By SCOTT TYLER
H-P Sports Editor
That was a big theme in the area’s sporting world in 2005 as both a team — The Palestine golf squad — and an individual – a sprinter from Elkhart — came back from Austin to Anderson County with golden hardware.
Football, on and off the field, also made big news during 2005, with a lot of the attention on Palestine. The Wildcats made the playoffs for the fourth straight year and broke a losing streak to a rival. However at the start of the season, they had to go before an executive committee to get one of their players eligible.
Other top 10 stories from the area included an emotional win for a Westwood basketball team, an area head football coach retiring and a Palestine basketball team making the playoffs for the third straight year while the Wildcat baseball team found success in the playoffs for the first time.
1. Palestine golf team wins state title
The Palestine Wildcat golf team was perfect in 2005.
From their first round of the season, to their final round in Austin, the Wildcats never lost a round and that translated into winning the Class 3A state golf tournament.
Palestine went into Austin and the state tournament as one of the favorites and after the first day the Wildcats held a slim three-stroke lead.
But on the second day the Wildcats blew away the competition, winning the state title by 21 strokes. The Wildcats finished with a two-day total of 605.
Joseph Totah finished as the third medalist (149) while Jeffrey Schwab and Jacob Taylor finished tied for eighth (152). Jeremy Lambright and Steve Herrington both shot a 156 as Palestine showed an overall team effort in winning the state title.
Palestine reached the state golf tournament by capturing the District 21-3A golf title, winning by 77 strokes. The second place team was Palestine’s “B” squad giving Palestine two teams in the regional tournament.
In the regional tournament, Palestine’s only competition was the second-day gusting winds, as the Wildcats took first place, winning by 32 strokes.
2. The Palestine football team makes playoff for fourth straight year
Making the playoffs for the Palestine football team is becoming a tradition and 2005 was no different.
The Wildcats made the playoffs for the fourth straight year and for the third time in those four years, Palestine won its bi-district game.
After going 7-2 during the regular season, the Wildcats faced Silsbee in the Class 3A-Region III, Division I, bi-district playoff game in Lufkin.
The two teams battled back and forth in an offensive showdown but Palestine got the final knockout punch as they topped the Tigers 63-42.
Palestine running back Paul Kennedy rushed for 138 yards and four touchdowns and also caught a shuffle pass which resulted in another touchdown.
Wildcat quarterback Devin Stephens threw for 223 yards and two touchdowns while scoring another on the ground.
Despite the offensive output by Palestine, the game was not decided until the final minute when Leon Mickens returned a Silsbee on-side kick back for a touchdown.
Palestine’s season came to an end the following week at the hands of West-Orange Stark. The Wildcats turned the ball over five times in a 42-13 loss as the Wildcats finished the season with a 8-3 record.
3. Paul Kennedy — will he or won’t he play
After attending Westwood schools since kindergarten, Paul Kennedy and his family made the decision for him to transfer to Palestine High School as a junior in November 2004.
However, Kennedy’s football status was unclear in 2005 because Westwood officials claimed Kennedy transferred for athletic purposes, which is a violation of University Interscholastic League rules.
The decision whether Kennedy could play for Palestine or not play at all was up to the District 21-3A Executive Committee, made up of the eight superintendents in the district.
On an Friday afternoon in August, the committee heard from both sides as Palestine officials, along with Kennedy’s grandmother and uncle, who made the claim the high school senior moved to the Palestine school district to be with his family. Westwood officials contended he moved for the purpose of playing football.
The district executive committee ruled in favor of Kennedy, who was allowed to play for Palestine in his senior year.
The Palestine running back went on to rush for 925 yards and 16 touchdowns. When he faced his old team in October, Kennedy rushed for a season-high 205 yards and three touchdowns against Westwood.
4. Elkhart freshman wins gold in state track meet
In only her first year at the high school level, Elkhart freshman Mary Dickerson accomplished what every track runner tries to do — win a state title.
Dickerson accomplished the feat in May winning the Class 2A 400-meter dash in Austin.
The Elkhart freshman won the event with a time of 55.82 seconds, defeating Frankston’s Loren Brown, who was second.
Dickerson and Brown raced against each other twice before just to reach the state meet.
The two runners meet in the District 21-2A meet as Dickerson beat Brown and then again in the Class 2A-Region III meet, where Dickerson won first place and Brown took second.
Dickerson came into the state meet with the best time of the regional qualifiers. She then bested her regional time by nearly three seconds.
5. Elkhart’s Doug Black retires, Jason Ives named new football coach and athletic director
After three years at the helm of the Elkhart athletic program, Doug Black ended his second tenure with Elkhart, announcing his retirement after the end of the regular season in November.
