Can Winnersville be Titletown USA?

Joe MorganSenior Analyst IJuly 16, 2008

Over the course of the summer, ESPN has been searching for Titletown USA. ESPN wants to find the one city in America that has the proudest tradition of winning and thus deserves the moniker of "Titletown USA."

Valdosta, nicknamed Winnersville for its championship prowess, is one of the smallest towns to be a finalist for ESPN's search. Although the community of Valdosta is small, the citizens love their teams.

Valdosta High School. Home of the Wildcats. Valdosta High has certainly done their part on the gridiron to get Valdosta national recognition.

Under the leadership of legendary coaches Wright Bazemore and Nick Hyder, the Wildcats won 517 games and 21 state championships. Overall, the 'Cats are the "winningest" high school football program in the country with 838 wins, 23 state championships, and six national titles.

Valdosta High draws a crowd of 10,000+ every Friday night in its newly renovated stadium to see the Wildcats play. The stadium is named for legendary coaches Bazemore and Hyder and is the site for ESPN’s Titletown broadcast.

Every year, Valdosta High faces Lowndes High School in “the Winnersville Classic." Although Lowndes has held the upper hand in the rivalry recently, winning the last four matchups, Valdosta holds the overall lead in the series 33-13.

“The Winnersville Classic” is easily the most anticipated game of the year on both schools’ schedules and is always a heated affair. The entire town of Valdosta shuts down when these two schools play.

Lowndes High School is a football program on the rise and is currently enjoying a phenomenal run. With three AAAAA state championships in the past four seasons (2004-2005, 2007), the Vikings aren't showing any signs of slowing down.

Valdosta's crosstown rival has won five state championships in only 42 years as a program, becoming an annual contender in Georgia high school football.

Although Valdosta High and Lowndes High are both state powers in high school football, they share the same town with another football giant: Valdosta State University.

The Valdosta State Blazers are a force to be reckoned with in Division II Football. The Blazers have won two national championships in the past four seasons, including a come-from-behind 25-20 victory over Northwest Missouri State in 2007.

From 2000-2006, the Blazers were coached by former VSU quarterback and current Georgia Southern coach Chris Hatcher. Hatcher led the Blazers to the 2004 title and a 76-12 record in his tenure.

New head coach David Dean led the Blazers to a 9-1 regular season record and the national championship this past season.

Although Valdosta has had their share of football triumphs, it is a town of well-rounded sports success.

Valdosta State also has a 2006 national championship in tennis as well as a national title for the baseball team in 1979, led by Coach Tommy Thomas, the all-time wins leader (1309) in NCAA Division II baseball history.

Local high schools, both public and private, have won state and national championships in many sports.

Most notable are the four national championships won by Lowndes High School women’s basketball team and state titles in baseball for both Valdosta (1979) and Lowndes (1982 and 2000).

Valdosta also has a reputation for putting out great athletes. Among the professional athletes to come out of the Valdosta area, some of the best include NFL star Randall Godfrey, the 2008 MLB All Star Game MVP J.D. Drew, as well as Drew’s brother Stephen, the starting shortstop for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

NFL Pro Bowler Jessie Tuggle played his college football at Valdosta State.

Although Valdosta may be a small town (estimated population of 45,000) compared to other Titletown candidates such as New York and Boston, Winnersville’s reputation as an athletic juggernaut deserves to be recognized.

So, the question is: Can Winnersville be Titletown USA? Absolutely.