COCHRAN, Ga. — He’s a legend in the cross-country circuit and a lifelong Bleckley County Royal, both as a student and coach.

Shelly Cranford is a true Bleckley County hero.

“I graduated from here in 1983 from Bleckley County High School and went off to the University of Georgia. I ran cross-country and track there. My ultimate goal was to come back to Bleckley County and coach the kids here and to just give back to my home community just as much as I could give in the time that I was here,” said Cranford.

He’s been teaching the blueprint of cross-country, entering his 31st season, and sharing what he’s learned as a Royal with the future.

“I'm coaching kids now that I coached their parents 25 years ago and it's been a true blessing to be here,” he said.

Under his tenure, the purple and gold have performed well royally, racking up many honors and accolades.

“We won 46 region championships and we've won five state championships -- the boys and girls combined. It’s been a fun ride and I hope it continues for many years to come,” said Cranford.

And even today, his girls team is ranked #1 in the state while his boys aren't far behind fourth. His eyes are set on another region title and possible state championship.

“I really do care; it's not just about wins, it's about growing together as a group and growing as young people and I hope when they leave here one day they'll be productive citizens,” he said. “I've been really blessed. I just thank God for the opportunity to be here in my hometown and coaching the kids that live here and it's really been a blessing to be able to do that.”

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