By Bill Sanders
No one was really sure what to expect when the Sandy Springs Stallions, the seventh- and eighth-grade football team for the Sandy Spring Charter School, took the field at Kell High School on Aug. 21 against the Crown Middle School Knights.
The Stallions have never won a football game in the history of the program. But they’d never lost either. So Coach Dan Makowski chose the “cup is half-full” approach and led his 26 players onto the field that Saturday, cautiously optimistic that their approach to the game was sound, their preparation sufficient, and their focus steely.
“We won 28-8 and played every one of the kids, and played them all a good amount,” Makowski said.
But no one associated with the school’s team – at least not those in upper management – are allowing themselves to be swayed. Winning a non-conference game was a great way to start an inaugural season. But winning in the Glory For Christ Football League (formerly known as the Georgia Football League) was going to be harder. Sandy Springs is the only new school to the league, which is made up of Christian and charter schools.
But even more importantly than winning a game here or there, and perhaps even more important than doing the unthinkable and running the table in the first year, is the concept of building a program. Sandy Springs Charter School, Makowski said, needs to become a strong feeder school for North Springs High School, a team that is in need of dedicated feeder programs in the middle-school ages.
“This program we’re building, and it’s going to be a lasting one, should really help out North Springs High School. We think a feeder program will increase what the high school has, and that’s key to success at that level.
“We’ve gotten a lot of support from the [athletics director] over there, but what we’re doing this year has been made possible by the generosity of the Sandy Springs middle school foundation. We’ve gotten generous grants from the Northside Athletes Foundation. It costs a lot to start a football program. And we’re fortunate to be in the league we’re in, a league which welcomed us with open arms, when some other leagues closer to us had no interest in having us join.”
Mindy Zatto started the foundation a year and a half ago because she saw too many voids in what Fulton County provided athletically.
“As a foundation, we are not just about football, or athletics,” she said. “We started it to bring things to the schools that are not funded. We are bringing in money for the arts, technology, academics and athletics. We’ve started by focusing on athletics and arts because the county supports academics and technology. We want to do more in those areas, but we wanted to start with the ones that aren’t funded at all.”
Zatto loves the idea of building a football program because it’s something that so many kids can participate in.
“Football builds unity and school spirit,” she said. “The more players that participate, the better.”
And along with football usually comes cheerleaders, perhaps a small marching band or a flag corp. All that might be a little pie-in-the-sky sounding to Zatto and Makowski right now, but not for down the road.
They hope what they are building will go on long past this year’s team, or next year’s team.
“Those things are in the works,” Makowski said. “The high school has been very supportive in all areas, and that helped us a lot. Our home games are at North Springs High School and they are interested in our feeder program. That’s a big part of why we’re doing this. These kids will mostly go to North Springs and we want them to go to a good program.”
But for the next couple of months, Makowski will be content focusing on the here and now.
“If we make the playoffs the first year, that would be great,” he said. “If we make it to the championship game –and that might be a little ambitious after one victory, but we feel so good about it — that would be just unheard of for a first-year school.”