Year in review: Teams win titles

Coosa Valley Academy claimed its first state title in girls' basketball following the Rebels' Alabama Independent Schools Association Class 1A championship in February. (Reporter Photo /Jon Goering)


Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two-part series. Part two will run Jan. 4.



Calera High School boys’ basketball coach Robert Burdette isn’t a big fan of calling timeouts during a basketball game. Burdette doesn’t get concerned when opponents make a run.
The veteran coach doesn’t need to when he has players like junior point guard Deondre Haynes on the floor. Haynes kept rival Shelby County at bay for the second time this season in the host Eagles’ 83-79 win over the Wildcats in the Champion Sports Medicine Shootout championship game Dec. 29.
Haynes finished with 22 points, including two baskets and two assists to turn a slim two-point lead into a 12-point advantage in crunch time in the fourth quarter. “It’s just so hard to guard him when he has the ball,” Burdette said, “especially when he’s on the move.”


Briarwood Christian School girls’ basketball coach Jim Brown learned plenty of lessons in his first 399 career victories.
Brown followed a basic principle in coaching to record his 400th career victory in the Lions’ 53-42 victory over rival Chelsea in a Class 5A, Area 7 contest Jan. 7. Anna Handlin had a hothand early on as she scored seven points in the opening quarter. He made sure the offense ran through the senior forward in the fourth quarter to help Briarwood turn a tied game into an 11-point win in the final period.
“Anna is a terrific player,” Brown said. “When crunch time comes and we need a basket, we’ve got to get the ball in her hands. She’s a bigtime senior.”
Handlin led Briarwood with 18 points in the milestone victory for her head coach.


Thousands of cheering fans filled the Pelham Civic Complex Jan. 16, giving the venue an atmosphere usually reserved for football Saturdays as the University of Alabama hockey team completed its sweep ofcross-state rival Auburn.
The Sunday contest marked the final day of a three-game battle for the first Iron Cup trophy.
This year marked the first time the two schools have ever faced each other on the ice, and the crowd at the Pelham Civic Complex was energized throughout the weekend, said Alabama coach Mike Quenneville.
“It’s great to have everyone come out and support us,” said Quenneville.


The cellardwelling blues didn’t last long for the Thompson High School boys’ basketball team.
One season after finishing dead last in area standings, the Warriors went from worst to first following a 64-57 win over rival Pelham to capture the Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 6A, Area 10 crown Jan. 28.
The Warriors, who won three consecutive area championships before a drop off last season, earned the right to host the Class 6A, Area 10 tournament next month. Thompson, which finished with a 1-7 record in area play last season, finished the regular season area schedule with a 5-1 mark.
Thompson coach Patrick Davis said the downfall a year ago motivated the Warriors (17-9) to regain area supremacy.
“The few (players) that we had on that team really learned from it,” Davis said.



Shelby County High School boys’ basketball coach Charles Dickinson sat in his office Feb. 1 following an 84-80 loss to rival Calera and glanced at the photos of past players and teams that stretch from one end to the other on one of his walls. Many of the players pictured in the photos came in one after the other to visit with Dickinson for a short time and reminisce about the moments captured in the photographs.
Before the game, Dickinson was presented with a framed collage with many of his favorite photos. Dickinson, who is retiring after a 31-year coaching career at the end of the season, may have just finished coaching his final game inside the gymnasium that bears his name, but he’ll have plenty of reminders from his time on the sideline at Shelby County.
“To be able to take all of my guys home and put them up in my house, that’s priceless,” Dickinson said. “I can’t wait until this thing settles down and I can just look at them.”


The Evangel Christian School girls’ basketball team won its third consecutive state championship following a 58-32 win over Evangel Family Christian Academy of Montgomery in the Alabama Christian Sports Conference championship game Feb. 12. The Lightning (19-0) won their second consecutive ACSC championship.
Abby Letson, who won her third consecutive most valuable player honors in a championship game, led Evangel Christian with 27 points.


Coosa Valley Academy senior Jordan Smiley experienced a fairy-tale ending to her final season as a member of the school’s girls’ basketball team.
Smiley will forever be known as the senior on the Rebels’ first ever state championship team in her sport following Coosa Valley’s 50-44 victory over Crenshaw Christian Academy in the Alabama Independent Schools Association Class 1A championship game Feb. 17 at Catherine Dixon Roland Arena on the Huntingdon College campus in Montgomery.
“I’ve been dreaming of this all season,” Smiley said. “It’s great. We’re going to be remembered for a long time.”


