Tommy Price knows what it means to lead a winning team.
Back in 1974, the young educator and coach guided Harlem High School's baseball team to the county's first state title.
Now, three decades later, Price is retiring from leading another winning team: the Columbia County school system.
After 35 years as an educator, School Superintendent Price will serve one more year before leaving the system to the next generation of leaders.
All coaches who follow a winner know what a tough challenge it can be. Just imagine what it was like to succeed Vince Dooley at the University of Georgia, or Lou Holtz at Notre Dame. That's the sort of task that will greet Columbia County's next superintendent.
Think about it: It's much easier to take over for a mediocre or losing team. When there is plenty of room for improvement, the next guy usually is granted a lot of leeway and a long honeymoon.
Not so for those who take over when the team is at its peak. Just as Rodney Holder will have a tough job next year taking over at Greenbrier High School for departing state champion baseball coach Ed Williams, so will Price's successor as Columbia County's school superintendent have to take the county's expectations of excellence and push them up a notch.
The county's academic success has been stellar, especially in recent years. On standardized tests, an increasingly important measure of all school systems, Columbia County consistently ranks higher than all surrounding school systems, far above the state average and often higher than the national average.
A bigger challenge both before and during Price's tenure has been growth. The school system's academic success is the county's single biggest attraction for new residents, and the resulting population boom has driven Price and the school board to aggressively build new schools.
En route to his retirement, Price will likely put the finishing touches on planning for the county's long-awaited fifth high school, capping off construction currently taking place at the rate of about one new school per year.
As Price wraps up his long career, the school board is inheriting a tough job, too. They'll be the ones to choose Price's replacement. The path to that process will undoubtedly be an important part of this year's first-ever election of a countywide school board chairman.
The process will be much easier with Price agreeing to serve an additional year in a transitional role. He'll go out at the top of his game, with a winning team waiting on its next coach.
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