And what a chapter was written in the Cherokee County area’s athletic ledger.
2010 had a little of everything – from award winners to coaching changes, memorable moments to heart-breaking defeats.
With 2011 now upon us, I thought I’d devote this week’s column to the year that was 2010. Happy New Year, everyone!
After guiding the Cherokee County Warriors to the 2009 Class 4A state championship, quarterback Coty Blanchard received the Mr. Football Award at a banquet on Jan. 20. The award has been given annually by the Alabama Sportswriters Association to the state’s best football player since 1982.
The Jacksonville State baseball and football commitment edged out Demopolis running back DeMarcus James by just three total points (165-162) in the closest race in ASWA Mr. Football Award history.
Blanchard, also chosen as the 2009 Class 4A Back of the Year, completed 200 of 289 passes for 2,916 yards and 35 touchdowns. He also rushed for 1,161 yards on 151 carries with 20 touchdowns.
Blanchard also proved his talent on the basketball court, helping guide the Warriors to the 2010 Cherokee County Tournament championship with a 62-55 victory over Cedar Bluff in the boys title game Jan. 16.
Blanchard finished that game with 26 points, five steals and four assists. He connected on six 3-pointers.
In the girls county championship game, Sand Rock ended Spring Garden’s six-year reign as county champions with a 43-34 victory over the Lady Panthers. Karlie Anderson led the Lady Wildcats with 14 points and eight rebounds.
The Northeast Regional Tournament in Jacksonville saw five area teams in action the week of Feb. 15-20. Those five were the Cherokee County Warriors, the Piedmont Bulldogs, the Sand Rock Wildcats, the Cedar Bluff Tigers and the Spring Garden Lady Panthers.
Piedmont, Sand Rock and Spring Garden were able to advance to the state tournament in Birmingham.
Piedmont posted wins over Sylvania (78-73 OT) and Leeds (56-40) to earn its trip to state. Sand Rock earned wins over Ranburne (78-61) and Section (75-67) to claim its second straight trip to Birmingham. Spring Garden claimed victories over Parkway Christian (55-15) and Gaston (26-25) to earn its almost annual trip to the Magic City.
All three teams’ hopes for a state championship ended in Birmingham.
Spring Garden (22-10) suffered a 51-49 loss in overtime in the Class 1A semifinals to Sunshine on Feb. 23. A few hours later, Sand Rock (28-4) fell to Pickens County 59-54 in the Class 2A semifinals.
The last hope for the area rested with the Bulldogs (23-8), but they too fell short against Green County on Feb. 24 by the final of 46-41.
Spring Garden football coach Jason Howard resigned as Spring Garden football coach to take the same position in his hometown of Ohatchee. He was hired at Ohatchee on March 25.
Howard led the Panthers to a 29-45 record in seven seasons. He guided Spring Garden to its first nine-win season, playoff berth and postseason victory in 2008. His final season in 2009 resulted in another trip to the playoffs.
In basketball, Spring Garden forward Tara Mullinax, Sand Rock guard Brannon Burt and Piedmont coach Tommy Lewis led 10 area selections on the Alabama Sportswriters Association All-State Team.
Mullinax averaged 19.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.3 steals and an assist per game in leading the Lady Panthers to the Class 1A state semifinals.
Burt averaged 16 points, 3.7 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 1.7 steals in guiding the Wildcats (28-4) to the Class 2A state semifinals.
Lewis was selected as the Class 3A Coach of the Year after leading Piedmont to a 23-8 record and a berth in the state tournament in Birmingham.
Cherokee County guard Keon Rucker and Sand Rock’s Gena Farmer took All-County Player of the Year honors. Rucker averaged 13.3 points, 4.8 assists and 2.7 steals in guiding the Warriors to a 15-10 season and a berth in the Class 4A Northeast Regionals. Farmer, also a guard, averaged 11.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.4 steals and 2.2 assists for the Lady Wildcats (16-14).
Piedmont’s Chase Childers was the top winner at the Bryant-Jordan Scholarship Awards banquet on April 5. Childers claimed the Larry D. Striplin Scholar-Athlete Award, the Class 3A Scholar-Athlete Award and the Class 3A, Region 5 Award. Childers, now at Birmingham Southern, was awarded more than $10,500 of scholarship money.
