Soccer has a custom where the team that wins its league championship adds a gold star to its logo.
The GMC Prep Bulldogs, GHSA Class A-Public boys champions a year ago, got to show off their star for only about a month before the 2020 campaign was canceled due to the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak still crippling the country.
Coach Bobby Jaworski’s boys were more than poised to add a second star to their uniforms this season. They stood at 8-0 and had recently shut out Lake Oconee Academy 3-0 the week before play was halted. Those same teams met with the title on the line last year and both definitely had the talent to get back, but the worldwide pandemic suspended then ultimately ended the season two months early. Jaworski says his players had been watching the situation closely, hoping they would get the opportunity to make it all the way back to the finals and defend their title although that wound up not being the case.
“The attitude has been fairly somber, especially when it comes to our seniors,” said Jaworski who has been in regular contact with his players. “But I think the mindset that you should play every game like it's your last has taken hold in everyone. Juniors who were playing JV the last few seasons now realize JV games aren't an option anymore for them. They are now looking to break the varsity 11 next season. Younger players now have to learn the discipline of training on your own terms, getting bigger, faster, stronger with home workouts versus being coached with a team or at school.
“It's interesting though, a lot of guys have realized that you don't know what you have until it's actually gone. Some have looked back at previous seasons, and reflected on how they wish they could play with those groups again.”
The Bulldogs were dominating their competition, having accumulated five shutouts while not allowing more than one goal in any game. They had outscored opponents 53-3 before Gov. Brian Kemp closed Georgia’s public schools for the remainder of the academic year, a decision that caused the GHSA to cancel all spring sports. On top of all that, they were getting ready to set a new program-best winning streak at 14 games dating back to last season.
“We have a great team, a great family unit,” Jaworski said. “We were making statements in games and really coming into form as a team. The trust and bond of players across every skill level was evident all over the pitch. The way it ended is truly a bummer in and of itself. The health and well-being of our families and communities is paramount, so we respect the decisions made. But there is a sense of disappointment that the team couldn't finish what it started. That the seniors truly played their last games. That the records about to be set have to wait another season and won't have certain people who helped bring those opportunities about.”
If there is any silver lining in all this for GMC Prep boys soccer, it’s that this year’s juniors were the team’s standout class as there were only two seniors. Eleventh-grader Ethan Tolentino was leading the way with his 12 goals while classmate Colin McCabe had 10 helpers through just eight contests. Fifteen players in all netted goals and many more helped the team get to its undefeated mark. The Bulldogs were looking forward to testing their mettle against ACE Charter, a state semifinalist and runner-up in GMC’s area last year, but competition ended two days before that big match was scheduled. The ‘Dogs will just have to hold onto their title another year. It’s not how they pictured it, but when play resumes in 2021 they will enter as defending champs again as GHSA will crown no boys soccer state champs for the first time since at least 1965.
“We all are truly grateful for being a part of GMC soccer — players, coaches, family and supporters,” Jaworski said. “It's not the end of the road, it's definitely ‘until next time.’ The boys are bummed, but they're thankful for what they have and what they've been through, and certainly ready for what lies ahead.”