Spring Fling criticism simmers down,  event bears fruit for Carter athletes

By Wes Holtsclaw

   MEMPHIS -- Before this past week, the TSSAA received a lot of scrutiny and criticism throughout the eastern part of the state.
   By the week's end, much of the talk had simmered down.
   Moving the annual Spring Fling event to the Bluff City of Memphis raised issues of cost and travel for our area, and many others across the state.
   But, once teams saw the facilities and the way the Memphis and Shelby County Sports Authority planned the week-long event, many were already aching for a return trip.
   I was one of the media members who really voiced a strong opinion against the TSSAA after it announced its move. However, once I strolled down Beale Street and got a taste of famous Memphis barbecue, I immediately forgot about that other place. Chattanooga was it?
   The week in itself was rewarding for the athletes of Carter County. Each of the participants in this area made a valiant effort against the best of the state and in some way came out successful.
   The Unaka Ranger baseball team played in the nicest minor league park in America, AutoZone Park. That in itself made the trip for many of the players on the team.
   The young squad had many chances to win both games it played in and came out with a desire to get back in 2004. If the Rangers do make the trip back to the home of the blues, they'll shake off the nervousness and put up a great battle.
   Elizabethton's Amanda Pike and Liz Dove came into the A/AA Tennis Doubles Tournament with a goal to be one of the top two teams in the state.
   They were very successful in victories over Amy Smith and Hannah Sherrod of Kingston, as well as Mount Juliet Christian's Victoria Reed and Crystal Harwell, to make the state title appearance.
   The Cyclone tandem had a chance to pull out the victory in the second set of their title match against David Lipscomb's Brittany Stewart and Leigh Ellen Bruce, but eventually fell short.
   It was still a top-notch outing for the senior and sophomore pair. Pike will still have a chance to return, while Dove went out strong in her finale.
   In girls track and field, three locals fared well. Happy Valley's Katie Williams, and Elizabethton's Valnessha Redd and Tara Benfield all had solid outings and received medals for their participation in events.
   Redd and Williams should be back next year with the chance to win state titles.
   Elizabethton's Vince Redd and Lester Bailey also turned in solid performances in their events. Bailey will get another shot at a state title next year, while Vince capped off a stellar high school career and will strive for college success at the University of Virginia.
   Perhaps the biggest success of the entire Spring Fling week for this area was my choice for County Athlete of the Year: David Hughes from Happy Valley.
   Hughes added two more state titles to his trophy case this year with victories in the 3,200 and 1,600-meter runs. He placed fifth in the 800-meter run, adding to his cross country victory last fall.
   Obviously, it's hard to look ahead to next year, but I think that our county will be represented well in the 2004 Spring Fling.
   The Unaka baseball team is a favorite to be back, but two other teams that top my mind are the softball squads from Happy Valley and Unaka.
   The Lady Warriors were so close again, while the Lady Rangers fell in the seventh inning of their sectional outing. Both teams return the players it takes to get to their tournaments, and I think with the right effort and work, they will be there.
   I also believe we will see a share of state champions in track and field next year on the ladies side. Redd and Williams will pull it out in my opinion at one of the events.
   In soccer, the Elizabethton Cyclones are close to getting there, and if the young group continues to improve, they may very well be there.
   In my final prep column of the year, I am already looking towards the fall sports seasons as I already get cold chills thinking of the coming football season.
   To all of the seniors of 2003, good luck in your future endeavors. To the rest of the athletes, work hard and we'll see you during the next school year.