Winning a state championship was not a requirement to become a finalist for the Scrappy Moore Coach of the Year award. But it certainly didn't hurt.
The six finalists for this year's award, to be given at tonight's Times Free Press Best of Preps banquet, are Ringgold's Robert Akins (football), Signal Mountain's Beverly Blackwell (track & field), Dalton's Matt Cheaves (soccer), McCallie's Greg Payne (baseball), Calhoun's Diane Smith (softball) and Cleveland's Jake Yost (wrestling).
The winner will be revealed tonight, where two-time Daytona 500 champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. will help honor the area's top athletes and coaches. Doors will open at 6 p.m. for the 6:30 dinner.
Akins led the Tigers to the postseason for only the third time in school history and guided Ringgold to its state-playoff win in the program's history. Ringgold finished second to Cartersville in Region 5-AAA before defeating North Hall, Cedar Grove and Central-Carrollton in the Class AAA playoffs.
Blackwell guided the Lady Eagles to the program's first state championship with a six-point win in the Class A/AA meet. After winning the state sectional, Signal Mountain had athletes qualify in all but one running event.
Cheaves' Catamounts finished the year 22-0-1, including a 2-0 win over Johnson-Gainesville in the Class AAAA state championship match. The team has now won 44 of its last 45 matches, the only blemish being a 2-2 tie against Kingsport Dobyns-Bennett in March.
Payne said from the start that he expected McCallie to make the Final Four at the state baseball tournament. The Blue Tornado delivered and got hot at the right time, winning the state title in Murfreesboro and giving McCallie its first state baseball title since 1976.
After coming close a couple of times Smith led the Lady Yellow Jackets to the program's first softball state championship. Calhoun went 33-6 despite playing as many as four freshmen. The team went undefeated in the Class AA postseason.
Despite replacing five starters, Yost, a former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga standout in his second season as a head coach, was just as successful as his first. His Blue Raiders repeated their 2012-13 accomplishment by winning both Division I dual and traditional state tournaments. They actually wrapped up the traditional title before the championship finals even started.
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.