Two seeds for the soccer success this year in Columbia County were sown in some blacktop behind Broad Street in downtown Augusta.
The story begins back in the mid 1970s, when a young coach introduced a new game to a group of elementary-school students.
George Berry was the coach, and Chip Warren was one of the kids kicking a ball around the parking lot at Curtis Baptist Elementary School.
Fast forward to 2003, and you'll find both mentor and protege on a real pitch here in Columbia County. Berry coaches the boys and girls soccer teams at Harlem High School, while Warren leads the Greenbrier High School Wolfpack.
Other than the old ties, the two have something else in common.
Berry took over the Harlem girls this season, and led the Lady Dogs to a Region 3-AAA title, the first for the squad. Warren, now in his fourth season at the Brierpatch, earned his first Region 3-AAAA crown with the Pack this spring.
In a nutshell, the seeds have sown fruit.
"He's done a real good job. What kills me is he's done it while coaching both teams," Warren said of Berry. "It's real good to see people you look up to doing well."
Warren was a fifth-grader at Curtis when he started learning about soccer, and he had to pay attention. Berry demanded it.
"In those days he was more of a disciplinarian," Warren recalled. "He was a coach first, and a friend later."
The scrawny soccer upstart also made an impression.
"He was a hard worker and dedicated," Berry said of Warren. "He doesn't expect any less of his players. That's why he's successful. He's not a rah-rah coach, but he's not negative either. His philosophy is a lot like mine."
That philosophy is simple - work hard, never give up and show sportsmanship.
Easier said than done when the summit seems higher than Everest.
Berry took over the Harlem boys in 1997, the year after the squad won a region championship. The Bulldogs struggled for an identity in a county filled with quality soccer teams, but things have turned around under Berry, who now has guided Harlem into the playoffs for two straight seasons.
Inheriting the Harlem girls this year and capturing a title right off the bat was a great bonus.
"This is by far the most success I've ever had as a head coach," Berry said. "I've found out that it doesn't come easy, and success doesn't just fall in your lap."
Warren can relate. He became head coach at Greenbrier the year after the Pack surged to the Class AAA finals, and though he had some young talent to work with, local rival Lakeside entered the region and reigned supreme.
It took four years to knock the Panthers off the throne, but it was worth the wait.
"If it means half as much to my players as it does to me, then it means a lot," Warren said. "It makes you feel good when all the work pays dividends."
That work started so long ago, when Berry and Warren were out on the asphalt behind a church, but their faith has been rewarded - two nice guys finally finished first.
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