The Best of 2012
Highlands TodayEDITOR'S NOTE: Plenty of big stories broke between the lines and on the playing fields, courts and tracks of the Heartland in 2012. Wins and losses aside, certain moments transcended the games themselves and stuck out as the top stories of the year.
Published: January 1, 2013
Published: January 1, 2013
This is Highlands Today's annual year-end run of the stories that had a major impact on the local sports scene. The ranking was determined by the sports department: sports editor Mark Pinson and sports reporter Allen Moody.
Sebring's White wins state high jump title
1 Sebring's Donavon White entered the 2012 Class 3A state track and field meet wanting to come away with a medal. He certainly did that, setting a personal best of 6 feet, 6 inches, which not only gave him a medal, but also gave him the state championship.
"My goal I had all season was to jump 6-6 and I knew this would be the last time I could do it," White said. "It turned out to be my perfect meet."
White watched as his competitors had early misses, while he proceeded to clear 6-0, 6-2 and 6-4 on his very first attempts and knew he was in pretty good shape.
"Even after my 6-2, I knew I was at least tied for first," he said. "After 6-4, I knew I was in first because I was the only one who had no scratches."
White then went out and attempted 6-6 and looked back and saw the bar still standing, giving him his personal best and the state championship.
"The bar was kind of bobbling, but it felt like a good jump," he said. "I was surprised I got all of them on the first jump because I've never had a meet where I cleared them in succession."
The state title capped off what has been a memorable year for White, who played for the Blue Streaks in football and soccer.
"My mom and I were talking about how I had the 52-yard field goal and in soccer I had the game-winning goal in districts, so I had a big highlight in every one of my sports this year," he said.
"This is the perfect way to end my high school career," he said.
ALMS and GRAND-AM merger announcement
2 The American Le Mans Series and GRAND-AM Road Racing have been considered rivals for many years. That will once again be the case in 2013, but in 2014 the two series will join forces and merge into a single series.
"It's definitely the biggest news to come out of sports car racing in some time," said Extreme Speed Motorsports driver Guy Cosmo. "You have two racing series that weren't on the brink of extinction, but neither was thriving. Ultimately, it could be a very good thing."
Sebring International Raceway and the Chateau Elan Hotel and Conference Center also were involved in the deal that will see the NASCAR-owned GRAND-AM Road Racing body take control.
Tres Stephenson, president and general manager of Sebring International Raceway said it was a positive step forward for the SIR.
"Never in a million years did I think I'd see this," Stephenson said. "Now there is going to be one road racing body, which people have wanted for some time."
The 2014 series is expected to begin with the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring will follow as the second event.
Local Dixie teams compete in World Series
3 Sebring has always been known as a baseball town, and after an amazing summer of success on the diamond, Highlands County can be included as a bastion of baseball talent.
The exceptional run began with the Sebring Machine Pitch AA squad (ages 7-8) winning the state tournament and advancing to the World Series in Hartselle, Ala. The Sebring Dixie Youth AAA team (ages 9-10) placed second in their state tournament and competed in the World Series in Bartow.
The Sebring Dixie Ozone team (ages 11-12) won its state tournament and placed second at its World Series in Cleveland, Miss., while the Sebring Junior Dixie Boys (age 13) rolled to a state title and were runner-up at their World Series in Christiansburg, Va.
The older boys kept things rolling as the Dixie Majors squad (ages 19-under) won the state tournament and advanced to its World Series in Laurel, Miss., and the Dixie Pre-Majors (ages 17-under) won their state tournament and competed in the World Series in Guntersville, Ala.
The Dixie Majors team was made up of a combination of former Avon Park and Sebring High School players who went from rivals to teammates.
Local football teams win Super Bowls
4 The Avon Park Mitey Mites had won back-to-back Super Bowl titles, so when they lost their opening game of the 2012 season to Okeechobee, it served as a wake-up call. It was the only time the team would taste defeat and it capped off the season with a 7-0 win over the Fair Oaks Rattlers of Hillsborough County to claim its third straight Super Bowl title.
The Highlands Eagles Junior Varsity team overcame early mistakes and a 12-point deficit to win an overtime thriller by a score of 19-12 to claim its first Super Bowl title at Firemen's Field.
The Sebring Youth Football League also got into Super Bowl spirit, as the Sebring Flag team captured its first-ever Super Bowl title with an 8-6 victory over West Tampa.
The 12 Hours of Sebring
5 The 60th version of the 12 Hours of Sebring was the inaugural event for the FIA World Endurance Championship, which ensured a star-studded field with all the big guns from Europe in attendance.
The WEC dominated in the prototype divisions, as the No. 2 Audi Sport Joest R18 captured the overall LMP1 title and Starworks Motorsports, based in Fort Lauderdale but competing all season in the WEC, placed first in the LMP2 class.
But the ALMS drivers showed what they could do on a more balanced playing field, as BMW's No. 56 won the overall GT title in a thrilling finish over the No. 3 Corvette.
It didn't look good for the BMW team when driver Joey Hand was hit by the No. 71 AF Corse car driven by Olivier Beretta and knocked off the course in the final 15 minutes, which dropped him back, but he was able to pull out the win when Beretta suffered tire damage.
"The No. 71 car hit me, I thought it was a cheap shot, but coming from the guy (Beretta) I understood," Hand said. "I was waiting for him to hit me. That's the way he drives. I'm just glad he got caught and caught a flat tire."
