Each year when it’s time to look at the top local sports stories for the year, it gives us a moment to reminisce, and sometimes remember what we forgot during the last 12 months. Picking ten is not easy but without further ado here are our top sports stories.
The 2015 West Orange-Stark Mustang football team were last year’s sports story of the year and the 2016 team are tops again after winning their second straight State Title in Class 4A Division 2.
The season starts at the end of August but WOS actually started working to defend their title in January during off season workouts. I think Coach Cornel Thompson puts as much emphasis in the off season as he does the regular season. Hard to argue with his success.
Going 16-0 is a BIG accomplishment. But just as big is that there was never a game in doubt with over 800 points scored. Add to that the defense only giving up 4 points per game. It’s numbers that may not be seen in Southeast Texas ever again.
The chip on their shoulders and the bullseye on their backs, they capped off an incredible three year run. Three years, three trips to the State game and two gold medals. I really don’t think their success is a coincidence. This senior group had a work ethic and leadership quality rarely seen. Add to that the blessing of few injuries and a seasoned coaching staff to put them in the best position to win.
The big surprise of the year was the LCM baseball team. A team that barely made the playoffs as the fourth place team in the district, caught fire in the postseason and almost advanced to the State Tournament. They upset Huffman before sweeping Caldwell. The second game of the Caldwell series took nine hours to play. The game started in Houston and then stalled in a long rain delay before it was decided to move the game two and a half hours further away to Franklin, Texas where the Bears got the win. The drive home made it a 15 hour day.
The drama continued in the third round with a 7-2 win over district rival Silsbee, and the dramatic returned in the fourth round with a bases loaded walk off to beat Jasper 5-4. The excitement came to an end in the Region Final when the Bears lost in two to Robinson. But what a run it was for Coach Steve Griffith and the Bears.
The Seattle Seahawks are among the top five NFL teams in Texas because of one guy, Earl Thomas. So it was no surprise when you heard the gasp around the state and the country when Thomas collided with teammate Kam Chancellor and broke his leg.
The injury came on a Sunday night game with the Seahawks and Carolina Panthers on the NFL’s center stage. Thomas was carried off the field as his fans prayed for a speedy recovery. But Thomas would make headlines again, tweeting before he got his uniform off, that he was considering retirement.
After a couple of weeks, Thomas tweeted Christmas Eve that he would return next season.
Our other NFL star, Matt Bryant, has accomplished a lot in his made-for-TV movie career, but 2016 has to be close to the top of his best seasons.
After an injury cut his 2015 season short, the 41 year old Bryant was challenged before the 2016 season started when the team brought in former Texas kicker Nick Rose.
Not only did Bryant keep his job, he has been selected to his first Pro Bowl, leading the NFC in points. He also tied the Falcons record for longest field goal and set a new team record for career points, passing Morten Anderson.
Another sports story from 2016 will have a bigger impact in the years to come. A local group, including the Orange Chamber and State Rep. Dade Phelan helped persuade the Texas Parks and Wildlife to change the size limit of bass in the Sabine River from 14 inches to 12 inches. The move opened the door for more local fishing with a better chance of putting food on the table, and should increase the possibility of more tournaments in the area like the BassChamps tournament that was held here in October.
Lamar University hired a new football and baseball coach in 2016. The board of regents replaced longtime baseball coach Jim Gilligan, who retired, with Will Davis. And after firing Ray Woodard, the university recently hired Mike Schultz. It’s still undecided how successful they will be, but both coaches stressed the importance of recruiting locally. We can only hope they are true to their word with all of the local talent we have here.
The success of the 2015 WOS football team produced a first at the Annual Willie Ray Smith Awards in February as the offensive and defensive winner came from the same school. Jack Dallas won the Offensive award and Steven Tims the Defensive award. Vidor’s Montana Quirante has the distinction of winning both awards in 2012.
Another first during the 2016 football season was having all five public schools make the playoffs with WOS, Bridge City and Vidor crowned district champions.
Orange native Wade Phillips, the defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos, got to hold the Super Bowl Trophy after his defense led the Broncos to a 24-10 win over the Carolina Panthers.
Deweyville’s Mallory Dotson brought home not one, but two gold medals from the State Track Meet with wins in the 2A Shot and Discus.
Also have to mention Orange getting a historical marker for the former West End Park, which was home to several St. Louis Cardinal games back in the 1920’s.