Best of 2002

High school sports is almost a religion in Shelby County.

Football stadiums and gymnasiums are full across the county on Friday nights during football and throughout the week during basketball and volleyball seasons.

Proud parents and loyal fans brave the elements to watch players give it their all during baseball and softball and cross country meets.

In 2002, team was the key word in several team sports throughout the county, as state championships were won and others almost won.

In track and field, Vincent High School brought home a state championship under the direction of head coach Debbie Barnes and assistant Ted Gibson.

In volleyball, four county teams went to the state tournament &045; Oak Mountain, Pelham, Thompson and Briarwood.

Oak Mountain, under the direction of Valeria Hackett, fell just short of its quest for a state championship, losing in the finals in Class 6A.

In basketball, Calera, Vincent and Shelby County each had legitimate shots at a state title. Calera made the longest run, falling in the Class 2A finals at the Final Four at the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center. Shelby County and Vincent each lost in the regionals at Troy State University.

In baseball and softball, several teams in the county made runs, including Calera, Vincent, Pelham, Thompson and Montevallo.

At Pelham High School, the Panthers’ wrestling team took home a title under the direction of Bob Parker and behind the skills of Chris Adams and Adam Barbee, just to name a couple. At SCHS, wrestling found a new home as the Wildcats saw success in their first season.

As for cross country, Oak Mountain’s (and now Stanford’s) Scott Fuqua set records and won races throughout his high school career. We’ll talk more about him later.

In football, Fred Yancy’s Briarwood Lions made another run at the Class 5A state championship behind the legs of Tim Castille and the arm of Joe Craddock. The Lions lost to Homewood in the semifinals.

A new face at Chelsea High School erased all memories of a 2001 record of 0-10. Watt Parker led the Hornets into the second round of the Class 4A playoffs and an 8-4 record.

At SCHS, Geoff Walters and the Wildcats turned a few heads in in Class 4A before eventually falling in the state playoffs.

Ultimately, the success of a team can be tied to outstanding play of a few individuals. It can also be tied to outstanding leadership and emotion.

That’s what we looked for when picking the Shelby County Reporter’s &uot;Best of 2002&uot; in high school sports in the county.

From a crop of fine student athletes across the county, these are the cream. Unfortunately, there can only be one in each sport named Player of the Year. And in many cases, it was not an easy decision. So we will talk about some of those who made the choices more difficult.

So, without further ado, these are the Shelby County Reporter Players of the Year for 2002:

Boy’s Basketball

In boy’s basketball, Calera, under the direction of head coach Robert Burdette, continued its winning tradition.

The Eagles lost in the finals of the Class 2A Final Four in a nailbiter that went down to the wire.

A major reason for that success was the play of then-freshman George Drake.

Drake was named to the All-County team, the All-Area Tournament team and was named Most Valuable Player of the Southwest Region Tourna-ment.

Drake was named to the Final Four All-Tournament team and was tapped as an All-State player as a freshman.

Drake scored 589 points in 35 games and averaged 18 points per contest as well as 4 rebounds. He shot 70 percent from the charity stripe in leading the Eagles to a second place finish in Class 2A.

&uot;George improved as the year progressed,&uot; Burdette said of his young star. &uot;He played his best basketball when the playoffs rolled around.&uot;

Giving Drake a run for his money in 2002 were SCHS standouts Floyd Lilly and Eric Agee.

Girl’s Basketball

In a rare sweep, Calera had the Player of the Year in girl’s basketball in 2002 as well. The Lady Eagles, under the direction of head coach Scott Gafford, finished the 2001-02 season with a 20-6 mark and a trip to the state playoffs. Shanavia Dowdell played a

major role in the Lady Eagles’ success.

&uot;Shanavia is a great player,&uot; Gafford said. &uot;For her to be as young as she is, she will only get better as the years go by.&uot;

Dowdell was just an eighth grader a year ago. She averaged an impressive 30 points per game as to go along with 13 rebounds. Dowdell shot 63 percent from the floor and 60 percent from the free throw line.

