BILOXI - (WLOX) - So it's that time of year where we do some reflecting on the biggest sports stories and events of the previous year. After just a few minutes searching the archives, I can easily say this was the most exciting season on the courts, diamonds and gridirons of our South Mississippi schools in the 4 years that I've been at WLOX.
Here's a chronological look-back at the big news makers from the world of Sports in South Mississippi:
1. Back on New Year's Day, Ole Miss had a strong finish to Houston Nutt's first season in Oxford with a 47-34 win over Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl. The Rebels finished the season ranked in the Top 15, and with a talented group of upper classmen returning in the fall, 2009 was shaping up to be the best season in Oxford in years. The Rebels opened the 2009 campaign with a pair of wins and surged to #4 in the polls. But 4 losses in SEC play ended any hopes of the school's first trip to the SEC Championship Game. At 8-4, the Rebels are playing in the 2010 Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma State.
2. In March, the Coast was proud to crown not one, but two high school basketball teams as State Champions. In Class 5A, Biloxi's Indians captured the school's 5th state title with an overtime victory over Provine. Indian senior point guard Isaiah Canaan scored 19 points and had 8 assists in the title game. The Tribe finished the season with an incredible mark of 30-2. Not to be outdone, Buddy Kennedy's Pass Christian Pirates brought the school's first hoops crown home with a 52-50 victory over Raymond in the 3A Championship. Blake Evans' amazing 3-point play in the final seconds provided the winning points. PCHS finished the year 33-3.
3. When Steve Wilson won the U-S Mid-Amateur Championship in 2008, it qualified him to play on golf's grandest stage: The 2009 Masters. As the tournament approached, it seemed all of South Mississippi was pulling for the Ocean Springs native. To top it off, Wilson was paired with legend Tom Watson for the first two rounds of the tournament. Steve missed the cut in Augusta, but didn't disappoint his fans back home.
4. This one is more of a personal note: in April, I was presented with the opportunity to fly with the US Air Force Thunderbirds. The Thunderbirds, who were in Biloxi for the Air Show, select a member of the media to go flying with them in each town that they visit. I was fortunate enough to be the WLOX selection. The day started out early at Keesler Air Force Base, with a couple hours of training classes: the flight suit, how to breathe, how to use the parachute (YIKES!), how to eject from the plane, and how to avoid getting air sick. My pilot's name was Tony Mulhare, and his call sign is 'Split.' I will never forget this day as long as I live. We flew about 70 miles north into Alabama to do maneuvers, and it took us less than 7 minutes to get there! It was an amazing view from just above the cloud cover, and I can proudly say that I didn't need to use my sick bags!!!
5. What a decade for the East Central girls' softball program. The Lady Hornets won 6 state championships from 2000-2009. EC captured title #6 in May with a series sweep of Cleveland. Linsey Dickerson finished the year 24-3, had 0.62 ERA with 278 strikeouts.
6. Corky Palmer announced during the middle of the college baseball season that this would be his final season at the helm of the Southern Miss program. So the Golden Eagles went out and got him an amazing retirement gift. Biloxi's B.A. Vollmuth was named the Atlanta Regional's MVP as Southern beat Georgia Tech to qualify for a Super Regional. In Gainesville, the Eagles knocked out Florida and earned the school's first-ever trip to the College World Series in Omaha. Southern dropped their first two games at Rosenblatt Stadium, but not before capturing the hearts of college baseball fans across the country.
7. You can count on a couple of things in the summer: heat, humidity and the annual Brett Favre Retirement saga. 2009 was no different. This time, the Kiln native un-retired again to join the Minnesota Vikings, the team he originally wanted to join when he was still in Green Bay. The Vikings started off strong with Favre allowing talented tailback Adrian Peterson to do most of the heavy lifting. At the time of this article's publication, Minnesota is in good position to lock up 2nd place in the NFC, and Favre is a candidate for his 4th NFL MVP Award.
8. Dan Mullen took over for Sylvester Croom as Mississippi State's head football coach last December. In less than a year, he completely changed the mindset in Starkville. Mullen brought the 'Spread' offense to State, and the Dogs were once again competitive on Saturdays. Bulldog tailback Anthony Dixon rewrote the MSU record book, finishing his career as the school's all-time leading rusher, and finishing in the top 10 in SEC history in several categories. The Dogs finished the year 5-7, but capped off Mullen's first campaign with a 41-27 win over Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl.
9. In early December, it was another Favre that captivated the Coast. Dylan Favre, quarterback of the high-powered St. Stanislaus Rockachaw offense, led the school to its first state title in football. The Rocks drilled Lafayette Co. 35-16 in the Class 4A title game, with Favre named the game's MVP. Favre finished the year with 5,589 passing yards and 63 TDs. He rushed for 1,265 yards and 18 TDs. He was also named Mr. Football in Mississippi. The Rocks finished the year 14-1.
10. WHO DAT! That phrase has been screamed from Lake Charles, LA, to Mobile, AL, so often it should be the region's motto! The New Orleans Saints opened the 2009 season with 13 straight victories. The Saints didn't trail for a single second until week 6. Drew Brees is having another phenomenal season, and would easily win the mayoral election in New Orleans if he chose to run. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams installed a system relying on heavy quarterback pressure and forcing turnovers...and it's been the key to the team's success. The team won its third NFC South title of the decade and can still secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
So how'd I do? Let me know what you think of this list. Did I leave something out? In your opinion, what's been the biggest Sports story in South Mississippi in 2009? Let the debate begin! See you in 2010!!!