Many teams and athletes left us with indelible memories from what was an outstanding 2003 for area high school sports.
It would be impossible to rank the top stories of the year, so here is a look at 10 (in no specific order) that stood out.About a month and a half ago, the Gainesville High School volleyball team finished what might be the greatest season in the history of local sports.
The top-8 nationally ranked Hurricanes went 32-0, captured the state's Class 4A state championship, placed an unprecedented four players (Michelle Stalbaum, Bailey Williams, Kelsey Bowers and Rose Burke) on the all-state first team, had coach Cindy Boulware named the state's overall coach of the year and Stalbaum named Miss Volleyball.
GHS wrestler Nick Davis achieved a similar level of perfection, going 45-0 and joining his father, Jeff, and older brother, John, as Florida's first father-son-son state champions.P.K. Yonge girls athletics had its basketball, softball and volleyball teams play for state championships. And one of its athletes, middle blocker Marcie Hampton, was named by some recruiting services as the top volleyball prospect in the nation (and according to Tampa Berkeley Prep coach Randy Dagostino, "Marcie is probably the greatest player in state history"). She missed most of the season with a torn ACL, but returned for the playoffs and signed with Florida in November.Buchholz and Oak Hall captured the Dodge Sunshine Cup Florida High School Athletic Association Floyd E. Lay All-Sports Awards as the best overall programs (based on a points system) in Class 5A and 1A, respectively. It was the second consecutive year the two Gainesville schools had taken one-third of those six awards. The Eagles also sprinted to a girls state track title.Hawthorne's 6-foot-5 quarterback/swingman Cornelius Ingram became the first area player to be invited to the Elite 11 Quarterback Camp in California. He also participated in several invite-only national basketball events. If he isn't the country's No. 1 athlete, I'd like to see the person who is.Former P.K. Yonge shortstop Ryne Malone chased the national career hits record (finishing second with a Florida best 265) and 6-6 Buchholz lefthander Andrew Miller was listed most of the year by Baseball America as the country's top prospect. After money demands scared off many major league teams, Miller was drafted with the first pick of the third round by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Now at the University of North Carolina, Miller should face off with Malone, a Florida State infielder, for at least a couple of years to come.The Buchholz softball team reached its third final four in four seasons, but even with future Miss Softball winner Stacey Stevens throwing a no-hitter, left Tampa's Ed Radice Sports Complex with a 1-0 semifinal loss to eventual 5A champ Tampa Chamberlain. The Bobcats, nationally ranked the last two years, stunningly didn't win a title in any of its three trips to the final four.With it becoming increasingly difficult for small public schools to compete with private and lab schools, Bronson's run to the softball final four, like its boys basketball team's trip to the state title game in 2002, was refreshing.Santa Fe baseball coach Todd Gray took a very young squad - one that had suffered through a rough midseason stretch that saw it 10-runned by GHS - to the state semifinals. It was Gray's third straight trip to the final four (the first two came at P.K. Yonge).A couple of former area athletes became two of the best there are in their perspective professional sports. Former GHS and Miami Hurricanes tailback Clinton Portis earned the NFL's offensive rookie of the year award with the Denver Broncos and capped his second season with a berth in the Pro Bowl. Meanwhile, former Eastside basketball standout George Byrd immediately became one of the league's top blockers in his rookie season of Slamball. Playing for the Riders, Byrd was a 6-8 presence underneath and had a couple of the year's best dunks. If you haven't seen Slamball, check it out, you'll watch again.The state football championships returned to Gainesville and brought with them a familiar face in Union County, which seemingly had been in hibernation since winning 3A titles from 1994-96. The Tigers are awake now, and 2003 likely won't be the last that coach Buddy Nobles has his guys playing for the championship.
Some things I'd like to see happen in 2004:Change two dumb football rules:
First, allow kickoffs that reach the end zone to be returned. Let players, not referees, decide where a series should begin. Unnecessary touchbacks are for wimps.
Second, if a kicker misses a long field goal, don't put the ball on the 20. Keep it at the original line of scrimmage. Field goals don't serve as punts in college or pro football. Why should they in high school?Let's have some peace in the volleyball community. Games are for kids. Politics are for elections. Perhaps the best volleyball in the state is played in this area. Embrace that and end all the senseless in-fighting.In trips to Baton Rouge, La., in October and Lexington, Ky., last week, I was pleasantly surprised to see how much high school sports are televised in those states. A rainy Friday night in the Bayou featured two football games, and a Saturday afternoon in the Bluegrass brought a girls basketball game followed by a boys game.
Florida, for all of its high school talent, is pathetically apathetic when it comes to putting those athletes on the air. State championships in select sports are broadcast by Sunshine, local news offers short highlights and features, and there are occassional statewide specials, but that is it.
Sadly, the Florida High School Gridiron Report with Sean Alveshire did not return this year, and neither did the football game of the week. And "In the House" with James Bates, a man who (like Alveshire) realizes the importance and entertainment value of high school sports, was removed from the air waves.
And don't get me started on sports talk radio, where despite the efforts of folks like Mike Ridaught and Steve Berrey, high school athletics usually only get discussed in conjunction with the word "recruiting."
Often, the answer from those TV and radio mediums is "no one will watch or listen." My answer: How would you know?Everyone having a tremendous 2004.
John Patton is The Sun's high school sports editor. You can reach him by calling 374-5074 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.