TIFTON — Tift County Superintendent of Schools Adam Hathaway is a friend to all athletics.

Hathaway was introduced as Tift County’s new superintendent in March 2019, a mere three months ago. He already has extensive plans to keep pushing forward, both in the classroom and on the sporting fields.

“When we talk about our vision for Tift County athletics, I believe in winning,” said Hathaway. “Being ‘OK’ is not OK.”

Winning is not strictly in terms of results on the athletic scoreboard, or even just sports. He, school administrators and athletics personnel have been working on their vision of what exactly they want the Blue Devils culture to be.

“For the ’T’” has become a rallying cry, complete with its own #4theT hashtag for Twitter. It has been applied to athletics. It has also been linked to the school nutrition program, to the perfect attendance of bus drivers and to Tift County High School’s graduation program.

“That’s going to be the conversation we have,” said Hathaway, “whether we’re talking about AP math classes and AP scores, whether we’re talking about a football team, whether we’re talking about showing hogs. I want everybody to know that when Tift County comes in the house, you might as well go ahead and turn it all over to them, because we own it. Having that mentality is a very important thing to me.”

Hathaway wants Tift’s students to know that while winning on the scoreboard or in scores is important, but “that giving everything you have is crucial, you gotta be able to do it, and being willing to work for it.”

The two words he wants to project about himself are “tenacious grit.” Instilling Tift County’s children with those values he believes will change the community.

“I want us winning in athletics, but I want us winning in every single thing we touch,” he said. “I want our AP scores to be the best in the state. If we’re going to do work study, I want us to have the best work study program in the state. If we’re taking a vocabulary test, I want us to have the best.”

Everyone plays a different role in that success, said Hathaway. Some play football, some prefer to sing. He wants the band to be Georgia’s best. “We have to carry the ’T’ together.”

He stresses that beyond being good at these things, Tift County students “need to be good people, good family members, good community members, students.”

Specifically referring to sports, Hathaway wants to make sure athletes are part of the teams, not operating independently outside of them.

Hathaway is stressing classroom accountability. Athletes have to remain academically eligible.

“We’re not going to wait until they have failed something,” he said. “It shouldn’t be about letting kids do work,” he said. “It’s about making kids do work.”

“If we start to talk about an athletic vision,” said Hathaway. “For me, that starts with all kids reading on grade level by third grade.” If that is taken care of, it will hopefully eliminate many of the academic holdbacks found in high school, he said.

“For my vision of athletics, it’s not about football, it’s not about wrestling, it’s not about baseball, it’s not about volleyball,” he said. “I don’t want us to sacrifice everything for anything. For me it is about us being a family and supporting each other.”

Hathaway, who succeeded the retiring Patrick Atwater, comes to Tifton from Schley County. Moving from a county of 7,500 to one five times that size has not really been a change, he said.

“It has been a transition only in I have a lot more places to eat,” he joked. While Ellaville is the county seat and only incorporated town in Schley County, all of its residents could comfortably fit into the Tift’s high school gymnasium.

“I want us to be the epitome of excellence,” he said of his vision for Tift County’s future. “The paragon of perfection.”

Hathaway knows continued athletics success. He’s from Homerville, where the Clinch County Panthers won a double crown in state basketball in 1987, then polished it off that spring with a state championship in baseball. Clinch has never rested on those laurels. They continue to succeed on the field and last December won their second straight state football title and eighth overall.A reason for their athletics dynasty, he said, is that they don’t just look back on the first title. “Their tradition is about this set of kids here right now.”

He pointed to a quote attributed to Babe Ruth: “Yesterday’s home runs do not win today’s games.”

Of course, Hathaway does believe in honoring the past.

“We need to honor that and we need to build on that. What we need to honor as a tradition is that those folks worked as hard or harder than anyone else in the state of Georgia to reach excellence.

“When we start building on a culture that says we’re going to give the best that we can to our kids today — not that everybody has to drive a Model T [Ford] because that’s what my grandaddy’s grandaddy’s grandaddy drove, but because he drove a Model T because that was the best thing he could have at that time.”

Growth has to come with tradition, he said.

Hathaway wants more than region championships. He likes talking about state titles.

