|Whether on the front page or in the sports section, local players, teams and coaches grabbed their share of the headlines from the year that was 2007. |
Comings and goings among the coaching fraternity dominated the news over the past 365 days, though landmark victories as well as noteworthy setbacks were also part of an area sports news landscape that was rarely void of stories and/or characters.
The following is a Top 10 list compiled of the most significant happenings of ’07 from the files of The Messenger.
Bowling leaves, returns
Just four days into the new year, Obion Central head football Darren Bowling confirmed widespread rumors he was leaving Troy to succeed the retiring James Counce at Dyersburg. Bowling had spent four years at the Rebel helm, leading OC to the school’s only state playoff victory in his first year there. His Central teams regularly competed on the same level with more talented opponents and twice posted winning records in his four seasons while compiling a 19-23 overall mark. Bowling then led D’burg to a 10-2 mark and the second round of the playoffs in the fall before resigning to return to Obion County, where he was named the new head coach at Union City High School in mid-December. Calling it “coming home,” Bowling cited family considerations for the move and will bring with him a fellow respected coach in defensive coordinator Wes Kennedy. Kennedy was previously the head coach, assistant principal and athletic director at Fayette Academy and also brings a sterling reputation as a math teacher. The Tornado job became vacant before Bowling’s decision to return when it was determined that Jimmy Fishel wouldn’t return to the post. Fishel went 28-29 in his five years in that capacity, though defensive shortcomings and a general lack of intensity contributed greatly to consecutive unacceptable 6-5 finishes the last two years after UC had made it to the Class 1A championship game in 2005.
More coaching changes
While Bowling’s going and coming saga was the biggest story of the year, it was far from the only one involving what was essentially a coaching merry-go-round among Obion County’s three schools. Jason Driggers was hired as Bowling’s replacement at OCCHS and the rookie skipper suffered through what was ultimately just the third winless season in the 47-year history of the Rebel program. Central baseball coach John Buchanan (13 years) and Lady Rebel softball skipper Jeanna Walker (two stints, 13 years) both resigned their positions after lengthy stints with assistant Russ Davis stepping up to the plate with the OC baseball and another Rebel alumnus, Tommy Victory, agreeing to take over the softball duties. Both Davis and Victory will keep their administration duties within the county school system. At South Fulton, longtime Red Devil football coach Gwin Wood resigned under fire in mid-November after consecutive 1-9 seasons and a 19-year career in that capacity. Wood’s teams won just nine games during his last four seasons, and his overall mark was 88-114. His replacement was hired just three days before the end of the year when Lewis County defensive coordinator Kelly Spivey was named the Red Devil skipper. Wood earlier in the year gave up his head baseball duties after 18 seasons and with a 239-179-1 record. He was reassigned to head the SF track fortunes. Past Red Devil standout Jeremy McFarland, an assistant the last six years, will take over the baseball duties. At Union City, tennis coach Jacob Cross resigned after three years and was later named an assistant principal at the high school. He will be replaced by Jason Deem. Assistant baseball and football aide Ben Glasgow left for a job in the baseball program at Arlington, while Tony Butler was hired as a Tornado football assistant.
UC’s Brown Mr. Basketball
Union City junior point-guard MJ Brown was named Class A’s Mr. Basketball, while Obion Central’s Jana Roney was a finalist for the girls’ honor in Class 2A. Brown, the quarterback of a high-octane Tornado attack, averaged 16.5 points, seven assists, six rebounds and 4.5 steals while leading the Twisters to their third consecutive 30-win season and playing less than three-quarters of every game due to numerous UC blowouts. He became the third player in Union City High School history to receive the prestigious individual honor, joining two-time winner Stanley Caldwell and Marquis Weddle, who had won the award the year before. A multi-talented player like Brown, Roney averaged 14.9 points, 9.5 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 3.3 steals per game while shooting 55 percent in all from the field and 41 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. She also shot 75 percent from the foul line and was voted the Most Valuable Player in rugged District 13AA, a league that included three state-ranked teams most of the regular season. Roney signed during the early period to play collegiately at Murray State.
Twister hoops upset, perfect
The Union City High School boys’ basketball program garnered its share of ink with both how the 2006-07 season ended prematurely, and how the current campaign began. On the last day of February, the Tornadoes’ saw their Class 1A title reign officially end when they were upset 86-83 in the regional semifinals by Humboldt. The Vikings, beaten twice by double digits by UC during the regular season, played likely their best game of the season in knocking off a Twister squad that had been ranked No. 1 in the state for six consecutive weeks and had reached the 30-victory mark for the third straight year. Both MJ Brown and Cedric Allen were named first-team all-staters off that squad, while Jeremy Simpson was the recipient of The Messenger’s Player of the Year honor. Fast forward nine months and Union City began the ’07-08 season by winning its first 16 games, capped by holiday tournament championships in Battle for the State Tournament at Nashville, and the First Midwest Bank Holiday Tournament in Poplar Bluff (Mo.). Last year’s Mr. Basketball, MJ Brown, was named the Most Valuable Player in both tourneys, and a three-quarter court heave by Pat Polk in the semifinals against Raytown South (Mo.) saved the locals from their closest brush with defeat. The Tornadoes will begin the second half of the season with a 30-game regular season District 14A winning streak that spans three seasons.
