It was a huge sports year in Columbia County. We saw teams and individuals capture state crowns in an assortment of sports.
A county product grabbed the headlines as a member of the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team. And there were some classic duels between county teams throughout the year.
To narrow down all of the incredible stories to just 15 is tough, but that is the task that I, along with Jonathan Heeter, attempt to do as 2004 comes to a close. So beginning with No. 15 all the way to the top spot, these are my top moments of the past 12 months.
Savannah Christian Raider catcher Joe Sutton tags Harlem's Mike Morris out at home during the state finals. Harlem made it to the playoffs with only 11 players.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
15. Harlem's baseball team making the playoffs with just 11 players:
The Bulldogs have a terrific baseball tradition, so normally a state playoff appearance would not be that big a deal. Also, all four county public schools made the playoffs. However, Harlem's accomplishment stood out. While most teams have anywhere from 18 to 24 players, Harlem managed its state playoff run with only 11 players. I should not be surprised that Jimmie Lewis led the shorthanded Dogs to the playoffs. If any coach could do it, Lewis was the man for the job.
14. Evans' football back in the playoffs:
After struggling with Class AAAAA opponents for a few years, the Knights were put back in Class AAAA through realignment. The move suited the Knights just fine. Evans got off to a hot start and despite struggling down the stretch, they managed to earn a state playoff berth for the first time in five years. They also beat all of the county's three other public-school teams along the way.
13. Rasheed Dunn/Tim Camp ink Division I football scholarships:
It was no surprise that Tim Camp signed to play football on the college level. He was a three-year standout at Harlem and he had the type of athleticism that college coaches drool over. However, he put a huge feather in his cap on signing day when he signed to play at the Air Force Academy. Rasheed Dunn's story is even more incredible. The 6-3, 270-pound lineman was being recruited by a few small schools, but in the span of two weeks he went from having Presbyterian telling him they did not have a scholarship for him to big-time programs Louisville and Iowa fighting over him. Iowa won out, and Dunn signed with the Hawkeyes.
12. Michael Newman's late-season performance led the 'Pack:
Columbia County has produced a number of highly regarded baseball players. Going into his senior season, Michael Newman was not regarded as highly as some other prospects in the area. That was before the 2004 season. From day one, Newman was the ace of the Wolfpack's staff. He was dominant virtually every time he took the mound. His ability on the mound helped to lead the 'Pack to the state final four before they lost to the nation's No. 2 team, Columbus High School. He was 12-0 as a senior and 31-3 for his career.
11. Bradley Key gets drafted:
Greenbrier pitcher Michael Newman went 12-0 his senior year. Newman's performance is Brown's pick for the 12th best sports moment of 2004.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Actually the fact that Key was drafted is not the big story here. After all, Key had a monster junior season at USC-Aiken, hitting .388 with 12 homers, 24 doubles and 62 RBI in just 219 at bats. Also, in my opinion, Key had one of the top five prep careers of any player to ever play in Columbia County. The big story is how well he performed in his first stint in pro ball. While playing for the Cincinnati Reds Rookie League Team in Billings, Montana, Key put together quite a season. He had an 18 game hitting streak early in his pro debut. During the streak, Key hit an eye popping .398. Cincinnati Reds management were surprised by his success, and their director of scouting deemed him a steal in the 48th round, saying Key had top 10 (rounds) talent.
10. Greenbrier golfers return after tragedy:
In one of the worst tragedies this area has ever seen, two Greenbrier golfers, Shane Williams and Daniel Hall, were killed in a one-car accident as a group of Greenbrier players were en route to a golf match in Lincolnton. Two other players in the car, Matthew and Michael Barman, survived the crash that took the lives of two of their closest friends. Despite their injuries and understandable emotional affects, the two returned to play with the 'Pack before the season was over.
9. Lakeside and Green-brier make strong showing in Director's Cup:
The Director's Cup is an award teams fight for throughout the year. Schools are awarded points based on their finish in each sport. Of the 82 schools in AAAA, both Greenbrier and Lakeside proved to be among the very best. The Pack program finished seventh in the state with Lakeside at No. 8. Many of the schools ranked ahead of Greenbrier and Lakeside are private. This says a lot about athletic directors Mickey Derrick and Randy Hill. People see them as football coaches only. So when the football teams struggle, fans are quick to blame Derrick and Hill. Well, keep in mind the two men oversaw two of the premiere athletic programs in the state last season.