“Cups and rings,” he said.

There is a shadowbox in his office at the board of education with mementoes of state championships won while he was in various school districts. It’s not full yet and he’d like it to be. Hathaway wants at least three boxes filled “with nothing but rings with ’T’s on the top of them that represent all of the hard work that we as an organization have done, that we as a community have done.”

There will branding changes in the future for Tift County.

Hathaway mentioned changes in the Blue Devil devil logo head, changes that, “play into the history of why we became the Blue Devils.”

Research done at Tift County High by Lauraleigh Shealey about the history of the mascot shows it goes back to the 1920s. Tifton High School had connections to Duke University, primarily through educator and coach B.G. Childs. Duke’s nickname is borrowed from a French World War I unit Chasseurs Alpins, who were referred to les diables bleus for their uniform.

The branding will play “on what makes us American and what makes us truly soldiers that deserve to wear the Blue Devil emblem.” The logo will pay homage to that, he said. This emblem will be a secondary one behind the ’T’. Hathaway said the ’T’ will always be part of Tift County.

The current ’T’ logo dates back to the days of Gene Brodie, who became Tift’s head football coach in 1976 and won 131 games over 18 seasons. Hathaway has become familiar with stories about Brodie and feels that current head coach Ashley Anders will make the same impact on the program. Anders joined the staff for the 2013 season, then became head coach in 2015.

“Thirty years from now, I want people talking about Coach Anders,” said Hathaway. “I know he’s going to put in the work and the effort. He truly is going to follow in the footsteps of a Brodie culture that goes over and beyond and outworks its competition.”

Hathaway is sure there will be a state championship in the coming years.

Using football as an example, he mentioned on what was going on academically as well as athletically.

There are six (football) players that have drawn the attention of the United States Military Academy at West Point, he said. “That’s unheard of, in my mind, that we have kids capable of playing D-I football and have the academics at that level to basically play Ivy League football.” Beyond West Point, interest has been drawn in Blue Devils gridiron players from Ivy League schools.

The same applies to other sports, Hathaway said, mentioning Elyssa Roberts’ gymnastics scholarship to Kentucky.

Not everyone has to be world-beaters.

“Even if you don’t run fast, there’s a place on the ’T’ for you … find a place to plug in and do something great for the ’T’,” he said, be it math, robotics, bass fishing or any other activity.

Hathaway is looking at Tift County’s brand. Perfecting one is something he knows well.

Schley County is an old county, 162 years old. Schley County High School is not.

There was a high school at Ellaville — the original Schley County High — but it closed its doors in 1975, the first of a handful of joint county high school projects in Georgia. Schley combined with Marion and Webster counties for Tri-County High School.

Schley County is no longer part of Tri-County, having broken away in 2000 to recreate its high school. (Marion and Webster went back to having individual high schools in 2006.) When Hathaway went to the land of the Schley County Wildcats in 2014, he found an area still learning what exactly that meant.

“We developed a sense of pride in what it meant to be the ’SC’,” he said. One example is the building of Schley’s football program. Football did not exist in Schley until it became part of Tri. As a single county squad, Schley went from an 0-10 record in 2015 to 4-6, then 8-4, then to last year’s 9-3 and quarterfinals appearance.

(One of the big reasons for that success is a lineman named Archer Hathaway. His 6’6” frame will be providing upfront protection for the Blue Devils this fall.)

One idea of Hathaway’s is already visible: colors.

“I want everything to look like it’s part of one thing,” he said.

There is a fresh coat of paint on the dugouts and pressbox at Devil Diamond. It matches the gray of the auxiliary gym. “We talked about being to match those colors and identify what Tift County’s gray is going to look like, what their blue is going to look like, what their white is going to look like.”

Tift’s hues have sometimes differed over the years. The blue, for example, began shifting from a royal blue shade to its present navy in the 1970s.

Hathaway said there are plans to repaint other facilities, including the football fieldhouse and softball facilities, to match the paints used for baseball.

Beyond painting, upgrades are happening in terms of the facilities themselves. Baseball is getting an enclosed, indoor batting cage. Such improvements he feels are necessary in achieving success.

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