The No. 3 Corvette passed the No. 71 AF Corse car on the final lap to place second overall, less than seven seconds behind Hand's BMW.
Hull wins Harder Hall Invite
6 Charley Hull used consistent play to shoot a final round of 69 to win the 57th Harder Hall Women's Invitational by two strokes over Ariya Jutanugarn in January.
The 15-year-old Hull, who trailed Jutanugarn by two strokes entering the final round, finished at 6-under-par 282 for the four-day event over the 6,100-yard, par-72 Harder Hall layout.
The 16-year-old Jutanugarn, who is from Thailand, carded a 73 to finish in second place at 284, while 17-year-old sister Mariya Jutanugarn shot a final round of 71 and came in third at 285.
"I feel happy," said Hull. "It's awesome to have my name up there with all the great players, and it's great to come out and win my first tournament of the year."
Hull, who is from England, was in control of her game from Wednesday's frigid start of the tournament as the first-round leader with a 2-under 70. The talented linkster was the second round co-leader before shooting a 74 in Friday's third round to fall out of the top spot.
"I had good concentration and determination," Hull said. "I thought if I shot in the 60s that would be a good score."
Avon Park beats LP for district title
7 After coming close in recent years, the Avon Park girls basketball team finally played up to its potential in defeating Lake Placid 54-36 to win the Class 4A-District 10 championship in February.
Avon Park senior guard Brekalya English led a balanced scoring attack with a team-high 13 points. Toryana Jones and Johntavia Perry added 12 points apiece to give the Red Devils their first district title in a number of years and the first under fifth-year coach Paulette Daley.
"I am so proud of my girls," said an emotional Daley. "We've been trying to do this ever since I became the coach here. We had our ups and downs this entire season, but we revamped and got in the gym and tried to get the girls to see the big picture.
"They came out and played solid and were determined to not lose this game."
Red Devil boys win district title
8 Avon Park boys basketball got huge contributions from the entire team and went on to capture the Class 4A-District 10 championship with a 65-58 victory over DeSoto at Mulberry High School in February.
"Michael Rhoden stepped up and played the game of his life," said Avon Park coach Luther Clemons. "Everybody else did their part, but everything he did was crucial."
Rhoden wasn't the only Red Devil to step up in clutch time, either. Romeollo Roberts had four fourth-quarter points, as did Travis Lawton, including a key basket after DeSoto had trimmed Avon Park's 12-point lead down to three in the final 2:30 of the game.
"My team came together," Roberts said.
Avon Park won its second consecutive district championship.
"This is a lot more special because we did it with fewer players and less talent," said junior Marcus Dewberry. "We lost to them earlier in the season and we worked hard and got a tough win."
Sebring athletes roll at state meet
9 The Sebring track and field team had a banner day at the Class 3A state track and field meet at Hodges Stadium in Jacksonville. The Blue Streaks took four athletes to the meet and all of them returned home with medals, including Donavon White, who captured the Class 3A high jump title with a leap of 6 feet, 6 inches.
"It's just awesome," said Sebring coach Renee Crenshaw. "Coach (Chris) Cook and I are still in shock. We took four athletes and for all of them to medal is a great feeling."
The day started off with junior Kiley Fort competing in the girls pole vault, where she was one of five to clear 10 feet, 6 inches, which netted her eighth place in a competitive field.
"Kiley tied her PR," Crenshaw said. "It was great to see her get a medal. She really had to fight for it."
The boys pole vault was the second event the Blue Streaks had a competitor in, with senior Colton Dillion clearing 13-6 to finish in a tie for fourth place with Land O' Lakes' Ian McKenzie.
"For Colton, being a senior, that was really great to see," Crenshaw said.
White saved his best high school track and field meet for the very end, making all of his early attempts and then setting a new personal best of 6-6 on his first attempt to win the gold medal.
"It was an outstanding day," Cook said. "All of our kids were seeded somewhere around where they performed, except for Donavon. It was pretty emotional for us coaches up in the stands," he said. "It was a great day overall."
Taylor Tubbs was able to overcome sickness long enough to place seventh in the 1,600 in a time of 5:02.49.
"She was really sick after the 1,600," Crenshaw said. "She did great and stayed right with them."
LP swimmers capture district titles
10 The Lake Placid boys and girls swimming teams finished first in the Class 1A-District 5 meet in Winter Haven.
"It was a fantastic meet," said Lake Placid coach Tom Creel. "Our preliminary rounds went very well for us. Our boys and girls teams swam their very best to position themselves in the top 16 places, and with that went into finals determined to do their very best to get the points needed to win the district championships, both boys and girls."
The Lake Placid boys scored 461 points, with All Saints Academy placing second with 417 points and Avon Park finishing a solid third.
The Green Dragons' girls team outscored All Saints Academy 391 to 358 to capture their fourth consecutive district title.
The Green Dragons received solid contributions from the whole team and saw several athletes claim district titles, including sophomore Anne Weber-Callahan, who captured the 100-yard backstroke title in 1:08.55, setting a new school record in the process. The old record of 1:08.82 was set by Kathryn Canter in 1996.
Freshman Andrew Brown captured the 100 breaststroke in 1:04.98 and placed second in the 200 IM, breaking his own record of 2:10.64 with a time of 2:09.38.
Brown also teamed up with fellow Green Dragons to capture the 200 freestyle relay title with a time of 1:37.37.
Lake Placid's first district title came when Michelle Hunter won the girls 1-meter diving competition with a score of 303.85 points.