By Sports Staff
The seasons come and go, but after we have opened the presents, carved the ham and enjoyed a double helping of Aunt Sally's sweet potato casserole at the Christmas dinner table, it is a natural time of the year for reflections.
Each year brings about times of celebration, times of disappointments and times that make us stronger and help us to grow mentally, physically and spiritually. The year 2012 was no different as the local athletes and personalities of the local sports scene provided a year packed full of reasons to cheer, times of reflection as we honored grand accomplishments and milestones and plenty of reasons to think that the next 12 months will be just as memorable.
During the past year champions have been crowned, individuals have been honored, and we have said goodbye to those who have passed away. Here — in no particular order — are the top 10 stories in area sports as chosen by The Daily Citizen sports staff along with the other notable events and stories of the year.
Running the road again
An area that already was flush with high school athletics returned to the college side.
Dalton State College’s hiring of Derek Waugh as athletic director made the idea of the college returning to athletics a future reality. Waugh’s hire in February came six months before as big a hire, when the Roadrunners nabbed Dalton-native Tony Ingle to lead the college’s premier sport, men’s basketball.
Those two were the major moments in a 2012 dominated by Dalton State — which also has hired coaches for volleyball and competitive cheerleading, plus men’s and women’s cross country, golf and tennis. Next fall should include the first sporting events at Dalton State in many years, with men’s basketball returning after nearly three decades.
Swimming in medals
Dalton's swimming program has long been one of the strongest in Northwest Georgia, and the Cats had a record day at the Class A-4A state swimming meet in February.
Junior individual standout Taylor Dale won a pair of events — the 100-yard backstroke in 48.84 seconds and the 100 butterfly in 48.55 seconds, which set a new GHSA state record for the event — and he teamed with Pierson Scarborough, Omar Faraq and Wil Cushman to win the 200 medley relay. Scarborough also won an individual title in the 100 breaststroke. It was perhaps the strongest year in swimming for the area with four state titles, Dale winning a 200-yard backstroke national title and Ethan Young setting a new national age-group record in the 200 backstroke in the fall.
First of three?
When Dalton High’s Sidney Wheeler blazed through the Class 3A ranks in the 182-pound weight class, he did it while overshadowed by nearby wrestling powerhouses and slotted seniors ready to end on a good note. After Wheeler won the Area 7-3A championship, he finished second in the West Sectionals to advance to state.
Then came his storybook come-from-behind 18-12 state championship victory against West Laurens’ Demetrius Green. At one point, the Catamount trailed 9-3.
In the quarterfinals, it was much of the same.
He faced Allatoona’s Cody Webb, who Wheeler beat for the area title, and fell behind in the closing seconds before pinning his rival with just seconds remaining.
Just a sophomore when he won the title, he made it clear his goal is to leave a three-time state champion, and he’s currently entrenched on the road to No. 2 right now.
The area has been blessed with state champions — both team and individuals — throughout the history of sports in Whitfield and Murray counties. But the rarity is something to always celebrate, and Dalton was doubly blessed in the spring of this year.
Lady Cats golfer Brendie Rockholt and track star Susan Meinders both claimed state titles within weeks of each other.
Meinders, who was a standout in several events, won the Class 3A 300 hurdles at the state meet in Albany, finishing 18-hundreths of a second ahead of the competition with a time of 44.21. A couple of weeks later, Rockholt brought home the state title after shooting a 6-over-par 78 at Applewood Golf Course near Augusta.
Rockholt also won the region title at Indian Trace with a 7-over 79, while Rockholt was involved in five events for the track team.
Dalton and Southeast Whitfield each are known for boys soccer and making it to the quarterfinals of the state playoffs was an expectation. When Northwest Whitfield and North Murray joined them in their respective classes, it became a story.
The Class 4A Bruins became a dangerous traveling band, beating Flowery Branch 1-0 in the first round for the program’s first postseason victory since 2007, and then beat Houston County in penalty kicks to advance to the quarterfinals. The Class 2A Mountaineers — fresh off capturing the Region 7-2A title, the first for the school — won a pair of close matches, 2-1 versus Dawson County and 1-0 against Toombs County. Dalton and Southeast, with three combined appearances in the state-title match, rolled through the first two rounds by a combined score of 18-4.
Those four teams making the state playoffs marked the most for the Whitfield-Murray counties area.
An NFL visit
It wasn’t the first time the Atlanta Falcons and Tennessee Titans practiced together.
It was the first time here.
The two NFL franchises had practiced together twice before, in Chattanooga in 1997 and in Nashville in 2004, and the newest Whitfield County high school became another middle ground to offer fans a treat.
Coahulla Creek’s football stadium, which at the time hadn’t staged a real football game yet, became the home to both the Falcons and Tennessee Titans for an entire day of team-on-team scrimmages. Whether it was the Falcons’ offense versus the Titans’ defense, or vice versa, fans packed the Varnell bleachers and local high school football players crowded the fences to watch the professional athletes show off their talents in close range. More than 100 high school football players from Coahulla Creek, Northwest Whitfield and Southeast Whitfield flocked to the site to watch.
Just making it to Columbus wasn’t good enough. Not after having already made it twice before.
The Northwest Whitfield softball team sent its senior class out in style with the Class 4A state championship, the first fast-pitch softball state title in program history. Behind the rocket arm of senior ace Emily Boyd, and the timely hitting throughout the lineup, the Lady Bruins went 12-0 from the start of the Region 7-4A tournament all the way through Bayli Cruse’s walk-off, title-winning homerun in the 2-1 extra-innings finale.
After finishing fourth at state in 2011, and third in 2009, it was title-or-bust time.
