Howard, who has led the Valley Cubs’ program since 1999, has a particular method when it comes to grabbing students from the hallways and getting them onto the fairways.
He shuns aesthetics such as height and build in favor of intangibles such as work ethic and the pursuit of excellence in other areas when looking to fill a roster.
“You can tell people that work really hard,” Howard said. “I try to get them as early as the sixth grade. You want people who do things without being asked or pushed. They’ll do anything to the best of their abilities because they don’t want to be embarrassed.”
Howard’s hypothesis is proven on the leaderboard tournament after tournament. The Lady Valley Cubs have advanced to the state tournament each of the past two seasons.
Alexandria’s boys and girls teams will begin the journey toward that mark Monday and Tuesday when they’ll play in AHSAA Class 1A-5A sectional tournaments.
The boys are set to play in Oneonta today while the girls will tee of at McClellan Tuesday.
Howard has guided Alexandria’s golf program since 1999. Then, the Valley Cubs only fielded a boys team. In 2007, they added a girls team and won a state title in 2008.
Back then, Madison Williams was an up-and-coming middle-schooler.
Now, the junior, who won this year’s Calhoun County tournament with rounds of 76 and 81 at Cane Creek Golf Course to best Piedmont’s Erin Gunnels by seven strokes, is a prime example of Howard’s formula come to fruition.
Howard said he benefits from having to pull from a community that takes all of its sports, boys and girls, seriously.
“Our girls athletic program is really tough,” Howard said.
“They play softball coming up and when they get up to junior high, there’s only so many slots available.”
Howard said by the time the girls are 13 or 14 they’re already strong enough to drive the ball well from women’s tees due to the years of training they’ve received from other coaches in other sports.
The success his golf teams have had has kept interest in the sport up over the years, Howard said. There are 10 players on the girls team and eight on the boys. About 35 or 36 showed up when he hosted try-outs, he added.
“It’s pretty addictive. I don’t have any problem keeping them once they get started,” Howard said. “I only had one that didn’t play her entire career out and that’s just because she was playing so many other sports. I think if she wasn’t, she would’ve played her senior year.”
The Lady Valley Cubs have just one senior in Kaitlyn Cooper on their roster. Williams is the only junior and Carmen Grace and Courtney Randall are the only sophomores.
Eighth-grader Jordan Gregoria has already played her way into the Lady Valley Cubs’ top four. She’ll compete in the team competition Tuesday along with Williams, Cooper and Jessica Howard. Katie Roberts, also in the eighth-grade, and Randall will compete as individuals.
Keeping the favorable blend of youth and experience has helped to sustain their success from season to season. It helps to lessen the damage graduation does to their roster each spring.
It’s just another aspect of Howard’s master plan.
If things pan out as the Valley Cubs hope at the sectional tourney, Howard said he suspects their toughest competition will come from two-time defending champion Hartselle and Scottsboro.
“But we should have a pretty good chance this year,” he said.
Sounds like a plan.
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.