From retirements, unexpected losses to championship wins and defeats, The T&D Region saw all of it in 2012.
The following is a perspective of the 10 biggest local stories from the past 12 months.
1. Bamberg-Ehrhardt’s David Horton retires
As the Red Raiders players returned to their locker room following the final out of their Class A Lower State finals’ loss to Lamar, it was privately understood an era had come to an end. After 44 years, 14 state titles and 889 victories, the winningest baseball coach in South Carolina High School League history was calling it a career. Now, athletics director and new head baseball coach Tracy Fleming enters 2013 looking to continue the winning legacy established by Horton.
2. Tough year for S.C. State’s top revenue athletics programs
Neither head coaches Tim Carter in basketball nor Buddy Pough in football will not look back on the past year with fond memories. In March, Carter earned the dubious distinction of overseeing the program’s worst season in school history — an 0-16 record in Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference play, a 5-26 overall record and the second-lowest RPI rating out of 344 schools. It was an atypical year for the football team under Pough as a brutal non-conference schedule, which included lopsided losses to Division I Top 25 teams Arizona and Texas A&M, led by Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, and an improved MEAC, resulted in a 5-6 overall record — the first losing season since 2000.
3. NFL Draft nabs more T&D Region players
The Orangeburg-Calhoun-Bamberg area once again proved to be a hotbed for future pro talent. For the third consecutive year, a T&D Region graduate was selected in the NFL Draft. Joining Ricky Sapp and Da’Quan Bowers in the league was St. Matthews native and former Calhoun County and University of South Carolina wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who was selected in the second round by the Chicago Bears. South Carolina State University also produced a draft pick as safety Christian Thompson was picked in the fourth round by the Baltimore Ravens. He, Phillip Adams (Oakland) and Rafael Bush (New Orleans) are the lone Bulldogs currently on NFL rosters.
4. ‘Altercation’ during S.C. State/Morgan State men’s basketball game
What was initially mentioned as a small side item in the game story became national news. Late in a close contest with the Bulldogs on Jan. 7, point guard Larry Bastfield was returning to the huddle when Todd Bozeman appeared to have shoved Bastfield backward. While Bozeman insisted it was an accident and not a punch as certain websites had reported, former S.C. State President George Cooper intervened and even asked Bastfield to press charges. Morgan State school officials initially suspended Bozeman, but later reinstated him after an investigation.
5. Local coaching legends pass
In a span of less than 10 days, the towns of Bamberg and Branchville lost two athletic and educational pillars of their respective communities. Leon Maxwell coached football for 40 years, 22 at Bamberg-Ehrhardt, and compiled a 297-121-4 overall record, which included two state championships in footballm and is a member of the S.C. Athletic Coaches Athletics Hall of Fame. Ross Horton served as a teacher, coach and principal at Branchville High School for 27 years and led the golf team to a Class A state title.
6 (tie). O-W football coaching controversy
Late in the school year, it appeared principal Gregory McCord was ready to begin a search for a new Bruins’ football coach. Instead, it was McCord who ended up reassigned by Orangeburg Consolidated School District Five, while Tommy Brown returned to lead O-W back into the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
Former Saint wounded in shooting incident
Former Calhoun County offensive lineman Eric Mack, currently enrolled at Auburn, was one of three people shot at a party at an apartment complex. Mack was treated and released, but fellow victims Ed Christian and Ladarius Phillips died from their wounds. The suspect was arrested days later.
7 (tie). State champs
A total of three local high school teams came away with state titles in 2012, two coming in baseball. Holly Hill Academy bested Williamsburg Academy in dramatic fashion to claim the SCISA Class 2-A championship, while Orangeburg Christian Academy routed North Walterboro 9-5 for the SCACS title. Back in February, the Bamberg-Ehrhardt wrestling team dominated Abbeville to repeat as Class A champions, giving head coach Cody Slaughter the perfect sendoff as he accepted a similar position at Sumter High School two months later.
Many of the successful team sports locally this year were produced by the female gender. Orangeburg-Wilkinson, Denmark-Olar and Calhoun County all had strong runs in the S.C. High School League basketball playoffs, with the Bruinettes reaching the Class 4-A title game. In volleyball, Branchville and Holly Hill Academy both returned to their respective championship rounds before losing to Upstate opponents.
8. Bamberg-Ehrhardt wrestler grants wish
Damion Johnson did not qualify for the S.C. High School League individual wrestling tournament. However, he still competed in a “special” match against Hilton Head’s Chip Mullen, a two-sport athlete born with Down syndrome. Mullen would “win” the match, but Johnson still came out victorious in observers’ eyes.
9. Mike Williams chooses Clemson
With the donning of an orange hat, the Elite 11 and Shrine Bowl wide receiver ended months of speculation in announcing his intentions to sign with Clemson University. The T&D Region offensive player of the year will head to Death Valley along with Orangeburg-Wilkinson defensive back Jadar Johnson.
10. Tim Jennings makes Pro Bowl
The former Orangeburg-Wilkinson and University of Georgia cornerback had his best regular season with an NFL-leading eight interceptions to become the first Pro Bowler from a T&D Region high school since another former Bruin, Donnie Abraham, in 2000.
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