"This is our third championship in a row — a three-peat," said Midway Middle School Lady Panthers basketball coach Shannon McFadden.
The MMS Lady Panthers took the crown after defeating local middle schools Lewis Frasier and Snelson Golden during the recent middle school championship playoffs.
"This squad is a relatively inexperienced squad," McFadden said. "Usually we have a lot of girls who played before and this year we didn’t. We were very top heavy with eighth graders that never played so we were surprised they did as well as they did. But we knew if they paid attention they would win."
Assistant coach Warren Waye agreed. "We had a very good year with the girls we had on the roster especially when you
consider their lack of experience. It took a little longer for them to catch on but overall they prevailed. They did what we asked them to do at the end when it really counted," he said.
McFadden said she has a commitment to get these girls ready for the next level at Liberty County High School.
MMS has already spawned several elite players, including Georgia Tech Lady Yellow Jacket and LCHS alumnus Metra Walthour.
The coach’s tradition for winning stems from her past. McFadden went to Beach High School where she played for coach Ronald Booker. Booker and his Lady Bulldogs squad have a long winning history and made the final four this season before being eliminated by Marietta.
"I come from a winning tradition and I know all about hard work," McFadden said. "I understand what it takes and I follow Booker’s philosophy when it comes to defense. It’s all about defense, the offense will come but it’s all about defense."
McFadden thinks more funding is needed for middle school athletics in order for them to be able to compete against other schools like those in Savannah and the surrounding counties. She said that would better prepare the kids for play at the high school level.
She said more work needs to be done with the girls.
"As with education, athletics needs to start at an early age — even more so with girls," she said. "Boys tend to play and be more involved with athletics all year. With girls, there is more competition in cheerleading and dance stuff, so it’s hard to get them into a sport. If you really want a strong girls’ program, you have to start with them as young as possible. For the most part, the majority of the girls don’t start playing until they get to middle school."
McFadden’s success in developing talent and a pension for winning is evidenced by the Lady Panthers’ starting roster at Liberty County High School.
Freshmen varsity starters Diamone Johnson and Courtney Rhodes both came from MMS.
McFadden said she thinks she has a few more players that will make the cut next season for the high school squad.
"Keisha Lee is a first time player and a strong player but the real surprise was Alexia Parker," she said. "She never played at all. She had the height but she lacked the skill. She came on and caught on and if she remains serious about the sport she is going to be awesome."
The coach said she expects Parker to be tall and compared her to former Liberty County Panther Nisha Adams, who now plays for Georgia Tech.
"We prepare them for the next level if you look at Liberty’s team right now you will see our girls playing," Waye said. "The two years they played here with us helped them prepare and that is what we try and tell our current players."
McFadden says she is ready for the fourth championship and welcomes the challenge.
"We know the pressure is always on us because when you are at the top, people always play you harder," she said.