Pickens Academy fathers share title dreams with sons

November 16, 2012 12:10:30 PM

Adam Minichino - [email protected]


Chris McCool still has problems processing the memories. 


He vividly recalls his senior year at Pickens Academy when he helped the Pirates advance to the Alabama Private Schools Association Class 3A state title game. When pressed for details, he quickly remembers scores of games and who scored touchdowns and conversions that pushed Pickens Academy into the championship game against Meadowview Christian Academy. 


As much as McCool cherishes those memories, the 2012 season has flooded him and his former football teammates with ones that are just as special. McCool, Greg Carr, Derek McGahey, and Rodney Estes are four members of Pickens Academy's 1984 state runner-up football team who will root for their sons and the rest of the Pirates at 3:30 p.m. today when they take on Restoration Academy in the Alabama Independent School Association Class A state title game at Troy University. 


Caleb Carr, Garrett Estes, Austin McCool, and Preston McGahey will try to accomplish something their fathers weren't able to do in 1984. Meadowview Christian Academy defeated Pickens Academy 26-7 in coach Robert Gartman's second season at the school. Gartman also will have a rooting interest because his son, John, who was a manager of the 1984 team, is now the football coach at Pickens Academy. 


The collision of all of those storylines has provided a memorable season for Pickens Academy, which enters today's game at 10-2. 


"It is a mixture of a lot of emotions," said McCool, who is a district attorney and works with Greg Carr, a chief deputy, and former teammates Keith "Booty" Cox, a chief investigator, and Lance Bailey, a district judge, in West Alabama. "I was talking to the father of one of the other players about how nervous we are before games. We are much more nervous than the kids are. I don't ever remember being as nervous before a game when we were playing. 


"But I am so proud of my son and all of these boys. I think I echo every momma and daddy of all the football players when I say we are so proud of them." 


McCool said the Pirates' run to the state title game has brought back memories of the 1984 season in which Pickens Academy defeated rival Marengo Academy 15-14 to clinch the 3A West Region. It then rallied from a 13-0 deficit to beat Lee Scott Academy, of Auburn, in the first round of the playoffs. The playoff appearance was the program's first since 1978.  


Nearly 30 years later, McCool said he never would have believed the 5-foot-11 center/tackle, who was listed at 175 pounds on the roster but actually weighed 165 or 170 pounds, would have a son who is wearing the school colors and playing in a state title game. He said the fact that he is one of four members of the 1984 team with a son on the 2012 team is just one of many similarities to his senior season. 


"Our team came together in a way that is unusual," McCool said. "This team has done the same thing." 


The 2012 Pickens Academy team beat Lakeside and Ashford to reach the title game. In the regular season, it defeated Meadowview Christian Academy 47-19. McCool said he recalls the spot on Meadowview Christian's field where he recovered his only fumble. He said he has been to all of Pickens Academy's games this season except one and has relived the smells and scenes from all of the games in 1984 when the team finished 7-5. 


Today, he hopes to be a part of equally memorable moments. In time, he knows his son will come to cherish this day as much as he has a special place for his time as a member of the football program. 


"For us back then it was just like a Cinderella season," McCool said. "Everything came together. The coaching was superb, the attitudes were great, and we just jelled as a team. Now we have the younger Gartman as coach, and he and his team of coaches have done an outstanding job. I think it is a situation where the son has outshined the fathers, I am glad to say." 


Robert Gartman left Pickens Academy and went on to coach at Morgan Academy. With more than 200 victories in his career, Gartman is a member of the AISA Hall of Fame. 


John Gartman knew coming into this season his program, which moved from Class AA to Class A, would be on a more equal playing field. Led by AISA All-Stars Chase Britt, Hunter Booth, Garrett Estes, and Joel Pratt, the Pirates have stirred the echoes in Carrollton, Ala., and caused numerous former players to break out their old uniforms. 


McCool has discovered his uniform fits a little tighter than it did in 1984. Greg Carr said he, too, has been caught up in the championship journey. He said this Pickens Academy is so much alike the 1984 team in composition (both teams don't have many players who weigh more than 200 pounds) and number (both have less than 30 players) that it adds to the special nature of what has happened this season. 


"I hope they take the ball and run away with it," Carr said. "The team they're playing is a strong team that is well coached and has some good athletes. I think everybody at Pickens Academy expects it to be a tough ballgame. I talked to my son and he commented on their physical abilities and how good they look on film. I hope I don't have to sit there and think about how we got behind. I hope they jump on them and stay ahead the whole thing." 


Carr, whose nickname is "Ola," said Pickens Academy fell behind Meadowview Christian early and never regained the momentum. As much as he remembers about the journey to the title matchup and the final game, he doesn't recall how he got his nickname. He believes it sprung up one day from something coach Gartman said and has stuck with him. In addition to being called "Grandpa," friends he went to high school with still refer to him as "Ola." 


"The biggest thing that stands out in my mind looking back at that year was how we all were able to work together," Carr said "Sometimes when you have kids of different ages it is hard to get them all on the same page. Our coach put it in our heads we could win and we could make a run at a championship. We came together and stuck to what we had to do. We knew what we had to do to get there, and we were kind of like a Cinderella team." 


Both fathers hope Pickens Academy can write an ending that is worthy of Hollywood. The memories are sure to flash through their minds today as they lend plenty of vocal support. Not only do they hope their sons and the Pirates walk away with a championship, they also have one other wish they are sure their children will share with them. 


"I will be there with bells on," McCool said. "I am going to try my best not to embarrass my children."

Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.