Still, he said he never had a doubt the school could pull off hosting the annual kickoff to the football season.
“And a lot of that is because I know how these people are in this community. Sometimes, it gets a little frustrating, like at all schools, where they don’t want to do things for you. But when the chips are on the table, I know in this community, they always rise to the occasion. And they did big time for this thing.”
Among his biggest concerns was the weather.
“Any time you play outdoors in Georgia in August, you’ve got the risk of heat and you’ve got the risk of thunderstorms,” he said.
Dorsey said this was the first time in the 23-year history of the football showcase — consisting of five games on Saturday and, for the first time, two games on Friday — the Atlanta Falcons pre-empted the use of the event’s regular venue: the Georgia Dome.
McEachern was already scheduled to host the two Friday games, and Dorsey said he didn’t think another high school in the state could have pulled the event off, so “it only made sense to do it (at McEachern).”
With a capacity of about 12,500, the school has the largest football stadium on a high school campus in the state. However, playing the games at McEachern meant the event was at the mercy of the Georgia summer.
The Georgia High School Association, which oversees high school sports, has a rule stating once lightning is seen during a sporting event, play must be suspended immediately.
With 14 high schools participating over two days, about 30,000 to 40,000 people passed through McEachern last weekend, Dorsey said, so a storm could have derailed the event. Luckily, it seems the heavens were on his side.
“We had one little thunderstorm on Saturday that kind of popped up. But it was almost divine intervention because there was this line of storms and this little path just cleared,” he said. “It just opened. And these lines of thunderstorms went on either side of us. And it never even got cloudy here. … On radar, there was a path, and that path went right over our field. It was nuts. And you could see it dark over here and dark over there. But the sun never got behind a cloud here,” he said.
Even the heat seemed to be a blessing at times, Dorsey said, because it gave many fans a reason to leave after their team’s game was over, making room for the next group of fans.
The weather cooperated, and it wasn’t alone in helping the Classic go off without a hitch. Dorsey said it was the McEachern community, several county agencies and more than 400 volunteers that came together to help make this year’s Corky Kell Classic a success.
Dorsey said he found out the Georgia Dome would not be available for the Classic in early June, meaning he had less than three months to find a new venue.
Playing at the Georgia Dome was simple, Dorsey said, because organizers pay a flat fee and the staff at the Dome provide the infrastructure and personnel necessary to put on the event. By agreeing to host the Classic at McEachern, Dorsey had to figure out a solution for the traffic generated by players, bands, cheerleaders, parents and fans, find people to work the gates and concession stand and find a place for all of them to park.
“It became a pretty monumental task here at McEachern to facilitate it,” he said.
Fortunately, help was quickly on the way in the form of Commissioner Lisa Cupid, who represents the area.
“It was quite coincidental. I had recently spoken with the principal about transportation related concerns associated with the school. And then I learned of the project,” Cupid said.
Cupid said she then called Dorsey to let him know he had the full support of the Cobb County government.
“Lisa Cupid … called me (and) wanted to set up a meeting,” Dorsey said. “So we go to a meeting down at the commissioner’s office, and she had a lot of the department heads from (the Department of Transportation), Parks and Rec, the police. And she just kind of said, ‘We’re here to help you.’”
Faye DiMassimo, director of the Cobb DOT, said her agency helped organizers come up with plans to handle the traffic and parking issues.
“We came in with a variety of different, important components. One was just the overall traffic management, which included both traffic management, parking, shuttles (and) the design of how all that could work together …” she said.
The DOT helped with signage and sent notices to each of the participating schools with information as to what routes to take, she said.
“The whole while, we were monitoring those routes from our traffic management center so as congestion built up, we could help with the traffic signals to help control the flow of traffic and smooth out that flow when its congested and so forth,” DiMassimo said.
After the DOT helped get the participants to the school, organizers then had to figure out where they would park. Fortune smiled on Dorsey again, this time in the form of a new parking lot the school began working on in May.
“We had already started construction of a new 450-spot lot on the backside of our campus. When that construction began, we had no idea we were going to be hosting this.”
The lot was meant to open in September, but Dorsey said the contractor worked as fast as possible so the lot would be open in time for the Classic’s kickoff.
“They were literally putting stripes on the parking lot the night before the games started on Friday,” Dorsey said.
Additionally, Dorsey said some local churches agreed to let the school use their parking lots. To get fans to the stadium, the Cobb County Board of Education lent school buses to McEachern to use as shuttles.
“This was truly just an incredible team effort,” DiMassimo said.
Dorsey said he was impressed by how much the county helped.
“That’s something I wasn’t expecting. I kind of thought we were going to be out here on our own trying to figure all that out,” he said.
Scott Jones is the football coach at North Paulding High School, which played the first game of the Classic last Friday night. As the former coach at Kennesaw Mountain High School, Jones is familiar with McEachern High School, but he said the environment felt different last week.
“The atmosphere was a lot more explosive,” he said.
Jones applauded the event’s organizers for putting together such a unique event.
“I give the ultimate praise to everyone that was involved in it. Being outside, it was hot. They had everything that you needed. They had sideline machines to cool off the players. I mean, the hospitality was unbelievable,” he said.
Dorsey said he also considers the weekend a success, though he’s still recovering from his long weekend. He said he got in bed after Friday’s games at about 3 a.m. Saturday morning, then had to be back at McEachern by 6 a.m. to open the gates. After supervising five football games on Saturday, including McEachern’s 52-49 loss to North Gwinnett to end the night, he got home at about 4 a.m.
On Sunday, he had to be back at the stadium at 6 a.m. so television crews from Fox Sports, which broadcasted some of the games, could break down their setup.
“I felt like I walked 1,000 miles,” Dorsey said, adding he hoped the Classic would be back in the Georgia Dome next year.