The GHSA state title games being contested out in the elements and away from climate-controlled environments of Mercedes-Benz Stadium have been a hot topic of conversation this week around the state. But for many seasoned coaches from within the state of Georgia, settling a title in a team’s own stadium or playing on the opponents home field was commonplace.
Prior to 2008, the GHSA held state championship games on the home fields of one of the two teams playing for the championship. Instead of playing in mammoth facilities such as the Georgia Dome, titles were settled in front of hometown fans in Middle Georgia towns such as Warner Robins, Fort Valley, Sandersville and Forsyth.
And while there is an allure to playing at home in front of a team’s own fans, that can at times have its pitfalls. Bryan Way knows both sides of playing for a state championship on a non-neutral site. As either a head coach or assistant with the Demons, he was involved in three state title games, two of which were on the road.
“I like it a lot better, it feels more like a high school football game than it does at one of those big venues,” said Way, now an assistant coach at Tattnall Square. “The kids love playing at those types of places, and it’s really special. (But) just the atmosphere at one of the school’s stadiums, whether you’re the home or visiting team. is really neat.”
The Demons most recent state title, with Way as head coach, came in 2004 with the victory coming at Statesboro. Warner Robins claimed the 1988 crown at home against Brookwood while the 1985 title game loss came at Clarke Central.
“I always kind of almost looked forward to playing on the road a little bit in terms of distractions. You leave school earlier in the day and you don’t have to take care of a lot of things that you have to take care as the host team in terms of getting everything ready,” Way said. “Now, once the game starts you’re kind of in enemy territory, so that can be a little bit tough, but it still feels a lot like a neutral site with so many of your fans following you, as well.”
Home teams have to balance not only getting ready to play for a state championship, but also the logistics of ticketing, game operations, concessions and other factors.
Howard head coach Barney Hester knows of that from experience from his time with Tattnall Square when the Trojans were part of a state championship on 18 separate occasions.
Hester says having a strong backbone of support throughout the program is key to balancing things on and off the field.
“You better delegate well. As the athletic director and head coach, you’ve got a lot of issues to take care of play a state championship game from ticket takers to parking to concessions and hospitality, whatever the case may be. You better delegate well,” Hester said. “In the same breath, you better have outstanding coache