By James Butler
FOREST PARK, Ga. – Christal Williams was in the midst of a dream season.
Despite facing some tough opposition, the Forest Park High School senior shooting guard was leading her team in scoring and had helped established the Lady Panthers as one of the early favorites in Region 4-AAAAA, thanks to a December win at county rival Drew.
Williams was probably at her zenith that game as she poured in 32 points, but less than a month later her high school career was all but over. She tore an ACL and would not be a factor in the team’s push for a state title.
During that dark cloud Williams was able to find sunshine however, as Palm Beach State from Lake Worth, Fla. started recruiting her and backcourt mate Kerry Watson. That set the scene for this past Thursday at Forest Park as both players signed with the junior college.
“A couple weeks after [the injury] I heard from them and went down there for a visit and it was nice,” Williams said. “They said they really wanted me even though I was injured. […] A lot of colleges didn’t want to give me an offer because I was injured.”
In fact Williams had her heart set on playing for Division II Lander University. It appears her injury changed those plans.
“I thought I was going to commit to them,” Williams said. “I went out for a visit. As soon as I told them about my injury they backed away. That really hurt because I wasn’t expecting them to back off because of the injury. When Palm Beach came it was really a blessing.”
Williams was injured in a game at an end-of-the-year tournament in Alabama. It was a non-contact injury. “I made one slight turn and my knee turned the other way and it just buckled and I just went down, she said. “It made me really sad because the first thing I thought of was not being able to play with my team anymore.”
Understandably she was down, but like opposing defenses, the injury didn’t keep her down for long.
“I cried, but I got over it and realized that I had to keep working hard even though I wasn’t going to be able to play,” Williams said. “I just stayed strong and I was able to support my team and still be there with them.” Showing toughness during a tough time was nothing new for Williams as she led Forest Park’s junior varsity team to a championship and practiced hard against the varsity players during the 2013-14 season after being forced to sit out from varsity after transferring from North Clayton.
“First of all, Christal had to be special to choose to come to Forest Park and sit out her junior year,” said Forest Park head coach Steven Cole. “We knew we had something special.”
The same could be said about Williams’ teammate, Watson. Once Williams went down, much of the scoring onus fell upon Watson as she helped lead Forest Park to another Final Four appearance.
After transferring from Stephenson, Watson was Forest Park’s second-leading scorer, but Cole liked the toughness she brought to the team more than anything. She didn’t feel any increased pressure after Williams went down. She just did her part and relied on her teammates as Forest Park finished with 28 wins and another Final Four appearance.
“I just had to do what I had to do and I did for her,” Watson said. “I did for my family, my team. It was a family effort, not just one person picking up slack – we all did.”
Now two members of that family, Williams and Watson, will get to spend two more years together.