A look back at the year that was in O.V.?sports

Out with the old, in with the new.

As most people are looking ahead to 2012, we’re taking a few minutes to look back on some of the Ohio Valley’s top sporting events of the 2011 calendar year.

And there were several memorable events.

Regardless of the sport – whether it was team or individual competition – area athletes shined brightly during 2011. However, they seem to do that each and every year.

That’s what makes the New Year bittersweet for us in the sports media. You’ve got to move on from what’s happened, but the sweet part is looking ahead to what’s in store for the coming year.

There were so many impressive, memorable events that it’s often times tough to shave the list to just 10. However, I did the best I could.

Some of the stories we considered that didn’t make the top 10 include: Wheeling Park boys’ basketball finishing state runnerup; Wheeling Central winning yet another state football title; Madonna boys winning the OVAC and state basketball title; St. John Central frosh Fallon Doyle’s emergence in girls’ cross country; The Chambers’ I-470 Complex formally dedicating Ben’s Field at the complex to honor longtime softball coach and fan Ben Taylor; Pirates’ Charities work to refurbish the St. Clairsville softball field; The Buckeye Local baseball and softball coaching situation, which has turned into a fiasco and St. John Central hiring new boys’ basketball and football coaches.

However, without further ado, here is my top 10 for the past year:

10. COACHING CHANGE AT JM – During the middle stages of the football season, Monarchs’ head coach Dan Wilson stepped down as lopsided losses mounted and community support wittled. The Monarchs finished the season 0-10 and began the search immediately for a new head football coach.

With no fewer than 10 quality applicants, a hiring committee conducted interviews, did its research and arrived at Bridgeport High product Rick Goodrich as its man for the job. Goodrich had spent the last several years at Cambridge, forming a once-dormant Bobcats’ program into an annual playoff contender. Goodrich was hired in early December and is currently working on building a coaching staff. Ironically, Goodrich and his Monarchs open next season at home against Cambridge.

9. ST. CLAIRSVILLE SUCCESS – It seemed like regardless the sport and/or gender, the Red Devils won. St. Clairsville claimed the overall OVAC Championship banner for the third straight year and have positioned itself to make a run at a fourth already. All you have to do is name the sport and St. C. was successful. You often hear the cliche that high school sports are cyclical, but not often are nearly every sport the school sponsors at the height of its success. Last winter, the Red Devils’ boys basketball team advanced to the district final; the baseball team was a regional participant in the spring; the track teams once again sent a bevy of athletes to the state and produced three all-Ohioans after finishing second in the regional meets; the football team finished 9-1 and advanced to the second round of the playoffs; the golf team qualified for the state tournament after winning the Buckeye 8, OVAC and district titles; the cross country teams were solid again, including the boys earning another trip to the state meet.

8. PREZZIA’S SEASON: Most people who followed wrestling last season could tell St. Clairsville senior Dominic Prezzia was destined for big things.

One of the most focused and dedicated athletes to his sport that I’ve ever covered, Prezzia didn’t make any bones about his focus. He wanted to win the OVAC title at 152 pounds and then win the coveted Division III state title.

Prezzia – who now competes at West Virginia University – steamrolled through the regular season, including the OVAC where he was basically never challenged en route to the gold medal.

In the postseason, Prezzia was the sectional and district champion and went to the state tournament undefeated. In an opposite bracket of Genoa Area’s Felipe Martinez, you could just tell when the tournament began the two were on an absolute collision course.

Neither disappointed as both cruised to the state final. The title match was a dandy, heading to overtime knotted at 5 before Martinez eventually prevailed with a takedown and near fall points.

While the outcome was difficult for Prezzia, that young man was a winner in every sense of the word.

7. STEUBENVILLE CENTRAL GIRLS TRACK: The Lady Crusaders of Coach Rob Copeland won the school’s first-ever girls’ state championship last June at the Jesse Owens Memorial Track Complex in Columbus.

The Lady Crusaders – riding the legs of current Duke thinclad Teddi Jo Maslowski – finished with 41 points, which was four better than Versailles for the title.

Despite the action being slowed down by a thunderstorm, which put Copeland on pins and needles during the mandatory break, the Lady Crusaders persevered. Maslowski, who’s only loss of the season came at the Penn Relays, won the high and low hurdle title, anchored the winning 4×2 team and finished second in the long jump. All told, she scored 30.5 of the Lady Crusaders’ points.

6. COACHING RETIREMENTS: This past year saw two coaching icons hang up their whistles. Bellaire head basketball coach Gene Ammirante retired after more than 30 seasons at the helm of the Big Reds’ program and Beallsville head football coach Dave Caldwell shocked the Monroe County community with his retirement after leading the Blue Devils to the Region 23 title game this past season.

Ammirante finished his career with 471-205 record and led the Big Reds to 14 OVAC and sectional titles; six district crowns; two regional final berths and a regional title in 2004.

