Here is part 2 to my top 10 stories in Lee County sports for 2008. For part 1, click here.
5. Mike Williams loses in state finals
Southern Lee wrestler Mike Williams was thought to be close to unbeatable on the mat in high school competition.
But his bid to win a second straight state championship ended in disappointment and with a staggering surprise.
Williams, the 2007 140-pound 3-A champion and first state titlist in Southern Lee history, fell 2-1 to High Point Andrews’ Marcus Blue in overtime in the finals of the 152-pound weight division.
The match did not end without controversy. Blue was awarded a point in the second period when the referee ruled that Williams had undergarments showing through his singlet.
“It’s a rule, but Mike gave up a point that ultimately decided the match basically because his boxers were showing,” said Southern Lee coach Mike Short.
Blue, who won the 140-pound 3-A title a year ago, scored a point with 16 seconds remaining in the overtime session to capture the state title.
“It was an incredible match,” Short said.
Williams, who was 48-0 in 2007, finished 2008 43-4, with two of his losses coming as forfeits after Southern Lee was ruled to have overscheduled this season.
4. Jay Hollingsworth is Duke’s leading rusher
When Duke coach David Cutcliffe visited Sanford in July, he made it pretty clear that former Lee County star and Shrine Bowl starter Jay Hollingsworth was impressing the Blue Devils’ new coaching staff.
But neither Cutcliffe nor Hollingsworth could have expected this much this soon.
In fact, Cutcliffe didn’t.
“He’s obviously a fine athlete,” said Cutcliffe, who inherited Hollingsworth as he entered his first season at Duke. “It’s hard to project what freshmen will do for you … but he’s in our strength and conditioning program, and our strength and conditioning coaches give me great reports on him.”
So when 2007 leading rusher Re’quan Boyette went down with an injury, Hollingsworth continued his leaps up the depth chart, finishing the season as the Blue Devils’ leading rusher with 415 yards and a touchdown. Hollingsworth played in all 12 games this season and even placed third on the team list in receiving yards with 188 and two scores in helping Duke to a 4-8 record.
3. Charlie Spivey joins Team USA
Charlie Spivey, the legendary (he hates that word) baseball coach at Lee County, spent much of his summer doing what he normally does teaching the finer points of the game he loves the most, baseball, to teenage boys.
But this wasn’t just any summer team, or any collection of young ballplayers.
These were the best players under 16 years old that the country has to offer.
And so the uniform, with “USA” emblazoned across the front, said it all.
“You’re representing the United States of the America,” Spivey said. “It’s not just Lee County High School or Sanford, North Carolina. I was one of four coaches coaching the best talent in the world. Our country. So yes, it was different.”
Spivey served as an assistant coach and talent evaluator for the 16U USA National Team this summer, aiding in the choosing of the 18 players who would become the team and helping mentor the group as it played in and won the gold medal at the 2008 COPABE “AA” Youth Pan American Championships in Veracruz, Mexico.
And for Spivey, the USA jersey could become an even bigger part of his baseball life. He’s already in discussions with Team USA about continuing to contribute to the program in the years to come.
“It’s a new chapter in my life,” Spivey said.
2. Raymond Brown arrested for armed robbery
Southern Lee’s football season took a crushing blow before official practice even began when Raymond Brown, the team’s leading returning rusher the two previous seasons, was charged with four counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon and conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon at the end of July.
Brown left Southern Lee after the arrest, which involved another Cavaliers’ football player, who also did not play for the team that finished the season with just one victory.
1. Coaching changes abound
Every year sees its share of coaching changes.
But this year was unlike any other.
The county lost three of its most successful coaches of three of its most decorated programs in 2008, first with Bryan Lee stepping down as Southern Lee’s football coach, followed by the resignations of Grace Christian basketball coach Tim Murr and Southern Lee basketball coach and athletic director Chris Cherry.
Lee, who moved his family to southern Illinois where he and his wife grew up, built the Cavaliers’ football program from scratch, His Cavaliers tied the North Carolina record for most victories in an inaugural season with five, and qualified for the playoffs. In Southern Lee’s second varsity season Lee’s third after guiding the program to a winning record in a junior varsity season the Cavaliers advanced to the second round, knocking off the two-time defending conference champion South Johnston, a team that had won 20 games combined in its last two seasons.
After stints in Kentucky and Missouri, Murr’s biggest success came in Sanford, where he joined Grace Christian in 2000. Murr led the Crusaders to four state titles in a span of seven years, winning the NCCSA state championship in 2000, 2002, 2005 and 2006. The Crusaders dominated the West Region in Murr’s tenure, winning region titles from 2000 to 2007 until a down season in 2008. Grace Christian was 89-9 in region games under Murr, who was 225-80 overall at Grace Christian.
Murr, who stepped down to spend more time with his family and was replaced by his younger brother Steve, also led the Crusaders to two national titles in their class at the National Association of Christian Athletes tournament in Dayton, Tenn.
But perhaps the biggest surprise in sports this season came when Cherry abruptly resigned at Southern Lee to become the head coach at Goldsboro. Cherry, who grew up in Plymouth and later coached his alma mater to the brink of a state championship in 2002, came to Southern Lee when the school opened in 2005 to serve as the school’s AD and basketball coach.
While running the athletic department, Cherry had almost immediate success with his up-tempo style on the hardwood. With highly-touted Division 1 recruit Akeem Richmond coming to the school at the same time, Cherry led the first-year Cavaliers, without a senior on the roster, to a 15-11 record and an appearance in the state playoffs.
Things only got better from there. On its way to a 24-6 mark, Southern Lee won the Cape Fear Valley Conference regular season and tournament championships in 2006-07, finishing with a sectional championship and a berth in the east regional.
The Cavaliers again won the league regular season and tournament titles in 2007-08, finishing 26-4 before falling in the sectional final against Dudley.
Cherry was a combined 65-21 in his time with Southern Lee, an .756 winning percentage.
Honorable mentions that didn’t quite make the list but deserve recognition (E-mail Alex Podlogar at firstname.lastname@example.org for what you feel like should be additions to the list): Lee Christian basketball enjoys successful season; Southern Lee boys’ soccer advances to third round; Akeem Richmond snubbed for All-State; Reggie Peace named to coach North/South game coach; Fred Von Canon qualifies for Boston Marathon; Press McPhaul prevails in wild finish to Brick Capital Classic; Southern Lee tennis players Patrick Sonnleitner and Peter Conaty qualify for state singles tournament; Southern Lee’s boys’ golf wins Mid-East regional in 9-hour round; Lee Gay selected to play in the North Carolina Coaches Association East-West All-Star Game; Southern Lee’s girls’ golf team finished fourth in state.