Cedar Bluff’s Jim Nelson and Kai Wen, along with Cherokee County High School’s Susan Chesnut, were also among the honorees.
The Cedar Bluff track and field teams captured their sixth straight county championships on April 15. The Lady Tigers won nine of 11 track events and six of seven field events. The Tiger boys earned wins in all 10 track events and claimed five of seven field events.
Cherokee County, Spring Garden and Sand Rock all claimed area softball championships and headed to the North Central Regional Tournament with momentum. The Gaylesville Lady Trojans also joined them as Class 1A, Area 12 runners-up.
In golf, Cherokee County High School’s Jake Minnix helped the Warriors place second in the Class 4A sectionals in Oneonta. The showing helped earn them a trip to Daphne for the sub-state round on May 4.
The Cherokee County Lady Warrior tennis team wrapped up April by finishing as Class 4A state runners-up. The Lady Warriors were second to UMS-Wright.
The Cedar Bluff Tiger boys and girls track and field teams won their fourth consecutive state championships in Vestavia Hills on May 1.
The Tiger boys earned a total of 141.5 points, just 2.5 points behind the state record of 144. Alabama School for the Deaf finished second with 117 points.
The Lady Tigers earned 164 points to finish ahead of R.A. Hubbard, who finished second with 75 points.
After making the playoffs due to Gaston’s use of an ineligible player, the Cedar Bluff Tiger baseball team made the most of its postseason life. After playoff series victories over Victory Christian, Spring Garden and Athens Bible, the Tigers hopes for a Class 1A state championship were dashed in the state semifinals by Shoals Christian.
The Tigers finished the year with a 23-15 record.
The Cherokee County Lady Warriors were the only softball team to represent the area at the state tournament in Montgomery. Behind an MVP performance from pitcher Lauren Millsaps, the Lady Warriors earned the Class 4A North Central Regional May 7-8.
Cherokee County’s bid for a Class 4A softball championship fell short in Montgomery a week later. The Lady Warriors’ season ended at 40-11 with a 6-1 loss to Corner at Lagoon Park on May 15.
The Spring Garden Panthers hired longtime assistant John McKay to replace departed coach Jason Howard. Howard left the Panthers to return to his roots at Ohatchee.
The 37-year-old McKay was officially hired on May 21, the day of the Panthers’ spring jamboree at Section.
Cherokee County High School standout athlete Coty Blanchard was selected by Major League Baseball’s Baltimore Orioles on June 9. He was selected by the club in the 41st round with the 1,228th pick in the MLB Amateur Draft.
Blanchard, who played primarily at shortstop for the Warriors, batted .418 with 12 homers, 35 doubles, four triples, 125 runs scored and drove in 100 runs throughout his high school career.
Blanchard, along with Cedar Bluff catcher and Alabama-Huntsville signee Jim Nelson, was selected by the county baseball coaches as co-Players of the Year. Nelson and Blanchard were also selected to the Alabama Sportswriters Association All-State Baseball team. They were part of 10 area baseball players receiving recognition.
Cherokee County shortstop Kaitlyn Griffith was chosen by the county softball coaches as their Player of the Year. Griffith, along with teammate Lauren Millsaps, were part of 13 softball players receiving recognition on the All-State softball team. Millsaps was named Class 4A Pitcher of the Year.
Cherokee County coaching legend Roy Knapp was selected to the East Mississippi Community College Hall of Fame, and was formally honored at a ceremony in October in Scooba, Miss.
Knapp coached many years at several schools in Cherokee County and is believed to have over 200 wins in a career that spanned five decades in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee.
The Cherokee County Tennis Association held its first Summer Classic at the end of the month. The tournament consisted of CCTA members and local tennis players.
Three new members to the Cherokee County Hall of Fame were formally honored with a ceremony on July 17 at the Gadsden State-Cherokee Chamber of Commerce room. Those joining the hall were former Cherokee County football player and Sand Rock football coach Jack Green, Cherokee County High School standout athlete B.T. Law and Sand Rock standout athlete and coach Eddy Norris.
Several local high school players and coaches represented the area at All-Star Sports Week in Huntsville July 12-16.