Lady Tornadoes break
Union City’s girls’ basketball team made history by winning the program’s first district championship since 1949. The Lady Tornadoes, powered by four-year starter DeBrisha Robinson and Labrica Ward and directed by point-guard Brittany Taylor, beat Bradford and Lady County at Dresden to win the 14A Tournament title. Head coach Jeff Chandler’s Twister girls were making their second straight appearance in the district title game after going 18 seasons without reaching that point. UC was coming off a school-record 23 victories the year before, and ultimately saw its season end for the second year in a row in the regional semifinals with a 37-31 loss to eventual state champion Gleason. The team finished with an 18-12 mark, and Robinson ended her career the top scorer in school history in the five-on-five era and No. 2 all-time.
Devilette softball still rules roost
The South Fulton softball team cemented its status as a rural West Tennessee powerhouse in Class A with its ninth regional tournament title in the last 10 seasons and a school-record 27 victories before being stopped a step short of the school’s sixth state tourney appearance with a 3-2 loss to Adamsville in the sectionals. Head coach Curt Lee’s latest edition of Red Devilettes might not have been the most-talented of his all-time teams, but SF used the pitching of Emily Pinion and Sara Reams, timely hitting from a number of players, and solid defense and baserunning to continue the program’s decade-long run of success that has seen South Fulton win 211 games. The Devilettes have won 20 or more games eight times during the last nine seasons, compiling a 196-53 mark during Lee’s highly successful tenure.
Fulton City ends playoff drought
Having endured the heartbreak of forfeiting seven wins due to the use of ineligible players the year before, the Fulton City High School football program rebounded with a season to remember that included a victory over perennial state powerhouse Mayfield and the school’s first playoff victory since 1969. Longtime head coach Wayne Lohaus got the ball in the hands of record-breaking tailback Daeron Williams and nimble-footed QB Aaron Wilson often, and the results were smashing as the Bulldogs went 9-2 before losing in a rematch to Mayfield in the second round of the postseason. Before that though, Fulton ran off seven consecutive victories and was ranked as high as fourth in Kentucky Class 1A. The most notable of those wins with a stunning 36-19 triumph over the Cardinals on Mayfield’s turf that represented the Redbirds’ first district loss in 12 seasons.
Greyhounds fly Kitty League flag
In the third season since the revival of the wood bat Kitty League baseball circuit, the Union City Greyhounds captured the league’s postseason championship with a 3-2 victory over the regular season champion Fulton Railroaders. Strong pitching and timely offense were staples of the ’Hounds, who finished just behind Fulton in the 50-game regular season standings before beating the Railroaders 2-1 in a best-of-three series. In the title tilt, centerfielder Zach Hudson made two sensational defensive plays to highlight the victory and Greyhound starter Brad Rowland beat Fulton for the third time. Former Westview High School star Rafael Hill scored two of UC’s three runs to make a winner of rookie manager Chris LeGuenec. Fulton was easily the league’s most-improved team, recording a regular-season best 32 wins after netting just nine triumphs two years earlier.
UC softball makes huge strides
The Union City High School softball team enjoyed unprecedented success by earning the school’s first-ever regional tournament berth and matching the program’s record for wins in a season with 17. Corey Anne Youree drove home the tying run in the seventh inning, then scored the winning tally on a wild pitch moments later in the district semifinals to secure the Lady Tornadoes’ berth in the region. In one of many subplots to the game however, first-year head coach Shane Sisco — largely instrumental in the locals’ success — was not around to see the thrilling finish as he was ejected from the game for leaving the dugout to visit the mound after he had already been banished to the dugout. Sisco then had to endure a two-game suspension and pay a $250 fine as mandated for such actions by the TSSAA. Union City was then defeated in the district title game by South Fulton, and in the first round of the regionals by Huntingdon, 12-0.
Several athletes take next step
Numerous local players used their prep prowess to sign college scholarships in their respective sports . In February, UC football standout Demetrius Bracey signed with Cumberland University, while Obion Central star and 2007 Messenger Player of the Year Savion Hayslett inked with Lambuth. A trio of Obion Central softballers inked with Dyersburg State in March as Lacy Eaves, Randi Kaye Walker and Audrey Gilliam all signed with the Lady Eagles prior to their respective senior campaigns. A month later, DeBrisha Robinson, after a stellar four-year career with the Union City girls’ basketball program, put her name on the dotted line of scholarship papers with Columbia State. May saw UC’s Ryan Chandler ink with Christian Brothers University to play golf, and the summer months found South Fulton hurler Emily Pinion signing with Shawnee Community College in Illinois, and former Tornado hoop standout Antawn Coby committing to Lambuth after a successful two-year stint at Jackson State. Brooke Laws signed with Union University in August after a successful softball career at UCHS.
HONORABLE MENTION: Other stories considered for ranking among the Top 10 included Union City hosting the 13-year old Babe Ruth Southeast Regional Tournament; Robert Powell being named county-wide athletic director and head of student activities for all schools in the Obion County School System; Former Lake County and UT Martin football standout Jerry Reese being hired as just the third black general manager in the National Football League when he was named by the New York Giants; Obion Central suffering through the third winless season in the 47-year history of the school’s football program, including three of the Rebels’ worst-ever losses.