Every morning during the school year, Chris Ingle and his youngest daughter, Amelia, head to Lake Oconee Academy (LOA) to start their days. Amelia goes off to her first-period class as a middle-schooler, and Chris walks to the Titan Center where he passes a display of the Georgia Athletic Directors Association (GADA) Directors Cup. LOA claimed the prestigious award for having the most accomplished teams in class A Division 2 during the 2022-23 school year.

“That’s how I start every day,” says Chris, LOA’s athletic director since the school began to compete in high school sports in 2013. “I smile every time I see the cup. Every time.”

The Directors Cup reminds him how far LOA has come since its teams had to practice whenever and wherever they could find a sliver of space: in an outdoor pavilion, in the cafeteria, and sometimes on any open grass available at Reynolds.

“Great memories,” Chris says. “Looking back now, I’m not sure how we did it.”

He calls the coaches, administrators, students, and parents “the best people I’ve come into contact with.” But nudge him a little more. In athletics, a small seed of disbelief often fuels motivation. Chris admits he has one of those seeds.

“To be honest, a comment someone made years ago has always driven me. The person made it very clear that they thought LOA would never take athletics seriously, and they said it loud enough to make me think it could be heard across campus. It lit a fire in me to do everything in my power to prove them wrong.”

The doubters did not know that starting from scratch was nothing new to Chris. He’d done it with his career, and his priorities, before he’d ever heard of Lake Oconee Academy.

September 4, 2010, started with the optimism of a new football season. Chris and his wife, Kelly, had gone to Sanford Stadium in Athens to watch Georgia dominate their season-opening game against Louisiana-Lafayette. At the game, they received a call from Chris’s mother. His sister, Caroline, had gone to Emory Hospital with a curious illness that had drained her for two weeks. By the time Chris and Kelly arrived, doctors had diagnosed Caroline with an aggressive form of leukemia. Her chance of survival was low. The Ingles, however, did not retreat from the news.

“Our family decided to join her fight, 100 percent,” Chris says, “We’d do it together, at any cost.”

For Chris, this meant selling the successful business, Ingle Courier Service, he built so he could spend time coaching up Caroline. To make ends meet, he began to substitute teach and coach football part-time.

“To say I had to start over is an understatement,” Chris says.

He quickly realized how much he enjoyed leading students. So, he completed his master’s degree, continued to help Caroline’s fight, and began teaching full-time. Then the opportunity came up at LOA to lead the Titans into varsity competition. The high school had only 32 students enrolled, all freshmen. There was no first-class gymnasium, no turfed baseball field, and no thought given to someday displaying a Directors Cup. But Chris sensed something special in the community spirit.

“You know what has always excited me the most about coming to work? The positive energy from the people. There aren’t many athletic directors who can truthfully say that.”

Aside from a skeptic or two, the growing circle of Titan supporters was patient to see the first goal scored, the first made free throw, the first base hit, and the first league championship. The biggest win of all, however, happened off the playing field against a much more ominous foe: Caroline, with a fearless team of Ingles at her side, beat the cancer. Today, she’s in her 8th year of teaching at LOA.

“We have a lot to celebrate,” Chris says.

He rattles off teams representing the school in 17 men’s and women’s sports, including clay target shooting and equestrian, and more students competing in fine arts. Five of those teams have advanced to the state championships. Last summer several players for the Dallas Cowboys, including QB Dak Prescott and WR CeeDee Lamb, chose to train at LOA because of its high-end facilities. Former students want to finish their college degrees and come back as teachers and coaches.

Chris talks about this while walking through a state-of-the-art weight room.

“Sometimes,” he says, “it all seems too good to be true.”

Whenever it seems that way, Chris can walk into the Titan Center to look at the Directors Cup. He can watch dozens of students on practice fields around the campus. Or he can go over to a classroom and simply say, “Hey, Sis,” and know he’s in the presence of a true living champion.

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