Destination Soccer Chattanooga: Part 4 - High School
Chattanooga FC is headed into their eleventh season of action. I have spent most of my life about thirty minutes from Chattanooga and CFC was the team to get me into grassroots soccer. I got the chance a few months back to talk to some of the most influential people in Chattanooga’s vast soccer ecosystem. These are the stories of what I consider one of if not the best soccer destinations in the United States.
The Chattanooga area is, in my opinion, easily the best in the nation for high school soccer. In Chattanooga itself, they have Baylor, McCallie, and Boyd Buchanan, three of the top private schools for soccer in the state of Tennessee.
Head a little further south and you get to Whitfield County, Georgia, my hometown and, once again in my opinion, the top high school soccer in the entire nation. In the last seven years, a Georgia boy’s soccer state champion came out of the county. The past three years have each had a champion (Southeast Whitfield in 2017, Northwest Whitfield in 2018, and Dalton in 2019).
Little side note here. If you have a couple of hours to spare at some point, sit down and watch that Northwest Whitfield title game from 2018. It was easily the best match I’ve ever seen in person and one of if not the best I’ve ever seen in general.
This past season, Dalton, the powerhouse of north Georgia soccer, returned to the form they had from 2013-2015. During that time period, they won three straight state titles and sixty-three games with just one draw and no losses. This season, they got back into that form with a 23-0 season and finished #1 in the AP’s Super 25 National Rankings.
Once you leave that super talented region and head back into Chattanooga, there is not much of a drop-off if any. McCallie won the state title this season. In 2018, McCallie and Baylor played each other in the State Championship game. At least one of the two schools has appeared in six of the ten state title games since 2010. The other two big schools in the area, Chattanooga Christian and Boy Buchanan, played each other in the 2010 State Championship game. Chattanooga Christian would come up short that year, but would win state in 2011.
Red Wolves General Manager Sean McDaniel gave a great reason as to why the area is so good when he said, “There’s so much talent, so many pathways. I think there’s a lot of potential here.” But that isn’t all there is. Talking to coaches at the high school level, a lot of them point to the impact of Chattanooga FC.
“We’ve had a big impact from the CFC Academy,” says Baylor’s boy’s soccer coach Curtis Blair, “Not just us here at Baylor, but all over Chattanooga is reaping the rewards. They’ve just raised the level of play, which is really really good. They brought the brand and it’s gotta be something higher here.”
“When Chattanooga FC came they really galvanized the community around soccer,” says McCallie’s boy’s soccer coach Chris Cushenbery, “They were able to pull together more of the clubs. It has really benefited our kids.” “By bringing the community together, they also brought the clubs together and our kids are really the beneficiaries of a better club system.”
“It changed the culture,” says Boyd Buchanan’s boy’s coach Dustin Walker, “Chattanooga has always had a love for soccer, but CFC organized it and got kids playing and brought in awesome coaches and just raised the high school game even more.”
The coaches in the area are another big reason for the quality of play in the area. They are some of the best people you could meet and they love what they do. “Those are my guys,” says Walker, “I love the connections I make with my players and there’s a little bit of sadness when the season ends because I don’t get to see my guys anymore.”
“My purpose in life is to make an impact in the life of these boys, and I think soccer provides an awesome opportunity to do that,” says Cushenbery. Cushenbery’s story is amazing and probably deserves it’s own article. He ran a construction company, but realized that wasn’t what he wanted to do, so he sold the company and went to coach soccer voluntarily at McCallie. He would eventually get a gig at Girls Preparatory School in Chattanooga before returning to McCallie as the head coach of the boy’s soccer team.
Honestly, sitting down and talking to these coaches just showed the reason these teams are so good. The coaches care about character as much as quality on the field. I could probably write full feature pieces on each coach and the stories they tell (which really would be a pretty good read and I might consider doing that). These guys really care about what they do and are proud of the fact that they’ve been a part of building the Chattanooga area into the best area for high school soccer in the country.
I’ll leave you with the funniest thing about the whole interview process with the coaches. I asked both Baylor and McCallie’s coaches who the toughest team they play each season is. Mind you, these interviews were a few months following a season where the two teams played each other and went to penalties in the State Championship game. Neither coach would name their bitter cross-town rival as their toughest yearly opponent, despite playing in a tight game to decide state champion.
- Aarik Long