It was a unique year for high school sports in the area, with many of the biggest stories taking place off the playing surfaces. Here are my 10 most memorable stories from 2011 involving area prep sports.
In early October, the TSSAA sent two investigators to meet with Signal Mountain administrators and the next day declared Eagles senior fullback and linebacker Tim McClendon ineligible. Investigators ruled that while McClendon, who had transferred from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe last summer and started in all seven games to that point, had changed residency, he had not moved into Signal Mountain's zone.
Two weeks later in Murfreesboro, the TSSAA's Board of Control heard Signal Mountain's appeal, which lasted more than two hours. Ultimately, the TSSAA's ruling was upheld and Signal Mountain was forced to vacate the six wins in which McClendon participated.
The Eagles, who had won the Class 2A state title the previous season, were ranked No. 3 in the state and were one of the favorites in 4A with a 6-1 overall record and a 3-0 District 7-AA mark before he ruling. While they rallied to win their last two games and officially finish 2-2 overall, 2-0 in the district, they did not qualify for the postseason.
One week after the TSSAA's final decision was handed down, the Georgia High School Association announced it was investigating Dalton for reportedly using an ineligible player. The GHSA ruled that Catamounts senior linebacker Corey Smith, who played at Southeast Whitfield the previous three seasons before transferring, had not properly changed addresses.
The GHSA ruled Dalton had to forfeit the four wins it had earned with Smith in the lineup, taking the Catamounts' record from 6-2 to 2-6 overall. And while the Catamounts did recover to earn a spot in the postseason, the forfeits wound up snapping the school's streak of 51 consecutive seasons with a winning record, as it officially ended 4-7.
Upon surveying the damage, Ringgold baseball coach Brent Tucker said at the time, "The football fieldhouse is gone. So is the wrestling building and ROTC building. There is no field, no light poles, dugouts or stands. The football scoreboard is ripped in half."
The baseball facilities at Lookout Valley, Ooltewah and Sequatchie County also were hit hard by storms, and countless area athletes' homes were destroyed or damaged.
But the tornadoes also brought out the best in people, as athletes from Bradley Central, Cleveland, Walker Valley, Lookout Valley, Sequatchie County, Heritage, Ringgold and other schools worked together to help clean up debris or carry water or supplies to victims of the storms.
Four-time defending champ Buford was nationally ranked and rallied for 14 points in the final 1:12 of regulation to force overtime. But on the first play of overtime, Calhoun's Hunter Knight's hit on Andre Johnson forced a fumble and Yellow Jackets teammate Heath Everett recovered. Without hesitating, Calhoun coach Hal Lamb sent in All-America kicker Adam Griffith, and the Alabama commitment booted a 32-yard game-winning field goal, handing Buford its first loss in 28 games and capping the Yellow Jackets' 15-0 season.
What will forever stick out in my mind was how his parents and family dealt with his passing. As shock continued to grip his family and friends, those closest to Kainen said their Christian faith, along with the way the community wrapped its arms around them, helped temper the pain of his death.
Bledsoe County's football team rallied around their fallen teammate, winning the District 7-AA championship for a third straight season and winning 10 games for the first time in more than 15 years.
A four-year starter, Rangel said a friend gave him a Nintendo DS game and asked him to "hold it." The next day, he was called into an assistant principal's office and asked if he had it. He said yes. It turned out the game was stolen. He was arrested and charged with theft by receiving, a Class A misdemeanor. That charge was dropped after Rangel performed community service, but it triggered the involvement of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement because Rangel was in the country illegally.
He arrived with his parents and older brother when Bernabe was 6, and he began to attend Dalton schools. He hadn't been back to Mexico since, but in mid-May, three days before his 19th birthday, he was sent to live with relatives there.
After earning a first-round bye at the 2011 state tourney, Duncan won two matches by pin and then claimed the 160-pound title with a decision. His first Division II title came in the 119-pound division and he followed that with crowns in the 135, 140 and 152 weight classes and finished with a career record of 206-20.
Shortly after the prep football season ended earlier this month, Ralph Potter resigned after five years at Brentwood Academy to return to McCallie to coach football at his alma mater. Potter spent 10 years as the Blue Tornado coach, leading the program to its only state title in 2001 as well as a Division II-AA runner-up finish in 2006. In his five years at BA, the 48-year-old Potter guided the Eagles to a 46-17 record and two state-runner-up finishes, while during his absence McCallie never won more than six games in a season.
Nashville's Ensworth, which had lost to Baylor in three previous matches earlier in the year, won the Division II-AA title by two strokes at Willowbrook Golf Club in Manchester. It was the first time a Baylor girls' team had lost in a golf state tournament since 1994.
Cleveland finished just 2.5 points ahead of second-place Bradley, which finished 2.5 points ahead of third-place Soddy-Daisy. The Blue Raiders failed to qualify for the state duals and had lost to Soddy-Daisy four times during the season but qualified 13 wrestlers for the state tournament and 11 of those won medals, including two champions. After losing its first two semifinal matches, Cleveland then reeled off 38 wins in its next 41 matches.
Brenna Nation pitched a six-hitter with seven strikeouts in the title game. Nation, who had 145 career wins, and six other seniors finished their careers with two GHSA titles and two runner-up finishes.