For a second straight year, due to COVID-19 concerns, the annual Times Free Press Best of Preps banquet was a virtual event. However, the recognition for the Chattanooga area's athletes' and coaches' accomplishments from the past high school sports season was very real.
A total of 24 awards were presented during Thursday night's ceremony, ranging from players of the year in individual sports to accomplishments away from the athletic arena.
The Scrappy Moore Female Athlete of the Year was Calhoun softball star Lyndi Rae Davis. A University of Georgia signee, Davis was named the GHSA Class AAAAA player of the year after batting .611 with 14 home runs, 14 doubles and 40 RBIs last fall. A four-year starter, she was a key component of 119 wins, one state championship, a third-place finish and two other playoff teams during her career. She finished her career with a .526 batting average, 43 homers and 165 RBIs. The Lady Yellow Jackets won 21 games last season despite moving up two classes.
"I'm shocked more than anything to win this award, to be honest," Davis said. "It's a huge honor because I know how many great athletes there are in the area."
The Scrappy Moore Male Athlete of the Year was McCallie's Eric Rivers, a three-sport all-state star who proved to be one of the most versatile local athletes in many years. After helping the Blue Tornado football team win a second straight TSSAA Division II-AAA state championship by totaling more than 800 yards, he led the basketball team by averaging 17.5 points, 3.5 assists and 2.5 steals per game. The Memphis University football signee then helped McCallie's track and field team earn its first TSSAA state title when he won an individual championship in the triple jump and was part of the first-place 4x100 relay team. He also tied for second in the high jump and finished fourth in the state decathlon.
"I am honored and grateful to be selected as the best among the best," Rivers said. "To be able to play sports this year has been a blessing in itself. I appreciate all who have supported me and hope that you have enjoyed watching me play as much as I have enjoyed playing.
"I will continue to strive to make my family and the Chattanooga community proud. Thank you Best of Preps for the recognition."
McCallie cross country and track coach Mike Wood was named the Scrappy Moore Coach of the Year after guiding each of those programs to DII-AA state championships. That incredible feat occurred after Wood recovered from a massive heart attack he suffered in late December 2019. At the time, doctors feared Wood might need a heart transplant, but that turned out not to be necessary; after a year spent recovering, the veteran mentor returned to guide his teams to unforgettable seasons.
"Winning the Best of Preps coach of the year is an incredible honor because when I think of all the coaches across the different sports in Chattanooga, so many do a great job and have a great influence on the lives of young people," Wood said. "I think of the great coaches we have here at McCallie, too. I am amongst a great group here even on our own track staff. I have so much respect and high regard for our coaches. I feel like this is an award that goes out to all the coaches in the area, and in particular the great coaches here and the role models and impacts they have on all our athletes."
Other special honors included Marion County's Savannah Cooksey earning the John Franklin Academic Award, Howard coach James Talley being named the Sandy Sandlin Unselfish Sportsman, legendary coach Wayne Turner receiving the Guy Francis Award for Going the Extra Mile for kids and Red Bank senior Taylor Bono being presented the Bobby Davis Heart and Desire Award.
After scoring a perfect 36 on the ACT and finishing her high school academic career with a 4.0 GPA, Cooksey will be the first person from her high school to attend Harvard and the first from her family to go to traditional college. A captain of her soccer team and a two-time all-district forward, she had 25 goals and seven assists last season and already earned an associate degree from Chattanooga State in applied science and plans to study medicine.
Talley, a class of 2000 Howard graduate, returned to his alma mater vowing to help make a difference in the lives of the school's student-athletes. Whether that meant giving them a ride home after practice, checking on their grades or just lending an ear for kids who needed a sounding board, Talley has been far more than just a coach.
Turner, one of the most successful and respected coaches in the history of Chattanooga prep football, led Tyner's program for 30 years. That stability helped the Rams to 11 seasons of 10 or more wins, 16 region or district championships and 32 playoff victories. Tyner was the first Hamilton County public school to win a state championship, doing so in 1997, and the Rams finished as state runners-up in 1996 and 2017.
But just as lasting are the relationships he built with Tyner players, including Darmecus Rawls, who was a member of the 1997 title team and said of Turner: "His door was always open for former players or any of the kids at Tyner to come in and talk about anything or just visit, because he cares about the school as a whole. A lot of guys who play for him come from one-parent homes, so Coach T becomes like a parent in how he looks out for kids."
Bono tore a ligament in her left arm during a region softball semifinal this spring, an injury that should have caused her to miss the remainder of the season. However, knowing the team was already short-handed for players, the determined senior found a way to continue contributing. Unable to use her arm to either throw or bat, she moved to left field, where she wore a glove on her throwing hand and after any catch would have to take off the glove quickly to throw the ball back into the infield. At the plate, the right-handed batter switched to the left side of the box and bunted on each plate appearance, reaching base four times. In essence, she played the state tournament with one arm.
Times Free Press Best of Preps 2021 award winners
Red Etter Football Award: B.J. Harris (McCallie)
Neely-Merrill Volleyball Award: Elaine Redman (Baylor)
Robert High Boys’ Basketball Award: Aidan Hadaway (LaFayette)
Jackson-Lacy Girls’ Basketball Award: Raegyn Conley (Baylor)
Farr-Worsham Wrestling Award: Alex Whitworth (McCallie)
Wirt Gammon Sr. Baseball Award: Cooper Kinney (Baylor)
Buck Johnson Softball Award: Lyndi Rae Davis (Calhoun)
Steve George Boys’ Soccer Award: Gui Vivaldini (McCallie)
Best of Preps Girls’ Soccer Award: Jailyne Martinez (Northwest Whitfield)
John Phillips Boys’ Track Award: Michael May (McCallie)
LaQuisha Jackson Girls’ Track Award: Kara Wilson (Signal Mountain)
Jim Phifer Boys’ Golf Award: Sheldon McKnight (Baylor)
Brooke Pancake Girls’ Golf Award: Stephanie Xian (Baylor)
Mickey Haddock Boys’ Cross Country Award: Jack Cottrell (Chattanooga Christian)
Phoebe Wright Girls’ Cross Country Award: Mae Mae Powe (Baylor)
Guerry Boys’ Tennis Award: Andreas Sillaste (McCallie)
Bartlett Girls’ Tennis Award: Sunshine Finnell (Arts & Sciences)
Bobby Davis Heart & Desire Award: Taylor Bono (Red Bank)
Sandy Sandlin Unselfish Sportsman Award: James Talley (Howard)
Guy Francis Going the Extra Mile Award: Wayne Turner (Tyner)
John Franklin Academic Award: Savannah Cooksey (Marion County)
Scrappy Moore Male Athlete of the Year: Eric Rivers (McCallie)
Scrappy Moore Female Athlete of the Year: Lyndi Rae Davis (Calhoun)
Scrappy Moore Coach of the Year: Mike Wood (McCallie)
Read about the finalists here: