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Coach Hankerson, Westlake Lady Lions, Make Fulton History
When the Westlake High School Lady Lions scored 72-53 over undefeated Collins Hills High School to win their third straight state girls basketball championship, they made history.
"To my knowledge, they are the first in Fulton County to win three straight championships," said Fulton County Schools Director of Athletics, Dr. Steven Craft. "To be able to win your third straight championship is truly amazing. It takes a special group of players, coaching staff, community and district support to win a state championship."
When COVID-19 threatened the health and safety of the world, a celebration for this history-making team was not possible. "We won the championship on Saturday," said Coach Hilda Hankerson. "We came to school on Monday and there was a hall parade with Drumline and cheerleaders for us. On Tuesday, we went home because of COVID-19; came back on Thursday and were sent home again. We haven't even taken a team picture."
South Fulton Mayor William "Bill" Edwards, who considers himself their number one fan, did not want the team's accomplishment to go unheralded. He decided to host a city celebration to honor the three-time state champions.
"This city is only three years old," said Mayor Edwards during the City of South Fulton celebration. "We can claim our girls at Westlake have won a championship every year that we have been in existence."
Westlake Principal Jamar Robinson echoed Edwards. "I'm so proud to be the principal during this amazing time of excellence," Robinson said. Athletic Director Carl Green, also part of the team's culture of winning said, "It's an honor to be part of this historic run."
In addition to winning three state championships, Coach Hilda Hankerson was named USA Today Coach of the Year. Also, Lady Lion Raven Johnson was named USA Today Girls Basketball Player of the Year and Athlete of the Year.
"We are very proud of Raven's accomplishments," Coach Hankerson said. "Her Athlete of the Year honor went across all fall/winter sports. Raven was also named Miss Georgia Basketball. That means she was the best basketball player in the state of Georgia."
Dr. Craft noted the historic precedent for Fulton County Schools (FCS). "To my knowledge, this is the first time we've ever had a coach and player win a national award in the exact same year," said Dr. Craft. "Coach Hankerson is by far the winningest coach in Fulton County history for any sport. She has the most wins of any FCS basketball coach, male or female."
Putting it all into perspective, Dr. Craft says Coach Hankerson's impact on the Westlake community is her legacy. "For me, it's not so much the wins and losses," Dr. Craft said, "it's the impact she's had on this community, the lives she's changed and positive influence. She's helped students graduate, go on to college and build careers. Her impact on this community will be hard to quantify."
Raven Johnson made the announcement during the South Fulton celebration that she will pursue academics and athletics at the University of South Carolina. "Winning a championship takes your teammates, being willing to learn, grow and listen," Johnson said.
Coach Hankerson includes teams past in the winning culture of the Westlake Lady Lions. "They are celebrated in my heart," Hankerson said. "They are part of this legacy."
Can the Westlake Lady Lions win a fourth straight state championship? "The reality is they are returning most of their team," Dr. Craft said. "If they stay healthy and hungry, they could win a fourth."