Vincent High School boys’ basketball coach John Hadder issued a challenge to his team after a sloppy ending to the first half of the Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 2A Northeast Region tournament championship game left the Yellow Jackets facing a nine-point deficit against Sand Rock.
“If they’re going to beat us, let’s make them beat us,” Hadder demanded.
Vincent rose to the occasion and turned the halftime deficit into a two-point lead with 12.6 seconds remaining, but Sand Rock also answered the challenge with a game-winning 3-pointer with 7.1 seconds left to hand the Yellow Jackets a disheartening 60-59 loss at the Pete Mathews Coliseum on the Jacksonville State University campus in the school’s first region tournament championship game appearance in seven years.


Superman had kryptonite.
The Calera High School boys’ basketball team had nemesis Midfield High School.
The Eagles battled the Patriots three times and came up short in each collision heading into the Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 4A Central Region tournament championship game.
The two teams met in one final showdown with a trip to the AHSAA Class 4A Final Four on the line Feb. 25 at the Dunn-Oliver Acadome on the Alabama State University campus.
Midfield emerged victorious in a 68-65 win over Calera in the fourth clash and dashed the Eagles’ hopes of a trip to the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex for the Final Four.



University of Montevallo men’s basketball coach Danny Young was aware the Falcons were entering the Peach Belt Conference tournament shorthanded.
Young remained confident his eight-player squad could hang with Augusta State University, which entered the tournament ranked No. 5 in the National Association of Basketball Coaches’ Division II poll, in the tournament semifinals. The Falcons made their head coach proud in the first 34 minutes of the game before the lack of depth finally caught up to them in a 61-52 loss to the Jaguars at the USC-Aiken Convocation Center in Aiken, S.C.
Despite the loss, the Falcons earned a bid to the NCAA Division II tournament for the sixth time in the past eight years. It is Montevallo’s second consecutive trip to the Division II tournament.


Spain Park High School baseball coach Will Smith didn’t have much time to give his players a pep talk before the Birmingham Metro tournament championship game March 10 against Thompson.
The Jaguars played 16 innings of baseball on the final day of the tournament with only two 30-minute breaks in between the final rounds of the tournament.
In the end, Spain Park outlasted Thompson 5-3 in the championship game to clinch the school’s first Birmingham Metro tournament title.
Despite the little time with his players in between games, Smith found an opportunity to deliver an important message to his players — especially his senior class.
“It’s a big deal,” Smith said. “It’s not every day you get to play for a championship.”


The Chelsea High School softball team finished third in the Nike Gulf Coast Classic tournament March 14-17 in Gulf Shores.
The Hornets, who finished 2-3 in pool play, strung together four wins in a row to reach the tournament semifinals before falling to Tuscaloosa County 7-2.
Chelsea was one of only four teams remaining in the semifinals out of a field of 40 teams.
“I was proud of our team,” said Chelsea coach Russell McCartey. “We’ve been coming to this tournament for eight years and this is the best we’ve ever done.


Calera High School junior Deondre Haynes and Montevallo High School senior Amber Cardwell already share a few things in common. Haynes and Cardwell have been the best players on their respective high school basketball teams the past two seasons.
The duo resides in southern Shelby County basketball hotbeds. Each sharpened their skills on neighborhood courts against players much older with higher skill levels.
Haynes and Cardwell can add one more shared honor before they move on to their collegiate careers — 2010-2011 Shelby County Reporter Player of the Year.


Michael Johnson tossed the ball up and down in his right hand while engaging in a friendly chat with Tom Lovelady of Mountain Brook as the group momentarily waited to tee off on the final hole of the Bradley Johnson Memorial golf tournament March 29 on the Founder’s Course at Greystone Golf and Country Club.
It was a snapshot in time of what the tournament in his brother’s name is all about.
One day Johnson, a senior at Spain Park High School, may forget what he shot in the tournament, but he won’t forget the round with his friends on this dreary day on the course.
“I’ll never forget playing in tournaments like this,” said Johnson, who has played in all five Memorial tournaments in honor of his brother Bradley, who died in a car accident in Shelby County in 2006.



A friendly chit-chat between Shoal Creek board member Mike Thompson and professional golfer Fred Funk set the stage for a challenging tournament ahead May 3-8 at the prestigious golf course in north Shelby County.
Thompson announced the length of the course will be a record 7,234 yards during the Regions Tradition, the first major on the PGA Champions Tour and Shoal Creek’s first major professional tournament since the 1990 PGA Championship, during the event’s media day, April 11.
“Did you forget we’re old?,” quipped Funk.


