lead only to see Turner County challenge in the closing minutes.
The game turned into a nailbiter. But the finish was one that Coats will remember for the rest of her life.
It was Coats’ son, Torrico Simmons, who made the defensive play that caused Turner County’s final attempt to tie the game to fail. He knocked the ball loose at the top of the key in the closing seconds, sending players on a scramble that resulted in a foul called on Turner County as the ball was rolling out of bounds.
Then, on a day in which successful free throws seemed few and far between, the junior calmly made 5-of-6 in one trip to the line, the fallout from technical fouls called in the wake of Turner County’s turnover.
All that dancing in the stands, all those attempts to lead the crowd paid off personally for Coats. Wilkinson County had itself a 72-64 state championship victory, and her son, who played all 32 minutes en route to scoring a team-high 18 points, defined the outcome.
“That was awesome,” Coats said. “I love my son. He plays hard, and he’s a wonderful kid. He loves basketball.”
Simmons had several family members in attendance Thursday. His uncle, Ron Shinholster, was sitting in the front row, also leading some of the chatter from Wilkinson County’s partisans.
The feelings when the game turned on Simmons’ defensive play, a move that prevented Turner County from launching a game-tying 3-point shot? Just pure relief, according to Shinholster.
“He’s been doing that since he was a freshman,” Shinholster said. “He’s a real good ballhandler.”
Simmons’ family has attended other state championship victories. Wilkinson County claimed its seventh championship Thursday, a run that started in 1999. All of those wins have been special, something that has almost come to define the communities in that county.
And when family is directly involved, it’s even sweeter.
“It means a lot,” Simmons said. “It means a lot to repeat. It feels better than last year, way better.”
Contact Ron Seibel at 744-4222 or firstname.lastname@example.org