Stories of  the year  for 2002

By Matt Hill
   2002 came to an end on Tuesday night, but the world of sports had some precious memories that will not be forgotten.
   Another Tour De France for Lance Armstrong, Serena Williams' domination of tennis, and the amazing Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and the St. Louis Rams are just a few of the moments that stick out nationally.
   But what were the stories that dominated the scene in our neck of the woods? Here is a look at my top five local stories of 2002.
   Three years ago, University of Tennessee head football coach Phil Fulmer was the winner in landing former Elizabethton High School standout Jason Witten in what was a highly contested recruiting battle.
   Now, schools like Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Alabama and South Carolina have their eyes focused on E-Town again. This time, it's to see 6-7 linebacker/tight end Vince Redd.
   Redd was the Lawrenceburg Quarterback Club East Tennessee Player-of-the-Year this past season, and made the Associated Press' All-State Team.
   It's not just football recruiters that are taking a look at him, as he is also considered to be a Division I basketball prospect. Redd may play both sports in college.
   With this being the second time in just a few years that Elizabethton High School has been in the national spotlight, it's something that Cyclone fans can be proud of to know that the school keeps producing players that national powerhouses want.
   In 2002, The Unaka boys basketball squad, the Cloudland Lady Highlander basketball program, and the Elizabethton High School girls tennis team each made the state tournament in their respective sports. And all three teams lost in the first round to squads that really are on another level.
   The Rangers gave up a good fight before going down to Ezell-Harding, while the Lady Cyclones also performed admirably before losing to eventual state champion Chattanooga Christian. The Lady Landers fought hard against USJ before going down to defeat.
   The odd thing about that happens to be that Ezell Harding, USJ and Chattanooga Christian are private schools. Whether or not private schools should be allowed to compete with the public schools has been a big topic of discussion for the second year in a row.
   The Cloudland Highlander football team was also defeated in the TSSAA state playoffs by a private school. The boys from Roan Mountain fell to Boyd-Buchanan in the TSSAA Class A state semifinals.
   It will be interesting to see what 2003 will bring, and whether or not our local schools can get to the state championships, then maybe pull of some upsets over the private schools.
   Some local athletes managed to beat the private school jinx to take home state track and cross country championships in 2002. Elizabethton's Valnessha Redd and Tara Benfield took home top honors at the TSSAA Class A/AA state track meet in May, while David Hughes won the Class A/AA boys state cross country meet in November.
   Redd won her first-place medal in girls long jump, while Benfield was victorious in the shot put. Both of the wins came exactly five minutes apart from each other.
   Hughes finished second in two events at that same meet, but when it was time for cross country season, he finally got over the second place hump en route to an easy win.
   Another Elizabethton resident, Morgan Hyatt, won the Class AAA state discus and shot put for Dobyns-Bennett. Hyatt's shot put win gave Elizabethton two state champions in the sport.
   It was a definitely a banner year for local cross country and track athletes in 2002. Look for more of the same in 2003.
   An end of an era came to pass at Hampton High School this past spring, as Jerry White announced he would be resigning as the boys head basketball coach.
   White coached for over three decades, and he left Hampton as one of the winningest coaches in state history.
   He left on a good note this past winter, as his Bulldog team won the District 1-AA Tournament.
   White's players were known not only for their playing ability, but also for strong character that he helped to put into them.
   White, who also coached at Cloudland, was recently honored at a Hampton-Cloudland basketball game. And I think deservingly so.
   Our top local story of 2002 is probably not a surprise. Jason Witten has put Elizabethton on the map nationally, so he wins this award hands down.
   While the Vols struggled this year, Witten didn't. Witten became one of the top tight ends in the country at a school that doesn't like to throw to the tight end.
   While Tennessee wide receiver Kelly Washington claimed to be one of the top players in the country, Witten proved it on the field.
   Witten's defining moment as a Vol came in a six-overtime win over Arkansas, when he caught the game-winning touchdown pass.
   It looks like Witten will continue to represent Elizabethton well, only next year it will probably be in the NFL. Witten is expected to forgo his senior season at Tennessee to enter the NFL Draft, though a formal decision has not been made on that yet.
   I hope you enjoyed 2002, and I wish God's richest blessings on every one of you folks in 2003.