By PATRICK CASEY
The end of another school year brings to a close yet another chapter in local athletic history. For some, the look ahead to next year brings hope for improvement, for others, the realization that a repeat of success may be a near impossible task.
After looking back on the school year that was, ten items stand out from what was a solid athletic year for all five of our area high schools that the Herald-Breeze covers on a daily basis.
This week, the Herald-Breeze looks at five things readers might have missed, or just might enjoy remembering before we move on to the next school year in athletics. Next week, we will follow with the final five memorable sports moments from 2007-08 leading up to No. 1.
10. Katherine Register won the Class A pole vault title – again. South Walton senior Katherine Register earned her second consecutive state championship in the pole vault event with a vault of 11-feet, 6 inches after winning the Class A title in 2007 with a vault of 10-feet, nine inches. Register also placed as a sophomore, finishing in second place with a vault of 10-feet. Register improved upon her performance each year at the state final and her vault of 11-feet, 6 inches would have won the 2A and 3A title this year as well, and would have been tied for second place in Class 4A. Meagan Martin of Lake Mary High School posted a 12-foot vault to be the only high school girls participant to top Register’s vault in Florida.
9. Freeport baseball! The Freeport Bulldogs baseball team had not been to the playoffs since the 1997 season. That changed in 2008 as Gene Martin helped the Bulldogs earn a playoff berth with a runner-up finish in District 1, Class 2A. Freeport went 17-11 while sweeping Ponce de Leon (PDL), South Walton and Paxton with a split of a double-header at Walton. The Bulldogs played Jay three times, losing two in extra innings. Though Freeport lost their first round playoff game to Altha 9-1, the Bulldogs took a big step forward and should be in the hunt in a much younger district next season. Freeport had solid pitching and hitting for most of the season, though not always at the same time in the games they played. The future looks bright, though, for a team that may not reach its peak until a year or two from now.
8. Ponce de Leon High School had a lot of success signing athletes to college scholarships this past school year in girls high school basketball. Mary Howes signed to play at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg this fall with Maggie Wright inking a deal at Troy University. Jennifer Grant followed suit with an offer to play at Albany State. The PDL girls program came up shy of the Final Four this season, but have made the trip several times in the past few years. Coach Tim Alford may have a little more trouble getting back in the next few seasons, but don’t expect the cupboard to be bare. The Pirates are a resilient bunch and have enough talent to still make waves over the next few seasons, especially with Class 2A featuring much younger talent throughout our area in 2008-09.
7. Walton girls basketball defeated South Walton by one point three different times. While this occurrence might not truly be earth-shaking, it is a rarity for one team to defeat another by a single point three times in the same season. Walton rallied from a large deficit in mid-December to grab a 72-71 district win at home, then edged the Seahawks 49-48 in a defensive battle on the road. To complete the hat trick, Walton edged South Walton 50-49 at Northview in the District 1, Class 3A girls basketball tournament. That win gave the Braves a playoff berth and sent their county rival home for the year. The Braves truly had the Seahawks number during the 2007-08 season, even if the margin was just one point each time.
6. School Board increases athletic funding- The Walton County School Board helped each county high school and middle school by agreeing to increase the athletic budgets for each school. High schools will receive an extra $10,000, while middle schools will receive $5,000. The school board also chose to pay for all officials expenses that are required to referee athletic contests and to pay all travel, not just what was allocated, but all travel for athletic programs to help reduce the amount of fund-raisers going on in the district that was being used to offset costs. The millage referendum that was renewed in July 2007 will help fund the increase and take a lot of weight off of schools and parents. The measure was a big victory for athletics in Walton County and comes while several nearby school districts are struggling to keep their programs afloat.
Next Week: The Top Five.