“We transferred because, at that particular time, athletics was not very high on the list at Woodland,” Larry said.
The Strains have done a lot to put sports high on the list at Woodland, and they have a chance to bring home the school’s first state title in any sport today. The girls basketball team, 30-6 and packed with Strain influence, will play Tanner (31-3) in the Class 2A final at 4 p.m. in the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.
How packed with Strain influence is the current Bobcats’ team?
Larry, the school’s head football coach and athletics director, is also in his 12th year as the girls’ head basketball coach.
His daughter Leah is its starting point guard and star player, coming off a 37-point, 10-rebound bonanza in Woodland’s semifinal victory over Barbour County.
The starting lineup includes cousin Shanna Strain. She and twin sister Shalyn, who sees regular playing time, are Leah’s cousins and daughters to Larry’s youngest brother, Shane.
Amy Strain, another key contributor, is Dave Strain’s daughter.
Distantly related is starting Katlin Edmondson, whom Larry estimates as Leah’s fifth cousin, “If I can figure the cousins up right.”
Gone from the scene are former Woodland stars Courtney and Trae Strain, Larry’s oldest kids.
Courtney, Alabama’s all-time leading scorer in girls basketball, is a freshman on Auburn University’s team this season. Like Leah, she also cheered for Woodland during football season.
Trae, the oldest of Larry’s kids, starred in multiple sports at Woodland. He lettered five years and made all-state in football, and 2010 marked his senior season as a defensive back at Birmingham Southern College.
Go farther back, and Woodland had the Strain brothers. Larry and Dave, a year and a half younger, both attended the school but transferred before Larry’s sophomore year. Shane attended Woodland throughout, graduating in 1986.
Yes, the Strain brothers played all three boys’ sports Woodland offered — football, basketball and baseball. Larry and Dave continued to play those sports at Randolph County.
So, sports is as much a part of the family way as Woodland High School, and sports beckoned beyond high school.
Not that the brothers had to coach. Their dad and uncle own Strain Construction, and Larry and his brothers own Strain Asphalt and Paving.
But Dave and Shane coached their daughters and nieces in youth-league sports.
Larry teaches physical education and drivers education at Woodland High School and has coached all of the kids in various sports.
“People talk about how much money that everybody else makes, and teachers don’t make a lot of money, to be honest with you,” Larry said. “But I told them that nobody can ever take away from me the experience I have with my own children.
“At practice, every day, I got to see them. Every game I got to see them. That’s more valuable to me than any money I’ve ever made.”
The kids say playing together has been priceless.
“When your teammates are your friends, your cousins or your sister, it’s pretty special,” Leah said.
Just imagine how special it would be for a team loaded with family to bring home Woodland’s first state title.
The Bobcats have been close. Larry coached Trae on two Woodland football teams that reached the Super 6, but the Bobcats lost to Leroy both times — 12-7 in 2006 and 17-14 in 2004.
Larry has coached the girls’ basketball team to eight regionals, and the last seven teams have had at least one daughter on the roster. From 2008-10, the team included two daughters and all three nieces.
The Bobcats finally broke through to the state semifinals in Birmingham this season. They beat Barbour County 58-41 on Tuesday to gain today’s title shot.
The closest claim Woodland has to a state title is the unbeaten 1963 football team. That was before Alabama had a playoff, and Woodland got the No. 1 nod by a newspaper.
“It wasn’t the Birmingham paper or the Montgomery paper,” Larry said. “It was some other paper that recognized them as the state champion, but it’s not listed in the Alabama High School Athletic Association book.”
To bring a state championship back to Woodland would be “overwhelming,” he said.
“It’s not just my family,” he said. “All the kids that have been involved and the parents have really made a commitment to make sure their kids play during the summertime and carried them to camps and made sure they had the opportunity to play.
“To be honest with you, we’ve been working for this opportunity since they were in the third and fourth grade.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @Jomedstar.