Allatoona High School is Cobb County’s newest high school. Opened in the fall of 2008 and nicknamed the Buccaneers, Allatoona has had only one coach in its short history: Gary Varner. The head coaching job at Allatoona was his first-ever head coaching job, which makes Varner’s head coaching experience just as limited as his program’s.
This past spring, as the school year was winding down, Cobb County officials were faced with the same type of budget concerns that most of the other school systems in the state of Georgia faced. The only way to make the budget work was to lay off teachers.
“I guess the fairest or the most legal way to do it, they went straight by seniority,” Varner said. So Varner and four members of his staff were let go. However, after the Allatoona community banded together and voiced their concerns with the decision, county officials found a way to get Varner and his coaches back at the school.
And has that decision is paying off this year, as the Bucs are 7-1 and for the first time are in the GHSF Daily/AJC top 10. With one more victory, they could win their subregion and earn a spot in the playoffs during their first-ever varsity season.
BEING LAID OFF …
In these tough financial times, a lot of decisions are made that aren’t popular, but they have to be made. No one wants to lay off teachers, but when there isn’t money available to pay them, things have to be done. Varner understands the difficult spot that the county was in. “Cobb County had the budget crisis like many other counties did and the initial reaction was not to get rid of sports, or get rid of coaches or anything like that. But they were going to have to get rid of teachers.”
Varner continued, “The catch was…because Allatoona was a brand-new school, when they hired us to come in… we came from out of county.”
Varner and his staff had only two years of experience in Cobb County despite the fact that many of them had been teaching long before that.
“So myself and four others on the staff all were caught in the situation of: ‘Your seniorities good, but not your Cobb seniority. So the county has decided not to renew your contract. That came out the Monday of spring practice,” Varner said.
DEDICATED AND DETERMINED …
Even with the news that they would be laid off at the end of the year, Varner and his staff agreed to stay on and coach through spring practice. The dedication that these men showed didn’t go unnoticed by the parents and the people involved with the school. Varner also pointed out that he and his staff weren’t the only ones being let go.
“The head soccer coach, the head baseball coach, a bunch of coaches [were being let go],” said Varner. “The booster clubs got together and they kind of got a couple voices together. They went to school board meetings and all that and basically voiced their opinion that ‘Hey, these guys should be able to come back.’ At the end of the day we were able to come back. The community was an unbelievable support.”
But this isn’t a movie and despite a stirring and emotional outcry, it wasn’t enough in the end to bring back the coaches. Varner does believe he knows why they were reinstated. “I think we came back because they cut more than they needed and certain people retired and resigned, so they started hiring people back. We were able to get back most of them at our school. Not all the schools got everyone back.” A man that was selfless at the beginning of this journey is still just as selfless, thinking more so about the people who lost their jobs than the fact that he kept his.
It is a good thing Varner got his job back. This season, the Bucs have already won seven games, matching the school’s total from the previous two seasons, and are in the playoff hunt. But Varner won’t take any of the credit. “We’ve got good players and that always helps.”
SENIOR LEADERSHIP …
Varner also knows that above all, one group of committed players contributed to the winning attitude of this team.
“Even though it’s not a full senior class, we’ve got some really good seniors, as far as just character kids and that’s been a huge help for us this year,” he said.
Just like their coach, these kids aren’t ones to make excuses.
“Our seniors have taken charge of a team that no one would figure to do much in their first year and they didn’t make that an excuse and say ‘Well we’re a new school. This is our first year of playing varsity football.’ They were very intense from the very beginning to try and make it into a special senior year for themselves,” Varner said.
And what a special year it could be. If Allatoona is able to beat Gilmer on Oct. 29, they would win their subregion and earn a spot in the playoffs in just their third varsity season. In past years, Allatoona has played only a non-region schedule.
“I think it would be great for them,” Varner said when asked how a playoff berth would affect the community. “You feel like at the least you’re doing a good job and you’re on the right track… but the problem is that it’s not over yet and we haven’t made the playoffs yet and I’m kind of hesitant about talking about it, so we’ll see what happens this Friday.”
Regardless of whether or not the Bucs earn a playoff berth, one thing is for sure: Varner and his staff have done a remarkable job of keeping things together and getting the most out of their players. At a time when many would’ve cut their losses and looked for new jobs, the football coaches at Allatoona came together and kept the faith. And now, the entire community is reaping the rewards.