After Shane Ramsey resigned and soon after took the head coach job for Dalton baseball, Jason Brooker took charge as the new leader for Northwest softball. The Lady Bruins posted a 35-3 overall record and went undefeated in region play. They spent much of the year in the top spot of Ga.PrepCountry.com’s Class 4A coaches poll.
Raiding the semifinals
Softball wasn’t the only sport where a local team became a contender for a state title.
Southeast Whitfield’s volleyball team pushed all the way to the Class 4A semifinals, finally pushing past the second round of the state playoffs after three years of tripping up at that point. The Lady Raiders were led by The Daily Citizen’s 2012 All-Area Player of the Year, setter Hannah Graham, and the 2011 Player of the Year, outside hitter Megan Collins.
Along with libero McKayla Burse, the three seniors took coach Jake Dickey’s squad farther than any Lady Raiders volleyball team had been before. Despite a loss in the semifinals to Sandy Creek, it was a milestone season for a program and fanbase that became a staple of Southeast athletics.
At the midpoint of the high school football season, the Dalton program appeared to be on the verge of a bigger cliff than our national economy is currently approaching. The Cats, one of the winningest programs in the nation, were 2-3 having lost to Calhoun, Ridgeland and Cass — a team Dalton had never previously lost to in the history of the program.
In addition, the team's starting fullback had been arrested at school on drug charges, and the team's defense seemingly couldn't stop anyone.
Just when it was apparent that everyone was looking to write off the Cats, the team rallied around each other and produced one of the biggest turnarounds in recent memory.
Following back-to-back losses to Cass and Ridgeland, Dalton beat rivals Northwest at home to start a six-game winning streak. The run included a Region 7-4A play-in spanking of Pickens at home to advance to the playoffs and a 17-14 win on the road over Carver-Atlanta in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs. Dalton's season came to an end on the road at Sandy Creek in the second round. The Patriots went on to claim the state title, winning over Ridgeland.
Changes began at Southeast last December when principal Karey Williams was named as the school's new leader. Within three month, Williams had told football coach David Crane and his wife — girls basketball coach Elizabeth Crane — their coaching contracts would not be renewed. By the time the new school year had begun in August, plenty of other dominoes had fallen.
Athletic director Scott Ramsey resigned and took similar position in Fannin County. Out of the 17 varsity sports the school plays, Southeast now has new head coaches in 12 of them. Only Jake Dickey (boys basketball, volleyball), Carrie Bishop (girls cross country), Michael Herndon (wrestling) and Brad Lofton (baseball) returned for this year in the same positions they were in last year.
Among the bigger hirers for the school were Sean Gray (football), Kelly Barton (softball) and Michael Durham (girls basketball).
Best of the rest
Other top stories from 2012: GHSA splits Class A schools into Public/Private divisions. ... Whitfield County native Steve Prohm succeeds as Murray State basketball coach. ... Christian Heritage girls basketball standout Maggie Peeples hits the 2,000-point mark. ... Dalton boys and girls basketball teams both claim subregion titles. ... North Murray boys basketball reaches state tournament for the first time. ... CHS girls basketball reaches GISA state semifinals. ... Dr. David Witherow announces his 1,000th athletic contest. ... Ringgold assistant coach David Gann replaces Larry Cornelius at North Murray. ... Morris Innovative debuts varsity athletics with boys soccer. ... Dalton Rotary Invitational track and field meet renamed the Ronnie McClurg Invitational. ... The Harlem Globetrotters visited Dalton and competed in the trade center. ... Woodlawn/Bagley archery programs win more state titles. ... GHSA announces new heat policy which changes football preparation in the wake of several heat-related deaths. ... Ryan Long takes over the Coahulla Creek girls basketball program. ... North Murray and Christian Heritage boys and Dalton’s girls win region golf titles. ... Longtime Dalton Golf and Country Club professional Lowell Fritz inducted into the state golf hall of fame. ... Coahulla Creek baseball makes the Class 2A state playoffs in its first season. ... Northwest freshman pitcher Seth Pierce is named the baseball player of the year. ... Dalton’s Chandler McKinney and Tristen Harrell earn basketball player of the year honors. ... Northwest softball coach Shane Ramsey steps down as head coach and is later named the head baseball coach at Dalton. ... Georgia Tech Coaches Caravan visits The Farm. ... North Murray and Southeast boys soccer win region titles. ... Former Northwest football standout Nermin Delic transfers from Kentucky to Georgia State. ... Dalton athletics finish in the top 10 of the Director’s Cup standings. ... Taylor Dale swims at the U.S. Olympic trials. ... The Daily Citizen’s 7-on-7 football tournament returns for a second year with an expanded field of participating teams. ... Jason Jones takes over as the new promoter at North Georgia Speedway in Chatsworth. ... Carl Bouckaert, one of the founders and owners of Beaulieu Group, competes at the London Summer Olympics on the Belgian equestrian team. ... Christian Heritage installs the area’s first artificial turf stadium. ... Local racing legend Biddle Ridley dies at the age of 72. ... Anthony Moseley takes over for Chad Woodson as Christian Heritage’s boys basketball coach. ... Former pro football and pro baseball player Brian Jordan visits for a youth baseball camp. ... Dalton water polo club team launches inaugural season. ... Dalton Red Carpet Half Marathon returns for a second running. ... Dalton softball makes a surprising run in the region and state tournament. ... North Murray football starts season 3-0 under new coach. ... Taylor Dale wins national backstroke title. ... Four local volleyball teams win in first round of the state tournament. ... Carpet Capital 10-Miler celebrates its 25th anniversary. ... Dalton freshman Ethan young sets the national 200 backstroke age record. ... Coahulla Creek launches swimming program.