Even though it was 30 years in the making, the district title won by the softball team at Poplar Springs was a logical progression of sorts.
That might be the only thing approaching logic that ensues.
The Atomics, who are endeared to this corner by their nickname alone, bounced Milton Central 11-1 last week for the District 1-1A championship. It was the first district title won by the school, which has an address in Graceville but is located across the Jackson County line, since the 1983 girls basketball team.
That ain’t exactly the Curse of the Bambino, but clearly the nuclear age has seemed to bypass this sparsely populated northeast section of Holmes County within a ground-rule double of the Alabama border.
Perhaps the biggest upset of all is that Graceville, with 2,402 residents according to a recent population survey, has two public high schools located 5 miles apart using it as a mailing address. Or that a school such as Poplar Springs that offers only four sports at the varsity level — boys and girls basketball, softball and baseball — and boasts 85 students in grades 9-12 still is alive in the regional playoffs.
But that doesn’t define this group of athletes coached by Brad Hall, who have been building toward this moment — Tuesday night’s region semifinal game against visiting Chipley— during the past three seasons.
Poplar Springs was 9-1 in the district three years ago, Hall said, but lost in extra innings to Laurel Hill in the tournament semifinals. Last year was 8-2, and again the Atomics were denied by Laurel Hill, this time 1-0 in the championship game.
They have compiled a 19-2 record thus far, one of the losses by one run to Chipley, behind freshmen pitchers Ashlyn Golden and Paige Smith. There only is one senior on the roster, so clearly this program appears poised to add a new page to the school’s athletic history book, which at this point is more of a pamphlet.
Poplar Springs won back-to-back state Class C titles in boys basketball under Herman Dodson in 1966 and 1967. Forgive the current enrollment of the school, totaling 330 students grades K-12, for not having that pedigree engrained into memory. Suffice to say that for a group of teenagers 30 years between district titles is a very long dearth of success, twice a lifetime for some of these players.
Junior catcher Savannah Ryken clearly is one of the team leaders, as is sophomore second baseman Joley Dixon. The difference between these athletes and those in higher classifications is that many of Hall’s players have been on the varsity since their seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade years.
Not surprisingly, what they’ve already accomplished has created quite a buzz in the community. Hall said that the paid gate for the district championship was 212 spectators, and speculated that might double on Tuesday with Chipley located about 18 miles away.
Bay County would have a difficult time matching that. But then again, nothing about this Poplar Springs team is easily replicated.
Hall said that some members of the community are getting a banner made to commemorate what has thus far been achieved. It is a fitting tribute. And quite possibly, the start of something altogether even more lasting.