By Alicia Couch Payne

Buford’s Mackenzie Pickens who plays on both the 7th and 8th-grade teams easily maneuvers around the Gainesville players at the Buford Arena on December 6th. Photo credit: Alicia Couch Payne

Buford Middle School has two girls’ basketball teams, the 7th-grade team, and the 8th-grade team.  The 7th-grade team is currently 4-0 and the 8th-grade team is now 6-1. The 7th and 8th-grade teams are coached by Susan Oates and Tania Washington.  On Saturdays, Buford participates in the Wesleyan league where they play three teams. They have an undefeated 5th-grade team coached by Jessica Stanton and Stephanie Ledford, an undefeated 6th-grade team coached by Abbey Goldin and Britt Reid, and the 7th/8th-grade team.

The 8th-grade team only has five 8th graders so it must rely on the 7th-grade girls to pull double duty to complete the team.  Some days this means the 7th-grade girls will play their game and then turn right around to play in the 8th-grade game as well.  

Coach Oates says that every girl on the team is a key playmaker.  “Every player brings a special and unique talent to the court which when blended together is what makes this such a special team,”  claims Oates.

To have such a good record with having a team that is comprised of mostly 7th graders who has to play games back to back says a lot about the grit this team has but also about the caliber of the girls’ basketball program in Buford as a whole.  The Buford High School girls basketball head coach, Gene Durden and his staff are highly involved with all the teams from the 5th-grade on up.

Gainesville can only look on as Buford’s #11 Gracie Griffin goes in to score.

“This is so unique to Buford,” explains Oates.  “I have coached in many different schools, and I have never had a high school coach involved in a middle school program the way Coach Durden is involved.  Coach Durden cares about the development of his younger players because he knows they are the future of the Lady Wolves Basketball Program. We also have a 5th and 6th grade program.  In Buford, beginning in 5th-grade, our girls are exposed to “Lady Wolves” basketball. From grades 5-12, practices are structured very much the same. As a result, if you go to a 5th-grade game or a high school game, you are going to see girls running the same pressure defense and fast-paced offense.  By the time our players get to high school as freshmen, they will have already had four years of exposure to what they will be expected to do at the high school level. Coach Durden’s system works, and it works because he takes the time to care and implement his love and knowledge of the game with anyone involved in any level of his program whether it be coaches or players.”  

Coach Oates attributes her team’s success to the tried and true system that Coach Durden has in place.   “Girls are taught from a young age the value of fundamentals, hard work, and hustle,” says Oates.  She also attributes their success to the groundwork that Sandra Ozment helped to establish the 5th and 6th-grade teams.

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