Caldwell, meanwhile, finished his career with 197 victories, six OVAC titles, a regional title and the regional runnerup this season.

Both of these gentlemen weren’t just coaches. They were mentors and staples of their respective communities.

5. THE DAVE BRUNEY FOOTBALL COMPLEX: It’s not often that a coach builds up so much equity in a school – or community – that it names a facility after him when he’s still coaching – let alone living.

However, long-time Purple Riders’ football coach Dave Bruney has such clout at his alma mater and rightfully so. Bruney is an icon in prep football coaching. Already a member of the Ohio High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame and a seemingly sure-fire bet for the OVAC Hall of Fame when he opts to step down, Bruney has built the Purple Riders into one of the state’s most respected programs.

Bruney was also instrumental in helping to improve the Ferry facilities, which include the building of the fieldhouse, new visitor’s bleachers and press box as well as the artificial turf.

Honoring the man who’s done so much for the Riders both on and off the sideline, Athletic Director Kim Appolloni, the school board and other school officials recognized Bruney by re-naming their stadium after him the night before the Riders took on arch-rival Bellaire.

4. TRAGEDY STRIKES HARRISON CENTRAL: Dealing with a tragedy is tough for anyone, but when a football team loses a teammate during the season, it’s even tougher.

Harrison Central sophomore Jimmy Cameron passed away after a brief illness in September.

While still grieving, sorting their thoughts and trying to figure it all out, head coach Justin Kropka and the Huskies went back to work the next week with a road game at Caldwell. The Huskies – playing with heavy hearts – posted a 43-33 victory against the Redskins that night.

Harrison Central paid tribute to their fallen teammate for the remainder of the season and finished the season with a 4-6 record.

Justin Kropka, his coaching staff, the school officials and the communities that comprise the Harrison Hills School District deserve major kudos for keeping things together as best they could.

3. MILESTONE VICTORIES: It’s hard to believe that a football coach can win 300 games. I mean, you’re only promised 10 games a season. So, to have a coach achieve that milestone was something to behold, but to have two accomplish the feat in back-to-back weeks this season was totally mind boggling.

Steubenville’s Reno Saccoccia and Monroe Central’s Jay Circosta each earned their 300th victory this season in weeks 9 and 10, respectively. Saccoccia earned his place in Ohio football history with a 24-7 victory against Massillon Washington. Circosta, meanwhile, was a 42-0 winner over Buckeye Trail in Week 10 for his milestone.

What’s impressive about these two coaching icons is the fact that neither appear to be anywhere near slowing down and both are better people than they are coaches.

2. LADY TIGERS SEASON: The Shadyside girls’ basketball program has been one of the area’s best since the late 90s. The Lady Tigers were the best team in the area last season, finishing the regular season 20-0 and eventually advancing to the Division IV state tournament where they fell to Fort Loramie.

Along the way, Shadyside captured the OVAC 2-A championship, the district title and the regional title. The perfect regular season was the first in school history for girls’ basketball and it came just a season after the boys’ squad finished 20-0.

The Lady Tigers – of Coach Tina Yates – were led by seniors Kelsey Holloway and Sarah Neavin. Juniors Brooke Meintel and Alexa Dorris as well as a strong sophomore trio of Karli Bonar, Hayley Holenka and Kristen Fijalkowski all played significant minutes for the Lady Tigers, who weren’t challenged much of the way.

1. UNION LOCAL PAY TO PARTICIPATE: It’s probably the first time that an off-field event led my list, but this was one of the most hot-button topics all year.

Word first broke about Union Local possibily becoming the first Belmont County school to go to ‘Pay to Participate’ in early May. Athletic Director Mark Cisar and other members of the administration drafted a plan, which would help offset coaching salaries and other costs involved in the athletic department to help ease the financial burden that UL and so many other schools in the area and state are enduring.

After several months of pushing the idea back to iron out details and formulate a board policy, the Union Local Board of Education formally adopted ‘Pay to Participate’ by a 3-2 vote.

The program was supposed to go into effect for the fall sports at the cost of $100 per sport. One of the ways UL was going to help its students was by allowing them to raise the money through a host of fundraisers and activities where the students would have money placed into an account for their fees.

With golf season already under way and football slated to start later in the week, the Union Local Board of Education changed its plan and didn’t go forward with the program. Due to the fact that the ‘Pay to Participate’ was tabled and then not brought off the table before it was formally voted on, allowed the UL BOE to vote again, which is when a voter changed his vote and therefore ‘Pay to Participate’ was not going to happen.

Something tells me, we’ve not heard the last of this for many schools in the area.

Well, 2012 is under way and hopefully you had a safe and happy new year and you’re sticking to your resolutions thus far.

Our resolution here in The Times Leader Sports Department is to continue to bring as much in-depth, local sports coverage possible.

Have a great 2012, Ohio Valley.

Staskey can be reached at sstaskey@timesleaderonline.com