Hargis: Preps had big wins, odd exits

Hargis: Preps had big wins, odd exits

May 31st, 2013 by Stephen Hargis in Sports - Columns

Now that the last state tournament has been held, let's take a quick glance back at the just completed high school season, before we turn our attention toward the next wave of college prospects or championship contenders in the area.

Ridgeland dominated prep football news as the Panthers overcame potential early-season distractions to reach the Class AAAA state-title game for the first time in program history.

The Panthers' first hurdle to clear came after the Freedom From Religion group publicly questioned the team's practice of having coaches lead prayer and holding team meetings at local churches. After a close season-opening loss to eventual AA state runner-up Calhoun, the Panthers reeled off 13 straight wins to reach the Georgia Dome thanks largely to running back Darrell Bridges, who set a school record with 2,430 yards and 39 touchdowns, and two-way star Vonn Bell. A five-star recruit as a defensive back, the All-American Bell remained in the news until national signing day when he surprised a packed auditorium by choosing Ohio State over Tennessee and Alabama.

The coaching carousel typically brings the oddest news each year, and that even was a bit stranger than usual. The biggest of the changes came just last week when Brainerd principal Uras Agee informed Robert High he no longer would be the school's boys' basketball coach after 37 seasons, 1,001 victories and three state championships.

No other school has more experience to replace than Brainerd, where girls' basketball coach Carolyn Jackson retired after 40 years, 965 wins and the program's only state title. Also, longtime boys' track coach Mary Sparn, who won two state titles, and girls' track coach Eddie Lambert also were let go recently by the school.

And It'll take some getting used to not seeing Vic Grider walking the South Pittsburg football sideline, Susan Crownover no longer coaching GPS's basketball program and Norma Nelson not calling the shots for Ooltewah softball. Each of those three stayed at those programs for numerous years, with Grider and Crownover winning multiple state titles and Nelson winning one as well.

Legendary softball coach Clifford Kirk came out of a four-month retirement to take over Sale Creek's program. After winning his eighth state title with Soddy-Daisy, Kirk guided Sale Creek to a state sectional, but collapsed on the field during the region championship game with a heart attack and is still recovering.

And while Cleveland wrestling, Baylor softball and girls' tennis, Chattanooga Christian girls' tennis, Dalton boys' soccer and Gordon Lee softball, girls' basketball and wrestling teams all won state titles, our city also lost its host role for the girls' state soccer tournament. Chattanooga once hosted the Spring Fling, state wrestling tournament and girls' soccer, but each of those have been moved to the midstate.

Contact Stephen Hargis at shargis@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6293.