Former Piedmont quarterback Chase Childers helped guide the North football team to a 14-7 victory over the South.
In softball, Cherokee County shortstop Kaitlyn Griffith and Spring Garden pitcher Bree Blevins led the North to a sweep of the South, 11-0 and 12-1.
Piedmont basketball coach Tommy Lewis helped direct the North to an 86-81 victory over the South.
Two Dixie Youth Baseball teams represented the area in their respective state tournaments.
The Centre Biscuits (Dixie Boys ages 13-14 division) and Cherokee County American (O-Zone ages 11-12 division) claimed their district tournaments for trips to Scottsboro and Eufaula respectively. Both fell just short of their state championship dreams.
Former Cherokee County multi-sport standout Coty Blanchard decided to turn down an offer by Major League Baseball’s Baltimore Orioles, who drafted him in June in the 41st round of the MLB Amateur Draft.
Blanchard was seeking a five-year, $500,000 deal.
His decision was a welcome one for the Jacksonville State Gamecocks – both in football and baseball.
Keith Cofield was hired as Sand Rock’s new baseball coach at the beginning of the month. He replaces former coach Eddy Norris, who accepted a position at Albertville High School. This is the 26-year-old Glencoe graduate’s first baseball head coaching job.
Football season began with a bang opening weekend, but an Aug. 26 game had a little added incentive.
Cedar Bluff took on Cherokee County for the first time in almost 60 years. The last time the two teams played in football prior to this season was way back in 1951.
Both teams rolled out the red carpet to many former players of the county rivalry. They were honored with a pre-game and halftime ceremony.
The game itself proved to be a battle. The game was tied at 14 heading into halftime, but the Warriors scored 28 unanswered points in the second half to take a 42-14 victory.
Cherokee County junior defensive back Michael Burleson was one of the heroes on the night. He picked off three passes, two of which came in the second half.
There were several football games in September that certainly gave fans more than their money’s worth.
And a few skips in their heartbeats as well.
The Fairview Aggies ended Cherokee County’s 16-game winning streak with a 36-22 victory at Warrior Stadium on Sept. 3. It was the Warriors’ first loss since the 2008 Class 4A state championship game against UMS-Wright (41-7), and the first regular-season loss by the Warriors since a 21-14 setback to Boaz on Oct. 26, 2007.
Speaking on streaks, that same night Gaylesville ended a six-game losing skid to Gaston with a 34-12 victory over the Bulldogs. The last victory by Gaylesville over Gaston prior to this season’s came back on Oct. 3, 1997.
The Trojans claimed the win behind freshman running back David Sanford’s 258 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries.
Another gut-wrenching battle on Sept. 3 was played in Blountsville between visiting Piedmont and Susan Moore.
After surging ahead to a 20-3 lead at the end of three quarters, the Bulldogs found themselves trailing 23-20 after a furious Susan Moore comeback.
Piedmont senior receiver Noah Willis snagged a 9-yard touchdown pass on the final play of the game, lifting the Bulldogs to a 26-23 victory.
In the college ranks on Sept. 4, the Jacksonville State Gamecocks turned in the upset of the year with a 49-48 double-overtime victory at Ole Miss.
Former Cherokee County quarterback Coty Blanchard guided the Gamecocks to the win. The true freshman threw the game-tying touchdown pass to receiver Kevyn Cooper on 4th-and-30 in the second overtime, then connected on the game-winning 2-point conversion to Calvin Middleton.
On Sept. 10, newly-hired football coach John McKay earned his first victory of the season with the Spring Garden Panthers. They defeated Class 1A, Region 7 rival Valley Head 13-7.
Over 900 yards worth of offense was turned in a Sept. 17 battle between Butler and Cherokee County. The Warriors were able to squeak by, posting a 63-52 victory.
In one of the best defensive battles of the season, Piedmont claimed a 13-12 victory in overtime against Class 3A, Region 6 rival Glencoe at the Field of Champions. Both teams battled to a 6-6 tie at the end of regulation. Glencoe took a 12-6 lead on its first possession of overtime on quarterback Rhett Norman’s 10-yard pass to Chris Tinker. Houston Ramer missed the extra point, but the Yellowjackets had a 12-6 lead.