Briarwood Christian School sophomore Daniel Robert came up to the plate for a seemingly meaningless at bat in the bottom of the sixth inning against rival Chelsea in the Lions’ final Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 5A, Area 7 game April 16.
After helping Briarwood Christian cruise toward the Class 5A, Area 7 championship with four hits, including a solo homer, in the first five innings, Robert’s final at bat mattered to few in attendance.
It mattered to Robert, who drove in a run as he lined a single to right field to push the Lions’ lead to 11-2. Junior Kelvin McKelvey followed with an RBI single and Briarwood Christian claimed the Class 5A, Area 7 title in walk-off fashion due to the mercy rule with a 12-2 win over the Hornets.


Due to the widespread damage in the state following severe weather April 27, the Alabama High School Athletic Association playoff schedule was pushed back one week.



Tom Lehman nearly kissed his chance to capture the Lyle Anderson trophy at the 2011 Regions Tradition, the first major championship of the season on the PGA Champions Tour, goodbye after he missed a short birdie putt on the 18th green at the end of his final round Sunday, May 8 at Shoal Creek.
Lehman again nearly watched his shot to win the trophy slip away after firing an approach shot right of the green on the first hole of a playoff on hole No. 18 with Peter Senior, but the Scottsdale, Ariz. native recovered nicely with a close chip shot and a par putt to force a second playoff hole.
His third chance to seal the victory almost passed him by as well, as he missed a birdie putt again on the 18th green on the second playoff hole. However, Senior missed a short putt for par, which sealed Lehman’s third PGA Champions Tour tournament win this season and his first Tradition title.
Lehman increased his lead in the Charles Schwab Cup championship standings and earned $330,000 for winning the Regions Tradition. The total purse for the tournament was $2.2 million.


The Cornerstone Christian School softball team had its share of doubters when the 2011 season began.
The Chargers, coming off a run of four consecutive Alabama Independent Schools Association Class 1A championships, had lost their ace Chelsey Dunnaway to graduation.
Without her arm, opponents figured, Cornerstone Christian’s run of state titles would come to an end.
Guess again.
The Chargers (22-11) captured an AISA record fifth consecutive Class 1A title following a 4-1 win over Ashford Academy in the championship game May 7.
“The girls really wanted it,” said Cornerstone Christian coach Mark Armstrong.


South African Conrad Stoltz has developed a fondness for the rolling hills and calm waters at Oak Mountain State Park.
Stoltz, a 37-year-old professional triathlete, eagerly looks forward to a trip to Pelham during the XTERRA America Tour circuit every year. It’s easy to understand Stoltz’s affinity for Shelby County after he captured his fifth consecutive XTERRA America Tour Southeast Championship men’s triathlon title May 22.


Former Oak Mountain High School baseball standout Kevin Patterson faced a few pressure-packed at bats during his second and final trip to Regions Park for the Southeastern Conference baseball tournament.
Patterson, in his senior season with the Auburn Tigers, handled it well in his first two plate appearances against top-ranked South Carolina in the tournament quarterfinals May 25.
Patterson smacked a two-run double to the right field wall on a 2-2 count in the top of the first inning to give Auburn a 3-1 lead early in the game.



Opposing defenders had a difficult time staying with Spain Park High School sophomore forward Simone Charley and Indian Springs School senior forward Alexander (A.J.) Jamroz this spring.
They weren’t alone. So did the rest of the competition for high school soccer Player of the Year honors in Shelby County during the season.


B r i a r w o o d C h r i s t i a n School baseball standout Daniel R o b e r t  and Chelsea High S c h o o l s o f t b a l l standout C a i t l i n Bice used two different paths to separate themselves from their counterparts in Shelby County this season.
The pair played a key role in leading their respective teams to the postseason.


Thompson High School graduate Tanner Ellis spent a majority of his time at a local fishing hole during his childhood.
Ellis never imagined his outdoor activities would provide scholarship money toward his college education one day.
However, that day came recently when Ellis signed a partial athletic scholarship with Bethel University in McKenzie, Tenn., to join the Wildcats’ bass-fishing team.
“I don’t see how it could get any better,” said Ellis, Thompson’s first ever bass-fishing signee. “It’s all a huge blessing.”


Vincent High School has named Anthony (Zeb) Ellison as its new head football coach following the resignation of former Yellow Jackets’ coach Dwight Spradley.