The youngster also had 69 blocked shots on the year in 26 games (2.7 blocks per game).

Dowdell was named to the All-County team as well as the All-State team and was a finalist for Alabama’s Class 2A Player of the Year.

Cross Country

There’s no argument who the best cross country runner in the county was last year. In fact, there may be no argument who the best in the state and possibly the nation was. The only argument might have been among colleges to see who would land him.

That argument was settled when he signed with Stanford.

Scott Fuqua of Oak Mountain High School set five state records in four years at Oak Mountain High School. In 2002, Fuqua set state records in the 3200M en route to a state championship in indoor track and in the 3200M en route to a state championship in outdoor track. He was a Wendy’s Heisman Award nominee and won a state championship in cross country as did OMHS. He was also named to the All-State team.

Fuqua was named to the Foot Locker All-South team in the seeded race division and was named the Birmingham News All-Metro Cross Country Runner of the Year.

In addition, Fuqua won state championships in 1600M (indoor), the 4×400 (indoor), the 1600M (outdoor) and the 800M (outdoor).

But the list goes on.

Fuqua was named the 2002 Gatorade Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year, was named to the All-State Outdoor Track Team, was selected to the National Scholastic High School Indoor All-American Team and won a national championship in the 5000M at the National Scholastic Indoor Championships. He was also an honorable mention to the Nike Cross Country All-American team. Fuqua was also dubbed the MVP of the 5A Division at the Indoor State Track Championships.

Fuqua is the only runner in Alabama to break 9:00 minutes for a 3200M race (8:59.5, March 23, 2002, Nokia Sugar Bowl Classic).

On top of all the awards, Fuqua ranked 31st out of 290 in his graduating class and made a 28 on the ACT.


In volleyball, Pelham High School made it to the Elite 8 under the leadership of head coach Tammy Richardson.

A large part of Pelham’s success was due to Senior and AHSAA all-star Jenny Fennell.

Fennell set state records for most assists in a single match, with 74, and most assists in a season, with 1,578.

She broke the match-assist record in a five-game match against Muscle Shoals earlier in the year.

Fennell’s assists accounted for more than half of Pelham’s state record 1,980 team assists for a single season.

She finished her record-breaking career with the Panthers as the second all-time assist leader with 2,422.

Fennell passed former Pelham volleyball star Sarah Rickertson’s mark of 2,268 assists during the 6A, Region B tournament at Pelham.

Fennell is also in the top five for service aces with 124 single season and 256 career.

Fennell and all-star teammate Erin Shanks helped Pelham set a new state record with 2,170 team kills in one season. They did so in three fewer games than the previous mark of 2,044, set by the Panthers in 1995.

Fennell started for Pelham her junior and senior years.


Chris Adams of Pelham High School as a freshman won third place in the state wrestling championships. That turned out to be a sign of the times as the PHS graduate won two state championships and finished fourth place in the following three years.

In 2002, Adams won the state title in the 130-pound division. Adams won 35 in-state matches and lost none as a senior. Overall he had 47 wins and only three losses.

As a junior, Adams won the state title in the 125-pound division and finished fourth in the state in that division as a sophomore.

&uot;Chris was a team leader and a guy who worked hard at practice and on the mat,&uot; PHS wrestling coach Bob Parker said. &uot;He also worked hard outside of the sport in every aspect of his life and still does. He set a lot of goals for this year’s team to try to meet and is a fine young man. I hate we lost him to graduation.&uot;

Also in the running was Pelham’s Adam Barbee.


In Softball, Thompson High School made a run at the state crown behind the arm of pitcher Jennifer McClure.

The senior finished the year with 33 wins, placing her fifth on the AHSAA all-time list for most wins in a single season. McClure also finished third on the single season strikeout list with 497.