8. Tyler Warren captures cross country crown:
Cross country long has been a sport dominated by private schools - that is, until a few weeks ago when Greenbrier runner Tyler Warren held off Marist's Pete Zimmerman to capture the AAAA state title. Warren, who was ranked No. 1 in the state all season, finished with a time of 16:10.11. Warren now will gear up for track this spring, when he will try to claim titles in the 1600 and 3200 meters.
7. Terry Holder is back in the coaching ranks:
This story could have been higher on the list had he returned to Columbia County. The legendary coach, who led Evans and Greenbrier to eight state baseball championships in just 12 seasons, had the itch to get back into coaching and took a job in Thomson. Holder finished his career as the all-time winningest baseball coach in Georgia high school history, with more than 500 wins. He also led Greenbrier to several state playoff appearances in football. I began hearing rumors that he wanted to coach again, and it did not take long for someone to gobble him up. Thomson jumped at the chance to bring Holder on board. This season he served as the middle school's strength and conditioning coach and the junior varsity football coach, and he assisted with the varsity program as well. I played for Holder, and I can attest kids in Thomson will benefit from Holder's decision to coach again.
6. Augusta Christian football makes ninth straight playoff appearance:
The Lions have yet to capture that elusive state title in football, but they have built quite a nice tradition. Coach Bruce Lane has picked up where Steve Price left off. The two coaches have combined to lead the Lions to the state playoffs for nine consecutive seasons. Whether they are playing in Georgia, South Carolina or anywhere else, that is a major accomplishment. They have a lot of young talent, so the post-season run is not likely to end any time soon.
5. Nine is a magic number for Greenbrier as well:
I must admit I did not realize that Greenbrier's cross country team had captured nine consecutive region titles. When I heard this for the first time, I thought the person telling me was confused. Surely they meant softball. I knew that Greenbrier had won the fastpitch softball region crown for nine straight years, but softball and cross country? That's amazing.
4. Evans moves back to AAAA:
For several years, fans in the county were forced to watch Evans play teams such as Stephenson and Lovejoy rather than Lakeside and Harlem. Through reclassification, the Knights were banished to AAAAA. One problem: there were no other area teams in AAAAA. Therefore, Evans was forced to travel a couple of hours for virtually every road game, not to mention how much the lack of rivalry games cost the Knights financially. In 2004 Evans was back in AAAA, meaning not only would Evans play Greenbrier and Lakeside, but they would be region games. This move will only add to the rivalries we have in Columbia County.
3. The Madebach sisters lead ACS:
Rebekah and Sarah Madebach closed out their prep careers at Augusta Christian as two of the most highly decorated athletes to ever play sports in Columbia County. Their list of accomplishments is a never-ending string of region and state titles, mixed with school, region and state records. Well, the duo finished in style by leading ACS to the state title in track and field. Individually, Rebekah claimed the 800 meter and 3200 meter championship, while Sarah was the state's best in the 1600.
2. Glover and the 'Pack shine in 2004:
I combined two separate categories for this one. And I really considered this one for the top spot. The 2004 Greenbrier girls fastpitch softball team backed up their preseason No. 1 ranking by rolling through the state playoffs en route to the school's first-ever state softball championship. In the playoffs, Greenbrier dominated their opponents. Led by star pitcher Kristan Glover, Garrett Black's crew held their opponents scoreless for all 47 innings. Along the way Glover piled up some astonishing numbers, including 100 career victories and 1,000 career strikeouts. She was named the 2004 State Player of the Year and Black was named the state's top coach.
1. Hoffa represents the county and his country:
It is not often that a track and field athlete would garner the top spot in a year in review. However, when that athlete goes from being a big raw kid learning to shot put to a 2004 United States Olympian, exceptions need to be made. Former Lakeside and UGA standout Reese Hoffa got better and better during his college career and began to find his name among the best shot putters in the world. He became the first Columbia County product to represent the United States as an Olympian when he earned a spot in Athens, Greece, at the 2004 U.S. Track and Field Championship. Hoffa went through his high school and college career with little fanfare, but now he will be forever remembered by county sports fans as "Our Olympian."
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