Getting used to the Gators

By Brandon Bush


If you’re observant enough, you’ve probably noticed it’s been a hot minute since I’ve written any stories about Gatewood.

In an attempt to provide more thorough coverage of both schools on a more consistent basis, I’ve mostly been spending my time with Putnam County High School while handing over Gatewood duties to Jake McMillian, a senior at Gatewood who’s been working with The Messenger since before I got here.

Though it should be noted that I don’t favor one school over the other, I’ve realized that even my columns are usually about Putnam County (more hands-on experience means more to talk about) and Gatewood usually only gets a mention or two. With this is mind, I want to dedicate this week’s column to a school that caused me to have one of the biggest changes of heart in my life.

I’ve said it a lot throughout my writings but, in case you don’t know or have forgotten, I grew up between Putnam and Baldwin counties. While my neighborhood was roughly halfway between the two, it was actually a slightly shorter distance to John Milledge Academy than Gatewood.

I was a “lifer” at JMA – I attended from kindergarten all the way to senior year and never spent a day at another institution. Though the thought crossed my mind, I never really contemplated going anywhere else; I couldn’t go to Baldwin because I technically wasn’t a Baldwin County resident, Putnam was too far away (even from my neighborhood), I didn’t want to attend Georgia Military College Prep and Gatewood…well, I had some issues with Gatewood.

As I mentioned last week, when “Battle of the Lake” week gets here, it means that JMA and Gatewood are about to go at it on the football field (and other sports, but football was the most significant). As with any rivalry, I didn’t like Gatewood very much and even took personal issue with several members of the teams I played against.

From my point of view, Gatewood was an affront to everything I stood for.

At this point, you’re probably concerned about why your local paper hired a sports writer from your school’s rivals that had this much anger toward you at one time. Well, we’re getting to the good part, so hold the pitchforks for now.

I am of the belief that while high school is important, it’s an incredibly insignificant amount of time compared to the rest of your life. While tensions may have run high in the moment, what good reason is there for me – a 24-year-old grown man with a college degree, a job and a life – to still be holding a grudge against somebody over one play in a football game when we were teenagers, especially considering neither of us has played the game in seven years?

Without sounding like a hypocrite, while Gatewood has given me no reason to continue to hold a grudge against it, my alma mater showed its true colors over the course of my time there.

All credit where it is due; JMA gave me a chance to make great memories as a football player. Not only that, it was also probably the best education in Baldwin County I could have asked for and many of my best friends and people still close to me to this day walked across the graduation stage with me.

Past that, I have bitter memories about the place; it was an environment I did not enjoy and I still feel its effects to this day.

A particular grievance I have regards my father. Even though he was among the first to help start the new wrestling program at JMA, administrators at the school did not feel the need to offer him a chance at being a full-time coach and instead hired somebody else. After the several tens of thousands of dollars he spent sending my brother and me there over the course of 15 years, they didn’t even have the decency to make an offer.

This is where Gatewood, in turn, showed its own true colors. Not only did the leaders there want my dad to help coach their wrestling team, they also eventually offered him a full-time position. He is now the middle school head football coach as well as an assistant coach for wrestling and varsity football and he teaches several classes.

Not only did Gatewood make my dad the happiest he’s been in years, but the people of Gatewood have been nothing but gracious and courteous to my family and me, even before I started working with them for The Messenger.

Bottom line: For somebody who held such contempt for Gatewood at one point in his life, I’ve been treated like royalty by these people – some even treat me better than JMA folks from my time do now. To say the Gators have grown on me is a massive understatement, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a classier institution – nothing like what I experienced from a student-athlete point of view.

As Gatewood football spends the summer preparing for a new season – and a new chapter in the rivalry with JMA – the new campaign for a state title will be a chance to cement Gatewood as a powerhouse school in the GISA for years to come. I look forward to seeing how the Gators can continue to show me their true character on and off the field.

With that, I’ll take my hand out of Jake’s fishbowl and get back to Putnam County High School. Be sure to check back next week as I’m sure I’ll have something to say about both Putnam soccer teams competing in the playoffs this week.

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