The year that was 2019 had a little bit of everything.
There were teams that did way better than everybody, a few that did worse (which will not appear on this list) and one team did what everybody thought was possible, but did it in storybook fashion. Here are the top 10 Tipton County sports stories of 2019:
10. New coach, new pitchers, no problem
There were a lot of question marks surrounding the 2019 Brighton High School baseball team.
How would things go with new head coach Ryan Wood, who was leading a high school team for the first time? Considering the team’s top three pitchers from 2018 graduated, who would pitch?
The Cardinals answered those questions emphatically by winning the district tournament for the second straight season.
A win against Hardin County in the district title game was definitely the highlight of the season.
Brighton fell behind Hardin 6-0 early before rallying for a wild finish.
The Cardinals trailed 7-6 in the seventh when Jake Olivette came up with a two-out double and Dylan Forbes singled him in to send the game to extra innings. Garrison McBride walked with the bases loaded in the top of the eighth to put Brighton ahead 8-7, Hunter Deering struck out the final batter of the game in the bottom of the eighth and Brighton stormed the field to celebrate another district title.
Louisville signee Dalton Rushing, who had a monster season, was named the regular season district MVP and Deering was the tourney MVP.
Brighton lost to Arlington in the region semifinals, but it was quite a season for Cardinal baseball.
“Being district champs is a nice accolade for our guys,” Wood said. “They’ve worked hard and I’m proud of them for defending that title.”
9. Munford recovers from slow start to earn another home playoff game
The 2019 Cougar football season did not start well.
Munford was completely overwhelmed and its offense was almost completely shut down in a 35-0 season-opening loss to Covington. Things did not get much better in Week 2 as the Cougars squeaked out a 12-7 win against Millington, a team the Cougars dominated the previous season.
It looked like the Cougars could be headed to their first losing season since 2013.
Turns out there was nothing to worry about.
Munford won five of its next six games, including a wild 34-31 overtime win at Ridgeway during which the Cougars overcame a pair of two-touchdown deficits to move into first place in the region.
Two weeks after the Ridgeway win, Jesse Savage threw for completions twice on fake punts and kicked three field goals in an overtime win over region for Kirby. His third field goal came in double overtime and won the game.
Munford ended up finishing second in the region and hosted Clarksville in a first-round playoff game. The Cougars held a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter, but Clarksville recovered an onside kick and scored 16 unanswered points in a 29-28 win.
Said Munford head coach Nick Markle: “You hate giving up a 15-point lead right there in the fourth quarter. The onside kick will probably haunt me for a while.”
8. “Tennessee twins” keep pitching at a world-class level
Local twins Mar Ray and Max Griffith are legends in the world of horseshoe pitching.
When they took part in the National Horseshoe Pitcher Association World Tournament last August in Wichita Falls, Texas, they met a 20-year-old from Canada named Lindsay Hodgins, who was taking part in the event for the first time.
She was, of course, very familiar with the twins.
“Oh yeah, she knew who we were,” Ray said. “The Tennessee twins.”
That’s been their moniker for a long time and for good reason. They’ve been touring the country for the better part of two decades and have won countless titles.
Griffith won the world title for the first time during last year’s event in South Carolina. She finished fifth this year in Texas.
Ray nearly won her first world title, but had to settle for second for the third time.
7. Four-year Munford basketball plan comes to fruition
When Ryan Ross was hired as Munford’s basketball coach four years ago, the Cougars were coming off a four-win season.
After the first tryout the coach noticed four freshmen – twin brothers Kyree and Kylan Cunningham, James Farrow and Landon Winter – who he thought could help resurrect the program.
When the tryouts were done he held a meeting with principal Dr. Courtney Fee and athletic director Mike Huffman.
“I told them this was going to be the group to bring us back,” Ross said. “I said it was going to take a while because they’re real young, but this will be the group. I believed it and they believed in us.”
That plan came to fruition last February in the Brighton High gym as the Cougars beat Dyer County 63-58 to win its first district tournament title since 2014.
When the game was over Cougar fans stormed the court in a wild celebration. After that the team adjourned to the locker room and the roar from the room could be heard throughout the gym.
“We was turnt because we’ve never won a championship,” Kyree Cunningham said when asked about the locker room celebration. “I guess we just let out all of our energy in there.”
The Cougars beat Arlington the following week to advance to the region semifinals for the first time in nearly a decade. Bolton stopped them there, but it was one of the feel-good stories of 2019.
“When you have a bunch of guys who believe in each other, believe in what you’re doing and your system, this is the kind of stuff that happens,” Ross said. “You don’t win something like this unless you’re playing for more than yourself, and they play for each other.”
6. Crestview Middle School basketball teams makes history
Quick trivia question: What’s the only Tipton County basketball team to play in a state title game?
The answer would be the Crestview Middle School boys’ team, and it happened earlier this year.
In the first year the Tennessee Middle School Athletic Association extended middle school playoffs statewide, Crestview made it all the way to the title game.
The Chargers traveled to Smyrna last February to take on Bellevue Middle from Memphis with a state title on the line. Bellevue jumped out to an early lead and beat Covington 58-43, but that didn’t take much shine off a 22-2 season that included a league title.
Key players on the team, coached by Gary Murdock, included Anthony Mason-Young, Alijah Bland, Holden Warmath, Tylan Holland, Jamarion Dowell, Omarion Winfrey and Elijah Ford.
5. Wheeler leaves Covington after historic 10-year run
On Feb. 4, exactly 65 days after leading the Covington High School football team to the state title game for the second straight season and third time in seven years, head coach Marty Wheeler announced he was leaving Covington to take the head coaching job at Cleveland High School in East Tennessee.
