The band played, spectators cheered and the members of Piedmont’s 2016 Class 3A state championship football team walked single file to their seats on the gym floor. Just like all Piedmont home football games, Thursday’s victory celebration started with the Star Spangled Banner and ended with the Piedmont alma mater.
For the second time in two years, and third time since 2009, Alabama High School Athletic Association executive director Steve Savarese traveled from Montgomery to Piedmont to formally present the school with its 3A state football championship trophy. It became quite a celebration.
In addition to the high school students and faculty members, school officials invited townspeople to attend and many accepted that invitation. Dignitaries present, introduced by Piedmont High principal Dr. Adam Clemons, included Calhoun County commissioner Lee Patterson, Piedmont mayor Bill Baker, city council member Mary Bramblett, school board member Lin Latta, Piedmont schools superintendent Dr. Matt Akin, system director of operations Mike Hayes and Rick Sisk of WCKA Alabama 810 and FM 97.1 which aired Piedmont’s football games during its 15-0 march to the championship.
Akin was the first to speak. He proudly noted that Piedmont is “the only school in Calhoun County to win a football state championship in this century and we’ve won three in the past seven years.”
Patterson brought a proclamation from the county commission lauding the accomplishments of the 2016 team. He present framed copies of the Anniston Star’s sports section front featuring the Bulldogs’ championship game victory and made a laminated copy available to every player.
Baker, who graduated from Piedmont “many, many years ago”, affirmed that being a Piedmont graduate was a “source of great pride to me.” He said that the city was adding 2016 to the signs noting all Piedmont’s state championships and pointed out that the football signs had plenty of room for more championship season. Baker then displayed one of the new signs and received a loud round of applause.
Sisk presented Piedmont head football coach Steve Smith with a trophy recognizing the school’s first 15-0 season.
Savarese began his remarks by praising Piedmont’s students and adult supporters.
“Every time I see Piedmont play, you are always there,” he said.
Savarese, who served as head football coach at Ensley, Benjamin Russell, Daphne and McGill-Toolen, noted that “doing the little things right” separates the best teams from the good teams and praised Smith for being one of those doing the little thing right.
Finally, Savarese directed his remarks specifically to the 2016 Bulldogs. He told the players that high school sports are not ultimately about rings or trophies but about what players learn through participation in sports.
“Take what you have learned winning this championship and become lifelong champions as husbands and parents,” he challenged.
After Mike Welsh, Spring Garden principal and president of the AHSAA Central Board of Control, and Alvin Briggs, head of the AHSAA athletic directors and coaches association, presented the state championship trophy to Piedmont’s seniors, Smith spoke.
“It really is a community effort here in Piedmont,” Smith said, thanking everyone from the community who contributed while worrying that he was omitting someone.
Smith recognized Bill Burgess, his coach at Jacksonville State who pointed him toward a coaching career, and confessed that many of the things he does now he copied from Burgess.
Then Smith thanked his assistant coaches.
“If I was sick, if I wasn’t around, these guys would still do the job,” he said.
Finally, Smith thanked his players for recognizing there was no instant gratification in life and for “always putting the team first.” A number of players willingly changed positions during the year in order to make the team better.