Keeping young people motivated is another.
Anyone who’s watched Anniston High’s basketball any time through the postseason could see that Schuessler Ware has the former down pat. It’s the latter he’d like a little help with.
“Kids love support and appreciation being shown,” Ware said. “I mean, even grown folks still love that.”
But as Anniston takes on Butler today at 8 p.m. for the Class 4A state championship, visible signs of community-wide support are hard to spot.
Sure, attendance is solid — although Ware said it’s nothing like 2002, the year of the Bulldogs’ first state title. And the people who are in place to support him, the school system, are doing their jobs.
Everywhere and everybody else?
“One guy called me this morning,” said Ware, referring to local attorney Jake Mathews.
As of 5 p.m. on the eve of what could be the Bulldogs’ third title in the past decade, that was it concerning people not directly affiliated with the school.
Up and down the once bustling Noble Street, “For Sale” or “On Sale” were the only signs that dotted storefront windows. On Quintard Avenue, now the town’s main thoroughfare, the story was the same — little outward fanfare for the Bulldogs’ title run.
On the southern end of The Star’s coverage area, tucked away in Randolph County near the state line, the picture was different.
Woodland has a population of a little more than 200, according to 2010 U.S. Census numbers. Woodland High girls basketball coach Larry Strain said all 200 were probably at their state final contest Thursday afternoon. Woodland lost the game, 71-53.
“The support has been great,” Strain said. “They’ve really gotten behind us.”
From the fan turnout to marquees of town halls to storefronts to churches, Strain said, it was all there for his team’s run.
But again, the town’s makeups aren’t the same.
Anniston has about 23,000 residents, according to the 2010 Census. Within its city limits are three schools. Anniston is the largest, but there are two smaller private schools — The Donoho School and Faith Christian School.
Also, Anniston High is no longer the largest school in the county as it was two decades ago. That distinction belongs to neighboring Oxford High.
Three straight trips to the state tournament for Anniston High don’t appear to have created a buzz in the Model City.
Asked if city residents have become accustomed to his team’s level of success, Ware didn’t have an answer.
“I don’t know,” he said. “All I know is how hard work it is and staying focused and doing the right things.”
While Ware admits the contrast between his team’s hard work and the perceived level of community support is frustrating, he’s got bigger things on his plate — beating Butler, coached by one-time Anniston assistant Jackie Doss. To that end, he said, keeping his players distracted from those frustrations has become his daily task.
“They really don’t understand what is what,” Ware said of his players. “I try to stay positive and remind them that it’s one more game and what they have an opportunity to do.
“Just try to keep them focused on that blue trophy.”
Star Sports Editor Bran Strickland: 256-235-3570