Wheeler was 85-39 in 10 seasons at Covington. He took over a program coming off two straight 2-8 seasons and almost immediately turned things around.
After a 2-8 record in Wheeler’s first season, the Chargers made the playoffs in his second season and only missed the postseason one more time during his tenure. In addition to the three title game appearances, Wheeler led the Chargers to the semifinals in 2011 and the second round in 2015.
J.R. Kirby, the offensive coordinator under Wheeler during the last two state title game appearances, was named as Wheeler’s replacement.
Cleveland went 4-6 in Wheeler’s first season as head coach and missed the playoffs.
“Covington will be a special place for me. I can never repay this place for how they’ve been to me and my family,” Wheeler said. “In 10 years, really 14 years (he was an assistant for four), that’s a lot of time and you build a lot of relationships with people, not just in the school building with players, but the people in the community. It’s never easy to pick up and leave those people. I mean, those are the people you care about.”
4. Lady Chargers prove they are the best hoops program in the county
Only one Tipton County high school basketball program has advanced to the state tournament since the 1980s. That would be the Covington Lady Chargers and they have made it three times since 2002, including last year’s appearance.
Covington beat Jackson South Side 53-43 in front of a raucous home crowd in Covington to advance to Murfreesboro. Macon County beat them handily in the first round, but it was still a season to remember.
Considering how young the Lady Chargers were, they were not a favorite to make it to state. The good news, however, is that everybody is back, including leading scorers Kalynn Howard and Felia Fayne, meaning the Lady Chargers have an excellent chance of appearing on this list in 2020.
“They obviously had some jitters early, with their first time at state, but I thought they adjusted well,” said Covington coach Katrisha Glass, who was player on the first Covington team which went to state and an assistant coach on the second. “They fought hard. I couldn’t be more proud of these young girls. Every single starter that I have will be back next year so we’ll work even harder to get back to this point.”
3. Covington football makes final four
It’s extremely rare for a high school football team to make it to the state title game three years in a row, yet that’s what the Chargers almost pulled off in 2019.
Late in the regular season, it looked like Covington might not even make the playoffs. Consecutive losses to Milan and Gibson put the Chargers in a must-win situation against McNairy Central in the regular season finale.
Covington won that one, avenged the regular season loss to South Gibson in the second round of the playoffs and probably should have beaten Pearl-Cohn in the semifinals but fell 21-20.
Covington finished 11-3, one win shy of a third straight trip to Cookeville. It was quite a debut for new coach J.R. Kirby.
“We were so close to going back to play for a state championship,” Kirby said moments after the game. “It’s all over, but I don’t know if a lot of people thought we would be here again with what we lost (to graduation). I’m very proud to be their coach. We’ve got a lot of guys hurting and lot of our fan base hurting. I told them in a couple of months we’ll look back and be proud of what we did. But coming up one point short, it’s going to take a while to get over this one.”
2. Rosemark boys’ basketball finishes second in state
Entering DII-A state title game in Nashville last March, Tipton-Rosemark Academy had won seven straight games, including an impressive, and to some, surprising, run to a region title.
The Rebels won those games in a variety ways. They overwhelmed some teams early on. In the sub-state game and in the state semifinal win over The Webb School, TRA erased early deficits.
They saw something they hadn’t seen against Knoxville Webb in the title game. The Spartans made 7 of 8 shots from 3-point range and shot a scorching 85 percent from the floor in the first quarter to jump out to a 29-18 lead. TRA (23-9) never cut the lead to single digits and saw its season end in a 75-40 loss.
Star players on the team included Alex and Andrew Anderson, the sons of head coach Cedric Anderson, and Tysen Banks, a cousin of the Anderson brothers.
“I couldn’t ask for a better group of brothers, a better group of teammates to be around,” Banks said. “Something coach said has really stuck with us. He said y’all have to realize that any other team in the state of Tennessee in our division would rather be here than where they are right now.”
1. Covington writes storybook ending to unbelievable baseball season
There were so many heartwarming story lines surrounding Covington’s 11-1 state title game win May 24 over Forrest at MTSU’s Reese Smith Jr. Field, it’s hard to know where to start.
There was, of course, the plight of the Warmath family. Brad, the head coach, and his wife, Paige, have been battling life-threatening illnesses for several months. Brad rejoined the team as a coach three weeks ago and Paige has been along for the ride to Friday’s state title. Their son, Ty, is the team’s ace pitcher and one of its best hitters.
Kyle Ginn, who was injured during football, missed basically the entire baseball season. He struck out during his only at-bat of the season on senior night before hitting a towering two-run homer over the left field wall to make the score 11-0 in the bottom of the fourth.
“I was like, ‘No way, no way, this is crazy,’” Ginn said after the game.
After his home run, several Chargers were in tears as they watched their teammate round the bases. He was swarmed like he had hit a walk-off dinger.
And then there was Noah Walls, who suffered a serious knee injury earlier in the tournament. He pinch hit in the fourth, reached on an error and literally walked to second because that’s all he could do. He also got a huge ovation.
“It’s unreal, man,” said senior Christian Delashmit, who pitched Covington to a win in game two of the state tournament.
The story appeared on ESPN and producers from the who paid a visit to Covington a few weeks later to unveil the painted water tower in Covington that now bears the name of Ginn and Brad Warmath.
Ty may have summed it up best.
“I don’t even know how to put it into words,” Ty said moments after the title game. “My dad would always tell me when you’re in baseball think about baseball. You can deal with me and your mom when you get out of baseball. He got to come back just in time to share a special moment with us. Being able to hug him with a smile on his face that I saw, I’ll never forget it. I don’t even know what to say.”