At DeKalb County School District’s 2023 football media day event, several high school head coaches talked about the pride they have in DeKalb football and how it took them from playing in the county to coaching there.
Seven head coaches in DeKalb are alumni of DeKalb schools. Cedar Grove head coach John Adams (Southwest DeKalb), Columbia head coach Greg Barnett (Columbia), M.L. King head coach Joel Kight (M.L. King), Redan head coach Damien Weems (Southwest DeKalb), Stephenson head coach Marcus Jelks (Stephenson), Marist head coach Alan Chadwick (Decatur), and St. Pius head coach Chad Garrison (Redan) all graduated from local high schools and are now coaching DeKalb schools.
Several coaches said the community support they experienced in high school made them return to DeKalb to coach and help better their communities.
“Having so many coaches who are alumni definitely helps carry that spirit on. They have a vested interest in the communities and in the schools they grew up in, and they want to see those kids and those communities succeed,” said Weems.
Chadwick added that wanting to be a part of DeKalb’s legacy of great football teams and athletes added to his decision to coach in the county.
“DeKalb has a great history of really quality high school football. When you look at the number of athletes from DeKalb who have gone on to play at the college and pro levels, it’s just amazing. This county has a rich history that has gone on for many years,” said Chadwick.
He said the county also has a history of changing powers, which gives most schools and coaches hope that they can turn around the program they once played at.
“When I was playing, it was Avondale High School that was the top of the league,” said Chadwick. “Tucker was also always good, Chamblee was always good, and there was a new school coming along—Lakeside—that was really good when it first started. Now you have Cedar Grove with all the championships they’ve won and playoff runs they’ve had.”
Barnett said his goal is to accomplish a similar turnaround at Columbia. The Columbia alum, who now coaches both the football and baseball teams at Columbia, led the Eagles to their first playoff football win since 1997 in 2021 and followed it up with another playoff appearance last season.
“The next step is a deeper playoff run with the ultimate goal of a state championship,” he added.
Weems said the coaching bond in DeKalb was once even stronger but that the current crop of coaches is doing their job in bringing that bond back. He added that the county is better for it.
“The kids need positive role models on and off the field. Every time I try to leave, something brings me back,” said Weems. “Win, lose, or draw, most of the time I call the other coach and talk to him. We have to do that because we’re showing the kids what good sportsmanship is like and showing them what good competitiveness is. We have to teach them how to play the game the right way.”
Chadwick said that having good role models on the football team also results in good leaders in the community.
“The things football teaches people, the comradery you get, the physicality of it, the hard work that’s put into it, all these great qualities that are gathered from that really take these students further in life,” said Chadwick.
He added that part of the history is the community support and how DeKalb schools and communities rally around their football teams.
“It’s a great way to get the school year started off on a positive note. If you can have a fun football season, you can get the students involved, bring everybody together, and I think that carries over through the rest of the year,” said Chadwick.