As a kid, I remember a year seemed like an eternity. Well, not anymore.
It seems like I blinked my eyes and 2011 is gone.
There were plenty of good stories in Columbia County this year.
The 2010-11 basketball season concluded with Greenbrier making the state playoffs and two of their seniors moving on to play at the collegiate level – Chad Waddell at Georgia Southern and Justin Cofer at Erskine.
Waddell was the Eric Marshall Award Winner as the county player of the year. He and Cofer helped the ’Pack win 19 games for head coach Casey Heckathorn.
Also, the Grovetown girls team had a tremendous year. The season ended with an early exit in the state playoffs, but there was still plenty to be happy about. The team finished 25-3 and spent much of the year ranked in the state’s Top 5. Senior Ebony Wells signed to play at Florida State, while freshman point guard Malia Kency turned heads in college recruiting circles with her stellar play.
In baseball, Columbia County once again produced some terrific teams. Greenbrier made a great postseason run thanks to the emergence of pitchers Austin Robinson and Jordan Hunt.
Just a sophomore a year ago, Robinson has a chance to be a special player for the ’Pack. Everyone figured the ’Pack would hit (and they did), but the team really hit its stride late in the season as Robinson and Hunt came on strong.
The 2011 football season just concluded, with Lakeside earning plenty of post-season honors. The Panthers boasted the county coach of the year, lineman of the year and player of the year. Not bad for a team that started the season 1-4.
Grovetown struggled down the stretch, but the Warriors once again had a solid season under Rodney Holder and return first team all-county running back Jamal Cummings next season.
Also, several county players will get a chance to play at the next level. Come signing day we will be watching to see where county player of the year Mark Weidenaar goes. All-county tight end Michael Clifton also will be a player to keep an eye on. He made a smooth transition to a new position this year and will definitely get the chance to play on Saturdays.
Greenbrier safety Thomas Brown also will be busy the next few weeks deciding where he will sign. Brown might get a chance to play in a BCS Conference.
Those might be the top three to watch, but as many as a dozen Columbia County players could get a chance to play at the next level.
In addition to the major three sports, there were several stories involving former area athletes andw country music.
Ben Hayslip, the former Evans Baseball star, was a first team all-state selection back in 1988 as he helped guide the Knights to their first state title.
The last couple of years have been amazing for Hayslip. After playing college ball at Georgia Southern, he moved to Nashville to be a songwriter. Over the years he has had some success, but the last two years have been sensational, including three consecutive No. 1 hits in the summer of 2010.
This year, Hayslip was named the ASCAP Country Music Songwriter of the Year. He currently has a song in the Top 10 with Luke Bryan’s I Don’t Want This Night to End.
Eric Lee Beddingfield played football at Lakeside and Georgia Southern, and like Hayslip he bolted Statesboro for Nashville.
Beddingfield is now a singer and songwriter. While he has not had the commercial success of Hayslip, he has emerged as an up-and-coming talent. He was invited to perform his single, The Gospel According to Jones, at the Grand Ole Opry for Country Music Legend George Jones’ 80th birthday party. The song was also named one of the top songs of 2011 by Billboard Magazine, and Beddingfield was listed as a rising star by the publication.
Lakeside graduates Dave Haywood and Charles Kelley form two-thirds of the incredibly successful Lady Antebellum.
Lady A is arguably the biggest group in music right now and certainly tops the list of country music groups. They performed for their hometown as they opened the new Lady Antebellum Pavilion at Evans Towne Center Park. That night, their alma mater beat arch rival Evans 17-0 and Lady Antebellum’s No. 1 hit, We Own the Night, blared from the PA system after the game.
I am not sure what the biggest sports story in Columbia County was for 2011, but I would venture a guess that the three country music stories involving former county athletes would be on just about everyone’s top 10.