0.42 ERA and 14 shutouts in 2001 placed her sixth and twelfth, respectively, on the all-time lists.

She was selected as a pitcher for the North All-Star team to compete at the Alabama All-Star Sports Week in Montgomery.

McClure was one of the early signees of a UAB recruiting class that was ranked among the top 20 in the nation by School Sports Magazine.


In baseball, Pelham High School catcher Trey Lavender led his team to the Class 6A State Finals.

The Panthers, coached by Mike O’berry finished the year in second place after being defeated by Daphne.

Lavender, who was recruited by Wallace State was also selected in this year’s Major League Baseball draft.

The Cincinnati Reds selected Lavender in the 17th round.


Eight teams made it to the playoffs in 2002 in football, including Briarwood, who lost to Homewood in the semifinals of the Class 5A playoffs.

Leading the way for the Lions offensively was Tim Castille, the Shelby County Reporter 2002 Football Player of the Year.

Castille, a senior, is the only player in state history to be named to the All-State team five times. Castille made the cut as an eighth grader, freshman, sophomore, junior and senior.

During his career at Briarwood, Castille scored 102 touchdowns (fourth in the state) and converted 4 two-point conversions for a total of 620 points (third in the state).

Castille scored 55 of those touchdowns on the ground and rushed for 3,626 on 519 attempts during his career (7.0 average per carry). In 2002, Castille rushed for 875 yards and nine touchdowns on 156 attempts.

Castille in 2002 also caught 22 passes for 308 yards (14 yards per catch) and one touchdown. In his career he caught 243 passes for an amazing 4,122 yards (17 yards per catch) and 41 touchdowns.

The future Alabama Crimson Tider also returned 50 punts for 712 yards (14.2 yards per return) and four touchdowns in his five year career. He also returned 41 kickoffs for 1,084 yards (26.4 per return) and two touchdowns.

In 2002, Castille returned four punts for 39 yards (9.6 yards per return) and eight kickoffs for 197 yards (24.6 per return).

Castille holds the state record for All Purpose Yards in a Career with 9,544.

Briarwood recorded 61 wins during Castille’s career &045; a state record.

Castille had eight three-touchdown games during his career (one in 2002), five four-touchdown games (four in 2001) and one five-touchdown game (in 2000).

The standout also recorded 17 100-plus yard games in rushing and 14 100-plus yard games in receiving during his career.

He accomplished that feat in rushing four times in 2002 and once in receiving. He has had 48 100-yard all-purpose games in his career, including six in 2002.

Castille has recorded 17 touchdowns over 50 yards during his career (one in 2002) and is tied with three others for a state record for longest pass reception (99 yards).

Castille accomplished all of his numbers in 2002 while missing three and a half games due to a knee injury.

Giving Castille a run for his money were teammates Joe Craddock and David Eady, as well as Montevallo’s D.J. Barnes, Thompson’s Brett Rushing and Casey Pnazek, Pelham’s Chris Vines and Montez Billings, and Coosa Valley’s Casey Hall.

Boys Coach

The Shelby County Reporter Boys Coach of the Year is none other than Chelsea’s Watt Parker.

In his first season as head coach, Parker took virtually the same team from 2001 and went from a winless 0-10 season to 8-4 and the second round of the Class 4A playoffs.

The playoff loss came to North Jackson, who eventually lost in the state championship, 14-0.

Also in the running for Boys Coach of the Year were SCHS’ Geoff Walters, Jim Stomps of Coosa Valley Academy and Fred Yancy of Briarwood.

Girls Coach

Leading the Oak Mountain High School Eagles to the state championship game in volleyball in 2002, Valeria Hackett is the 2002 Girls Coach of the Year.

Giving Hackett a run for her money were Montevallo’s Emmalee Palla, Thompson’s Emily Sharp and Pelham’s Tammy Richardson.

Athlete of the Year

The Shelby County Reporter Athlete of the Year for 2002 is Tim Castille (with Scott Fuqua a close second)