John Allen Popham helped lead his struggling Worth County girls team to its first region win more than three years late Tuesday, then turned around and headed straight to the hospital to be with his wife Michelle, who 12 hours later gave birth to their first child, a baby boy.
SYLVESTER — Years from now, John Allen Popham is going to have one heck of a story to tell his son.
But late Tuesday night after the first-year Worth County girls basketball coach guided his team to its first region win in more than three years, Popham had trouble putting it all into words.
“My eyes watered,” Popham said. “And you can print that. Me and my assistant coach both had tears in our eyes.”
Popham’s tears were for more than just the W.
Hours after the 52-49 victory against Albany High, Popham and his wife, Michelle, welcomed their first child into the world: John Allen Popham III, who will go by “Jae.”
So how do you trump Worth County’s first region win since a Dec. 11, 2009, victory against Perry?
How about a healthy, 4-pound, 17-ounce little boy who was born at 8:50 a.m. — just 12 hours after Popham’s biggest win of his young career.
“We are all good!” Popham texted The Herald on Wednesday afternoon. “Thanks for asking!!!”
Hours before Popham became a father, his girls were locked into a battle with Albany and looking to deliver his program’s biggest win in years. And despite Worth County’s best player, Kristavia Milton, being ejected for a second technical foul late in the fourth quarter and his team shooting a paltry 9 of 27 from the free throw line, the Lady Rams held on for the win, which was just their third of the season and first against a team other than Class A Baker County.
“This will definitely go down as tops all-time in my career,” Popham said. “I will remember this one forever. It truly was special.”
It wasn’t an ordinary victory in Sylvester, where the Lady Rams have been desperate for wins since making it to the Sweet 16 in 2007. They have had five straight losing seasons — a span that included the 2010-11 campaign where they didn’t win a game.
“I am floating on cloud nine,” Popham said. “To see the girls come as far as they have, it’s just absolutely amazing. They have come so far fundamentally-wise and playing-wise. They have been able to persevere through the tough times. It’s tough getting your tail whooped every night. We have just kept a positive attitude every day and kept our heads up. Sooner or later you break through and win one.”
Popham added he could see the victory coming.
“This past week we had been dropped by 40 points twice by both Americus and Cairo,” Popham said. “And I was at odds with everything because we had been playing well, like they did (Tuesday). I am just really proud of the girls because they put all their chips in and really started believing in what we have been doing all season long.”
Despite fouling out, Milton, a sophomore guard, led the way with 23 points and hit a crucial shot with two minutes left to put the Lady Rams (3-17, 1-11) ahead by three points.
Junior forward Andrea Davis also added 16 points for the Lady Rams, who gathered together as a team in the locker room once the celebration and hugging stopped.
“All of the girls were smiling and tearing up, and I asked them all if they liked the way this feels?” Popham said. “They said they did. And I told them to remember where this all started. Because we are going to be feeling like this again.”