|UC hoop feat best ’08 story |
|Posted: Wednesday, December 31, 2008 5:55 pm |
|On and off the fields and courts, Obion County’s sports programs and their collection of athletes once more captured their share of headlines in 2008. |
There was good.
There was bad.
And there was sad.
From the Union City boys’ basketball program winning the school’s fifth state championship and the resurgence of both the Tornado and South Fulton football fortunes to the embarrassing saga of the Obion Central head football coaching merry-go-round and then finally the death of a sports broadcasting icon, The Messenger’s ’08 pages and coverage went from one end of the spectrum to the other.
The following is a list of Top 10 stories of the past 12 months as ranked by the paper’s sports staff.
Hoop Tornadoes perfect
Led by two-time Mr. Basketball MJ Brown, Union City won its second Class A title in three seasons and fifth since 1990 by becoming just the 15th team in state history to go unbeaten. The Tornadoes capped their perfect campaign by rallying from 17 points down late in the third quarter of the championship game against a talented Manassas squad, ultimately winning 83-81 to finish 37-0. Brown, who was named the tournament MVP, had 26 second-half points to lead the stirring comeback triumph to the delight of 3,000 or so UCHS fans that gave Murfreesboro’s Murphy Center a distinctive Purple and Gold feel. Tony Wilkins and Andre Coby also were named to the all-tournament team, while Nik Brooks, Lavan Mosley and Pat Polk also played critical roles for a senior-dominated Twister squad. The championship was the second for head coach Shane Sisco, who piloted Union City to its fourth straight 30-win season and bettered his nine-year mark at the school to 224-64. The titles matched 2A crowns earned in 1990, ’92 and ’97, and a similar single-A championship garnered in 2006.
UC football revival
Darren Bowling was hired in late 2007 to restore the tradition of the Union City High School football program that recently had fallen on mostly-mediocre times and promptly delivered. The new Tornado skipper put his troops through rigorous offseason workouts designed to “toughen up” a team best described as non-physical and the results were both immediate and impressive. After losing its opener to Westview, UC reeled off 10 consecutive victories, winning the Region 7 1-A championship and advancing to the second round of the playoffs in the process. Colton Speed rejoined the program after not playing for two seasons and made a huge impact, ultimately named a Mr. Football finalist. Center Will Arnold joined Speed as a first-team all-stater, while tackle Ronnie Fair was chosen Region 7A’s defensive player of the year. The team overcame a huge emotional hurdle at midseason when popular defensive coordinator Wes Kennedy — who came with Bowling to UCHS from Dyersburg — was seriously injured in a burn accident in Memphis. Kennedy rejoined the program late in the season after several weeks of hospitalization and rehabilitation.
Rookie coach rescues SF
First-time head coach Kelly Spivey made a huge splash at South Fulton, leading the Red Devils to wins in their first six games and a state ranking after the program had won just five games combined the previous three seasons. Hired away from Lewis County, where he was a defensive coordinator at a widely-respected program, Spivey immediately reversed SF’s losing trend and was named the Tennessee Titans Coach of the Week in a statewide vote of media members after the Redmen started the year with a bang. Signature comeback wins over rival Fulton City and a stirring rally that ended with a double-overtime victory against Greenfield whipped Big Red faithful into a frenzy and earned the team a No. 10 state ranking in the Associated Press poll — the program’s first since the early 2000s. A 28-7 loss to Union City burst SF’s bubble in Week 7 and started a slide that included four straight losses to end the season. Four Red Devils (Corbin Hawks, Skylar Cherry, Sam Curtis and Jonathan Avent) were especially instrumental in the turnaround and earned all-region accolades.
OC football soap opera
An ugly series of events became the latest in a long list of coaching sagas at Obion County Central. With a vacancy at the head of its football program following the resignation of Jason Driggers after one winless season, Mark Walton was hired on a Friday — getting the nod over a pair of candidates (Barry Kendall and Paul Decker) who were OCCHS graduates and former assistants in the program. Citing community unrest from several persons whom he claimed either approached him or had called to express their displeasure, Walton — who had experience in Georgia but hadn’t coached in three years — resigned on the following Monday. OC Athletics Director Robert Powell and Director of Schools David Huss then began the process of again searching for a coach and ultimately hired Shawn Jackson, who came to Troy from a successful stint as an assistant in the Missouri prep ranks and a short tenure at both the University of Missouri and Lindenwood University. Though Central failed to win a game for the second straight year under Jackson this fall, the Rebs did show marked improvement in several areas.
Cancer silences UC ‘Voice’
The death of a radio broadcasting legend — Jim Cawley — saddened not only all of Obion County, but was felt throughout rural West Tennessee and in other parts of the state. The voice of Union City High School sports for 35 years, he broadcast more than 5,000 football, basketball and baseball games during his career in the media. Also a respected news man and an official with the TSSAA, Cawley too, was active for more than three decades in the Union City Babe Ruth League and the chairman of the Union City Parks and Recreation Department for 20 years. In his honor, the press box at War Memorial Stadium now bears his name after that designation was announced at the beginning of the UCHS 2008 football season. Cawley was originally diagnosed with brain cancer in the fall of 2006 and was given an immediate bleak life forecast, but battled the deadly disease for 20 months before succumbing to it and its effects in June.
It’s UTM — finally — for MJ
After winning back-to-back Class A Mr. Basketball Awards and leading Union City to a pair of state titles while joining former Tornado Stanley Caldwell among the most-decorated hoopsters in the school’s illustrious history, MJ Brown couldn’t decide where to continue his playing career. The six-foot point-guard originally said he’d choose between UT Martin and Southeast Missouri State. He then added Murray State and Western Kentucky to his list of options before later announcing intentions to walk on at the University of Tennessee to fulfill a desire to play in a “big-time” program. Complicating Brown’s decision was the revelation that his family wanted him to get farther away from home than the few miles to Martin, which ultimately ended up being the youth’s first choice all along. Finally, Brown did enroll at UTM and became a Skyhawk just before the current school year began.
Lady Rebs net milestone
The tradition-rich Obion Central girls’ basketball program recorded the 1,000th victory in the 47-year history of the school in early January. Making the occasion even more noteworthy, the Lady Rebels — ranked third in the state in Class 2A — knocked off No. 1 Gibson County 65-57 for the milestone triumph. Chassidy Fussell knocked down 24 points and Aubrey Reedy added 22 markers and Gentry Reedy tossed in 12 points for OC, which improved to 17-1 by handing the Lady Pioneers their second loss in 18 games. Obion Central’s all-time record stood at 1,000-341, a winning percentage of .745, following the victory. The program, perennially one of the better ones in rural West Tennessee, has made 13 trips to the state tournament and went on to its 31st 20-win season. Current skipper Eddie Suiter — in his fourth campaign — is the 10th in OCCHS girls’ history and became just one of four coaches with 100 or more wins after finishing the year with a cumulative slate of 101-30.
Coaching musical chairs
The Obion Central shuffle was not the only coaching change in an era when such rituals are seemingly performed on an annual basis. David Barker was fired as Union City’s head baseball coach and ultimately replaced by assistant Jeremy Maddox, who’d previously led McKenzie to a Class A state title. Michael Hart resigned his assistant UCHS boys’ basketball job to become the new skipper at Gibson County after a two-year stint with the Tornadoes. Preston Barbee, with experience at Dyersburg and Dyer County, eventually was named as Hart’s replacement on Shane Sisco’s staff. Darren Bowling’s first Union City football staff was completed with the addition of Preston Martin and paraprofessionals Morgan Cruse and Nick Markle. Christina Grimm gave the UC girls’ basketball program a female presence when she was brought aboard to aid Jeff Chandler. Grimm took the place of longtime Tornado hoop aide David Denning. Billy Windsor was the lone holdover on Shawn Jackson’s staff at Obion Central. Staff additions included Chuck Foley, Josh Puckett and Adam Dowland. First-year South Fulton head football coach Kelly Spivey lured away Eric Knott from Dresden to become his offensive coordinator. Knott had served one season as the Lions’ head coach.
SF, Twister softball success
South Fulton continued its prowess on the softball diamond and now officially has a rival in Union City. The Devilettes advanced to the regional championship and earned a sectional berth for the 10th time in the last 11 years. Veteran head coach Curt Lee directed SF to a 20-win season for the ninth time in his 10-year tenure and the ninth district tournament championship during that time. The pitching tandem of Melissa Reams and Haley McKinney paced the Lady Devils, who beat Union City 2-0 in the district finals that represented the fifth meeting between the emerging rivals. South Fulton was no-hit by Huntingdon’s Brooke Thomas in the region championship and met its ultimate demise with a sectional loss to perennial private school power Trinity Chistian Academy. The Lady Tornadoes won a school-record 23 games in head coach Shane Sisco’s second season after having matched the UCHS mark for wins (17) in 2007. Union City dropped a nine-inning heartbreaker to Huntingdon in the region semis, but got solid pitching from Karly Hollis and solid play from Allison McCullough, Corey Anne Youree and Paige Fisher throughout the memorable season.
Weddle among OVC’s best
The University of Tennessee at Martin men’s basketball program enjoyed the spotlight of having one of the most productive backcourts in the country. Lester Hudson was named the Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year, while fellow guard and former Union City High School standout Marquis Weddle was named the Freshman of the Year. Hudson recorded the only known quadruple-double in the history of the game earlier in the season and was among the nation’s leading scorers at more than 25 ppg. He flirted with the idea of skipping his senior season and briefly made himself eligible for the NBA before withdrawing his name from consideration after attending a pre-draft camp. Weddle, the all-time leading scorer at UCHS, showed little rust from a one-season layoff and flashed the long-range shooting form that helped the Tornadoes to the 2006 state championship. He averaged 17 ppg, seventh-best of all Division I freshmen in the country. He made 99 3-pointers and teamed with Hudson to lead the Skyhawks to the school’s first-ever win the OVC Tournament.