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The Westminster Bi-Line

Inaugural Night of Champions celebrates state champions


For many years, Westminster has been one of the premier athletic powerhouses in all of Georgia. However, before this year, there was no school-wide recognition for the state-championship-winning athletes and teams. 

“I can’t remember anything [that was done] other than a team-only celebration,” said varsity boys’ tennis head coach Ralph Geeza. 

The lack of recognition for state champions would all change on January 26 during the first annual Night of Champions.

The event was born out of an email sent from a parent to new athletic director Shannon Soares, who thought that “the parent’s surprise at the lack of an event was valid.” 

“We should be actively celebrating the successes of our student-athletes and coaches,” said Soares. In fact, Soares was initially drawn to Westminster in part because of the school’s immense success both in the classroom and on the field.

To organize the event, Soares collaborated with many staff and personnel across the athletic department, including assistant athletic director Marty Wild, facilities staff, coaches, team parents, and the newly created Student Athletic Advisory Council. Athletics operations manager Jamila Jones was highlighted by Soares as being particularly helpful, assisting with the catering and the logistics associated with the event.

The announcement of the Night of Champions was met with mixed interest. 

“I was very excited for it because as a cross country runner, I sometimes feel underappreciated by the school as a whole,” said senior cross country captain Joseph Jacquot, who recently celebrated his fourth team and first individual cross country state championship. “[The announcement] really showed the school’s appreciation.”

However, Geeza was unsure about the event as it conflicted with practice. Because the event was so new, there was not much build-up online. 

“I wasn’t really sure what other people were going to do,” said sophomore cross country runner Max Scholle.

 “The communication [about the event] was decent, but I am sure we could do a better job of making sure that we are getting out ahead of it,” said Soares. 

Despite the short time leading up to the event, the Night of Champions was well-attended and had a welcoming atmosphere. 

 “Everyone was super supportive,” said sophomore track runner Cate Reames. The event took place during halftime of the girls’ basketball game, and each championship winning team got refreshments and a picture in front of a large balloon arch and signage, which was coordinated by the Catbackers.

 “I think for my guys, not only was it cool to be there but also to see other teams in attendance and excited to participate,” said Geeza. Others, like Jacquot, were enticed by the abundance of food as well as the chance to see his coaches after a couple of months of solitary training. 

There were six team state champions honored during the Night of Champions for the 2022-2023 school year, including boys’ cross country, girls’ swimming and diving, boys’ lacrosse, girls’ soccer, boys’ tennis, and girls’ track and field; boys’ squash even won a national title. The school also celebrated many individual state champions: alumni Palmer Walstad in girls’ cross country, Sara Ketron in the 500 freestyle, and Kelsey Chambers in the triple jump; seniors Katie Christopherson in the 100 butterfly and 100 breaststroke, Grace Smith in the 100 and 300 hurdles and the long jump, and Phillips Moore in the shot put; and junior Madison Townsend in the pole vault. Additionally, relay teams in swimming and track and field were also honored: the 4×800 boys’ track relay team of seniors Jacquot, Esfan Daya, Willem Mandel, and sophomore Rohan Gazula; the 200 yard freestyle relay of Ketron, alumni Genae and Janine Horst, and Christopherson; and the 400 yard freestyle relay of Ketron, Christopherson, senior Sadie Clayton, and sophomore Ansley Sgrosso. With the exception of alumni, every individual or relay state champion honored was in attendance.

Soares confirmed the Night of Champions will return next year, albeit in a bigger role. The expectation is that the celebration will occur during halftime at one of the home varsity football games next year. There will be more staff on hand to help the event run more smoothly, and there will be a larger effort to communicate the event’s presence right from the beginning of the school year. 

“Hopefully, because it will be in the fall, we might be able to get some of our former student-athletes that have won championships in the year before to come back,” she said. 

“I really hope I can [come back next year],” said Jacquot. Luckily for him, the commute from his future home at Georgia Tech is not too far away. 

Geeza thinks the event not only serves as a recognition of the teams from today but also provides an opportunity to scout for tomorrow. 

“I think that is a real draw that a young person would look at [the Night of Champions] and say, ‘wow, look at this and look at what they are doing to recognize the team,’” said Geeza. “‘I want to go there.’”

As for next year’s ceremony, the boys cross country team has already won a state championship in the fall, and, with many winter sports concluding their season and the start of the spring campaign, there are bound to be many more athletes under the Friday night lights at Alfred E. Thompson Stadium being celebrated this coming fall.

The inaugural Night of Champions was a resounding success among the student body, coaches, and faculty. With a new look and more preparation, students should be on the lookout for the event come next school year. 

“There’s a lot of winning that is being done, and I look forward to many more,” said Soares. “It is incredible to see and incredible to watch.” 


Edited by Eva Bevington

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