Black, who said he was ready to spend more time with his family, had an 18-13 record in the last three years at Elkhart. That span included a 9-2 record in 2004 in which Black led Elkhart into the playoffs.
Less than a month after Black’s announcement, a replacement was named as the Elkhart Independent School District Board of Trustees selected Jason Ives as the new Elkhart head football coach and athletic director.
Ives, a graduate of Elkhart High School, spent the last three years as an assistant for Black at Elkhart.
6. Westwood basketball defeats Palestine on emotional night
A day after their teammate and classmate, Josh Frazier passed away, the Westwood Panthers took the court with saddened hearts against cross-town Palestine and the Panthers came out with an emotional 89-72 win.
Frazier was a junior at Westwood High School and played for the Panthers’ junior varsity team.
After having a last-minute practice the day before only because Westwood head coach David Reed knew Frazier’s parents were going to be in attendance at the game, Westwood came out and outplayed Palestine for four quarters.
Westwood, who made eight three pointers in the win, opened the game with an 18-4 run which set the tone for the rest of the night.
Panthers’ Gerry Mickens had 28 points while Michael Gardner had 20 points and freshman Gralyn Crawford had 18 points.
7. Palestine football snaps nine-game losing streak to Jacksonville
For nine straight games, the Palestine Wildcats never were able to figure out one of their rival — the Jacksonville Indians.
The Indians had a nine-game winning streak over Palestine coming into the 2005 season, but on Sept. 16, in the Tomato Bowl, Palestine finally broke through in the win column against Jacksonville, defeating the Indians 27-24 and snapping the nine-game losing streak.
Palestine stunned Jacksonville on the first play of the game when Montrell Johnson took the opening kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown.
Devin Stephens found Leon Mickens twice in the second quarter on touchdowns passes of 42 and 30 yards.
Jacksonville had the lead, 24-20, going into the fourth quarter, but a tough Palestine running game moved the Wildcats down the field and Johnson gave Palestine the lead with a 21-yard touchdown run.
The Palestine defense did the rest, holding Jacksonville twice to preserve the win.
8. Palestine baseball wins first ever playoff series
The Palestine Wildcat baseball team made some history in 2005 by winning their first ever playoff series.
The Wildcats defeated Kirbyville in a two-game sweep in the best of three Class 3A-Region III bi-district playoff series.
Palestine opened the playoff series with a 12-6 win as the Wildcats scored eight runs in the fourth inning.
In the second game, Palestine head coach Jason Farrow handed the ball to sophomore Cory Moore, who was going against Kirbyville’s No. 1 starter.
Moore pitched like an ace, going the complete game as Palestine won 5-2.
The Wildcats season came to an end a week later as they lost two straight to Bridge City in the area round of the playoffs.
The Wildcats started slowly in district, losing their first three games, but with their ability to rally, the Wildcats got back into the district race. The Wildcats had four games in which they won in their final at bats as Palestine finished second in the district standings.
9. Threat of Hurricane Rita causes football games to change and get canceled
In September, with the threat of Hurricane Rita heading towards Anderson County area football teams started to scramble to try and get games played and a couple of teams ended up having to cancel games due to the problems that would have been caused with not only the weather but traffic.
The biggest game that was canceled was Palestine’s anticipated match up at Tatum. On the Thursday before the game, it was decided to move the game up from a 7:30 p.m. start time on Friday to a 6 p.m. start time.
But the next morning, Palestine Independent School District Superintendent Jerry Mayo made the difficult decision of canceling the game. The reason for the cancellation was not because of possible weather problems, but instead traffic problems the team and Palestine fans would have had to face trying to get to and trying to get back from the game.
Oakwood and Fairfield also had its games canceled while Elkhart and Grapeland moved its game to Thursday, as did Frankston.
10. Palestine basketball makes playoffs for third straight years
The Palestine basketball team got off to a late start in 2005 because of a very successful football season that lasted into December of 2004.
Despite the late start, the Wildcats made the playoffs for the third straight year under head coach Tommy Allison.
But unlike the last two years, the Wildcats could not make it past the first round as Palestine lost to Coldspring-Oakhurst 88-83 in the Class 3A-Region III bi-district playoffs.
Palestine, who finished the season with a 17-8 record, trailed early to Coldspring but rallied late in the fourth quarter to get within one point. But the Wildcats were never able to get over the hump as Coldspring used a pair of Wildcat mistakes to regain the momentum.
Palestine finished district tied for second with Crockett, but the Wildcats lost a coin flip and ended up as the third-place seed out of District 21-3A.
By SCOTT TYLER