The top sports stories in the Wiregrass for 2020 center around shutdowns due to COVID-19, the passing of some legendary figures, state championships and individual accolades.
Without a doubt, it will be a year to remember for the many highs and lows experienced within the local sports community.
Before the coronavirus epidemic shut down the high school sports scene in mid-March, the Pike County boys basketball team won its first state championship in the sport by capturing the Class 3A crown, while Charles Henderson of Troy went unbeaten at 29-0 in securing the Class 5A state title and its second in three years in girls basketball.
Not long after spring sports cranked up on the high school level, COVID-19 caused the cancellation of play by the Alabama High School Athletics Association, which mandated a shutdown state-wide following games on March 17.
Barbour County High School took it a step further in late July when it was decided the program would not compete in football and basketball during the 2020-2021 school year.
Last serve: The Hardee’s Pro Classic women’s tennis tournament scheduled for the spring was cancelled due to COVID-19. It would have marked the 20th anniversary of the event at the Westgate Tennis Center in Dothan. In December, it was decided by City of Dothan officials not to pursue hosting the tournament in the coming years, instead shifting the focus to more youth and adult state and regional tournaments.
More events canceled: Other locally scheduled events that were wiped off due to coronavirus concerns included the Dothan Diamond Classic softball tournament, the Alabama State Games, the Downtown Dothan Hoops Classic and the Wiregrass Sports Hall of Fame and Troy University Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.
Playing on: The 71st Annual Press Thornton Future Masters junior golf tournament at the Dothan Country Club was held as scheduled in late June with Carter Loflin of Duluth, Ga., winning the overall championship of the 15-18 division. The Dothan Department of Leisure Services resumed its youth softball and baseball seasons in mid-June after having to postpone games in the spring due to COVID-19.
Prep champs: In addition to Pike County and Charles Henderson winning state basketball titles, Abbeville Christian Academy won the AISA Class A state volleyball crown, Pike Liberal Arts won the AISA Class AAA football championship and Providence Christian girls won the Class 3A cross country state title. Individually, Conner Patterson of Providence Christian won the Class 3A cross country title.
Trojans success: The Troy University women’s basketball team won the Sun Belt Conference regular season title, finishing 25-4 overall and 16-2 in the conference. However, the chance for an NCAA tournament appearance was wiped out when COVID-19 canceled the event.
Coming close: Runner-up finishes in state championship games included Barbour County boys in Class 2A basketball, Pike Liberal Arts boys in AISA Class AAA basketball, G.W. Long in Class 2A volleyball, Abbeville in Class 2A football and Abbeville Christian Academy in AISA Class A football.
ASWA awards: Daleville running back Jalen White was named the Class 2A Back of the Year by the Alabama Sports Writers Association, Pike County basketball player Andres Burney was named Class 3A Player of the Year, Charles Henderson girls basketball player Niaira Jones was named Class 5A Player of the Year, Abbeville football coach LaBrian Stewart was named Coach of the Year in Class 2A and Abbeville Christian Academy football coach Ashley Carlisle was named Coach of the Year in AISA.
Individual accolades: Former Dothan and Auburn University softball star Kasey Cooper was recognized as the top third baseman in college softball history by ESPN in a vote by fans. Former high school baseball coach Jim Robbins was elected to the Alabama Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Aaron Cherry of the Headland Bass Team was named on the Bassmaster High School All-America Fishing Team. Former Carroll baseball star Sam Judah was named the AUM Baseball Player of the Decade (2010-19). Mary Morgan Howell of Dothan finished runner-up in the Wakeboard World Championships. Former Providence Christian and Shorter University volleyball star Elizabeth Dowd was named Gulf South Conference second team All-Decade (2010-19).
Hall of Famers pass: Five members of the Wiregrass Sports Hall of Fame passed away: Warren Reynolds, a basketball star at Carver High of Dothan and Tuskegee University who went on to be a successful college coach; Doyle Kinsaul, a legendary basketball coach at Straughn High School; Hank Kennedy, a star athlete at Dothan High and later high school basketball and football coach; Ralph Black, a longtime play-by-play announcer for Troy University sports and legendary Troy quarterback Sim Byrd, who led Troy to the 1968 national championship.
Locals lost: Several well-known sports figures in the Dothan community passed away, including Dr. Press Thornton Jr., the president of the Press Thornton Future Masters junior golf tournament. Clayton Jordan, a longtime tennis instructor in Dothan who also spent 25 years in a variety of roles at Providence Christian, and Bill Lisenby, a longtime Dixie Youth baseball official and contributor to the Dothan Leisure Services, also passed away.
Notable coaching moves: Hall of Fame basketball coach Raymond White was let go at Carroll High after one season at the school. Dothan High offensive coordinator Tim Gillespie was fired from the position on the football team after screenshots of a Facebook post with his name attached appeared to make light of civil unrest in the country. Pate Harrison, who was placed on administrative leave at Elba in 2019 for an incident on the sidelines during a JV game which led to his resignation, was hired as the new head coach at Rehobeth. Jamie Riggs, one of the winningest football coaches in state history, resigned at Houston Academy after three seasons at the school. Dothan Wolves’ co-softball coaches Patricia Ball and Jessica Noble each took on new roles and Donny Bright was hired to take over the program. Ball left to become the softball coach at Pike Road High School, while Noble was elevated to athletics director for Dothan City Schools, replacing Stan Eldridge.
Hooray for Johnny: It was a big year for legendary basketball coach Johnny Oppert of Dothan. Wallace College, where he was the first athletics director, basketball and baseball coach, began construction on the Johnny Oppert Athletic Development Facility for the school’s baseball and softball teams. Oppert was also inducted into the Houston Academy Athletics Hall of Fame and the City of Dothan proclaimed Oct. 6 as Johnny Oppert Day.
A fresh start: Northside Methodist Academy ended its membership in the Alabama Independent Schools Association and joined the Alabama High School Athletic Association. The Knights went 5-6 in its first football season as an AHSAA member and went 11-9 in volleyball.
Taking over: Dothan native Alison Hall was hired as the new Dothan Department of Leisure Services director, taking the spot vacated following the retirement of Elston Jones.
Trading places: Former Charles Henderson girls basketball star Maori Davenport transferred from Rutgers University to the University of Georgia after playing her freshman season at the New Jersey school. She is sitting out this season per NCAA transfer rules.