On its possession in overtime, Piedmont quarterback Chris Strott connected with receiver Jamaal Johnson on a 5-yard pass. Strott, who missed an extra point near the end of regulation that possibly would have won the game, atoned for his earlier mistake by connecting on the ensuing point after for the win.
Piedmont improved to 5-0 with the victory.
The Cherokee County Lady Warrior volleyball team began the month with a bang on Oct. 2. After claiming a 25-23, 25-16 decision in the Cherokee County Tournament semifinals against Sand Rock, the victory set up a final match between the two teams. The Lady Warriors carried that momentum into the championship match, winning 25-13, 25-19.
It was the first county championship for head coach Amy Barnes, and it also ended Sand Rock’s two-year reign as tournament champions.
The Collinsville Panthers claimed their first region football title since 1999 with a 40-0 victory over Gaylesville on Oct. 8. The Panthers improved to 7-0 on the season, and clinched their first home playoff game since 2001.
Also on the gridiron, Piedmont’s 13-game winning streak was snapped on Oct. 7 in a 43-42 overtime loss at Class 5A Gulf Shores.
The Spring Garden Lady Panthers were the only volleyball team to represent the area at the state tournament in Pelham on Oct. 27. Spring Garden’s season ended to Donoho in their first match, a 25-13, 25-14, 25-11 setback. Spring Garden finished the year at 28-18.
Five of the seven football teams in The Herald’s coverage area qualified for the state playoffs. Those teams were Cherokee County, Cedar Bluff, Collinsville, Gaylesville and Piedmont.
Cedar Bluff and Piedmont made it the furthest. The Tigers’ season ended on Nov. 12 in the second round at R.A. Hubbard in Courtland, 36-29. They finished the season at 9-3.
Piedmont’s quest to earn back-to-back Class 3A football state championships fell short against Hamilton 27-21 on Nov. 26 in the state semifinals. The Bulldogs finished the season at 12-2. Hamilton went on to lose the Class 3A title game to top-ranked Leeds the following week in Auburn, 42-32.
Former Cherokee County standout and current Jacksonville State quarterback Coty Blanchard was named the Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Year.
Blanchard came onto the college football scene in the Gamecocks’ season opener at Ole Miss. The true freshman threw the game-tying touchdown pass to receiver Kevyn Cooper on 4th-and-30 in the second overtime, then connected on the game-winning 2-point conversion to Calvin Middleton for a 49-48 victory.
Blanchard was also the Gamecocks’ punter, averaging 39.5 yards per punt.
The 2010 All-Cherokee County volleyball and football teams were announced. In volleyball, the Cherokee County Lady Warriors had the most representatives with four, led by MVP Kaitlyn Griffith.
Leading the way on the All-County football team was Cedar Bluff sophomore quarterback Levi Mintz (Offensive MVP), Cherokee County junior linebacker Patrick Lowe (Defensive MVP) and Gaylesville coach Brian Clowdis (Coach of the Year).
Speaking of football, Cherokee County coach Tripp Curry was an assistant on the Alabama team in the annual Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic. Behind Athens quarterback and MVP Stephen Rivers, Alabama claimed a 24-17 victory in double overtime.
Jacksonville State hosted a Football Championship Subdivision playoff game Dec. 4 against Wofford, but its season came to an end following a 17-14 defeat to the Terriers. The Gamecocks ended the year at 9-3.
The area also had 17 athletes recognized on the Alabama Sportswriters Association All-State Football Team. Piedmont led the way with four selections (Jamaal Johnson, Mickey Jackson, Noah Willis and Jamie Major) and one honorable mention (Warren Alexander).
Collinsville's Ryan Chamblee was named the Class 1A Lineman of the Year.
In basketball, Cherokee County Lady Warriors win 2010 Cherokee Invitational girls championship with a 67-49 victory over Woodland. It’s the second invitational title Cherokee County has won in the last three years.
On the boys side, Cedar Bluff won a classic thriller over host Sand Rock in overtime, 86-81. The Tigers rallied from nine points down with 1:55 left in regulation to tie the game at 66 and force the extra period.
Well, that was 2010. Let’s see what 2011 has in store for us.