There is a change taking place in Paradise.
The Lady Panthers are on a mission to turn things around and put their program back on the map. They are off to a pretty good start.After earning district and regional championships Paradise is headed to the state cross country meet Saturday in search of their first-ever team title.
The Lady Panthers will run in the Class 2A race at the University Interscholastic League’s championships at Round Rock’s Old Settler’s Park at 10:50 a.m.
“I am so happy for not only me, but all the girls,” senior Ashley Sparks said. “We worked so hard to get to state, and we want to go out and win it.”
Signs in the hallway and tons of support welcomed the team back after capturing the Region II championship in Arlington. The excitement of what they’ve done is still sinking in.
“They are real excited for us and really proud,” sophomore Kaylee McConnell said about the community’s support. “Paradise has been waiting for this to happen, and it finally happened.”
Since coming back to Paradise coach Eddie Fortenberry is changing the culture in Paradise’s girls athletics. The cross country team is the first to reap the benefits.
“Coach Fortenberry wanted to change Paradise athletics,” junior Bailey Sides said. “We are proud to be the ones to start making the change.”
After a slim three-point win at the district meet, the Lady Panthers dominated the regional meet, winning by 42. Six of their seven runners finished in the top 27.
Advancing to state was a lofty goal set back in August, and Fortenberry says that’s why a lot of the celebration so far has been minimal.
“I think they knew what they were going to do,” Fortenberry said. “We won district and no celebration. We won regionals, and it lasted about five minutes. They come to work every day, they don’t complain, and they don’t skip practices. It has been a blessing.”
Now the bar is raised, and the Lady Panthers are not done yet. Although they have reached their goal, there is still another race to run, and they want to do more than just show up.
“We’ve been excited all week, and it pushes us to work even harder,” Sides said. “We want to do our best on Saturday and hopefully bring home a medal.”
Winning is contagious, and it is something the Lady Panthers are getting used to. It’s a program that has had success before, and Fortenberry knows it can happen again.
“It’s what we should expect,” Fortenberry said. “This program has not always been down. We need to get back to where we were and expect to win.”