On the girls side, Etowah’s Bob Westbrook — in his 15th season with the Lady Eagles, and his 31st as a basketball coach — is the elder statesman. Cherokee’s Matt Cates has a tenure of just a season shorter, while Woodstock’s Julie Crowe is entering her 10th season.
Creekview’s Roger Nolan and River Ridge’s Jason Taylor have been with their teams since their respective schools opened in 2005 and 2009. Sequoyah’s Derrick DeWitt is the newcomer to the county as the second-year coach for the Lady Chiefs.
The story isn’t much different for the boys programs.
Etowah’s Don Hurlburt is in his 11th season as the Eagles’ coach, while Roger Kvam is in his 11th year at Cherokee and his 32nd overall. Matt Bohon has been at River Ridge each of the five seasons its doors have been open, while Casey Gramling is in his ninth season at Creekview.
Jeremy Adams has been at Sequoyah seven seasons, taking the Chiefs to the state playoffs in six of those seasons. Brady Richeson, a former assistant of Adams’ at Sequoyah, is in his third season at Woodstock.
When the coaches were asked why they have stayed in the county so long, the answers were simple. Some said the coaching conditions are ideal, while others said there’s no reason to leave when all the ingredients for a successful program are present in Cherokee County. Supportive administrations, talented players and success have allowed the teams to flourish.
Crowe, the only female coach in the county, said all of the programs have had their ups and downs, but good coaches are able to keep programs on a positive path.
“When you have coaches like we have in the county, they pull a lot out of their players,” Crowe said. “Parents see that and they want those types of people and mentors to be around their children. Parents have to trust you with as much time as we spend around their children. There is a point when basketball is over and you have got to be good people in society and academically. I think that is what all the coaches in this county really require from their players.”
Hurlburt points to the skill of the coaches.
“I have a lot of respect for coach Kvam and his record, he runs a good program,” Hurlburt said. “Then, you have coach Bohon. I know he hasn’t been (in Cherokee County) long, but his experience of 29 years means that, obviously, he is doing something right. I know we have a lot of young guys like coach Gramling and coach Richeson and Jeremy at Sequoyah. These guys are coming in here hitting home runs in three, four, five years in the business. I just think we have some really good coaches in the county.”
Hurlburt said that when he started at Etowah, there were games against county opponents that he knew his team would win before the season began, but that has changed.
“It used to be, ‘I know we can beat Woodstock. I know we can beat Sequoyah,’” he said. “Now, it’s, ‘I hope we can beat Woodstock. I hope we can beat Sequoyah.’ That has been the difference for me in 10 years.”
Kvam, who coached at Sprayberry before coming to Cherokee — and in Maryland and Massachusetts before that — said he has never lacked support from the administration.
“The coaches are good and have done a good job,” Kvam said. “They have stayed where they are because they’ve done a good job. Because they have gotten the opportunity and done a good job and done the best with what they have been given, it speaks to the quality of the coaches. Sometimes, you can face a team that you can outscheme, but not in this county. The teams are all well-coached.”
Creekview, River Ridge and Woodstock — boys and girls — will open their seasons Tuesday. Creekview will travel to North Cobb, River Ridge will host South Forsyth and Woodstock will host Harrison.
A day later, Etowah’s seasons will get under way at Marietta, while Sequoyah will travel to Lambert.
Cherokee will be the final school to begin its season. The boys will play against Sequoyah on Nov. 19, while the girls will not begin their season until Nov. 22, when it goes to Etowah for the Region 5AAAAAA opener for both teams.