ALBANY — The Exchange Club of Albany has caught high school football fever as it hosts coaches and officials from area academic institutions during its weekly lunch meeting.

On Friday, the club heard from Lea Henry, athletics director for the Dougherty County School System and coaches Olten Downs, Johnny Gilbert and Charles Truitt.

The school system has invested heavily in athletics, Henry told the audience, including three new weight rooms at a cost of about $100,000 each, and practice fields.

Prior to Henry’s tenure the system had no middle school baseball programs to act as feeders for high school teams.

“We built three new baseball fields,” she said. “We’re really working hard to provide more resources for our coaches.”

With the improvements, Henry said she expects the won-lost records of teams, including the football teams, to get better for the system’s athletic programs. She said the coaches in place, from Gilbert, who is in his first year at Dougherty High School, to veteran Downs at Westover High School, are the right picks for those positions as well.

Gilbert likely will have the toughest time as he is the team’s third coach in as many years. The former Monroe High School quarterback said he is stressing books as well as weightlifting.

“Winning isn’t just on the football field, it’s in the classroom, it’s in the community,” he said.

Downs, the coach at Monroe, said he is looking to raise the bar of excellence for the squad. He said he feels good about the offense, but that there is work to do on the defensive side of the ball.

Mostly, he is challenging the young athletes to focus on what they can control.

“We’re taking it one practice, one play at a time,” he said. “Most times in life, when people do what you ask them to do, you’re going to be successful.”

Another measure of the system’s success over the years has been the number of players who have received college scholarships, Henry said.

The Exchange Club hosts Lee County School System Athletic Director Hank Wright and coaches on Friday, and the following Friday will hear from officials from Deerfield-Windsor School, Sherwood Christian Academy and Terrell Academy.

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