A global pandemic dominated the news during 2020 and forced the cancelation of several sports.
However, before COVID-19 hit and when a path to playing sports during it was eventually figured out, several Tipton County-area athletes and teams accomplished some big things.
Here are the top five sports stories of 2020:
5. Clay Busters win state, national titles
Clay target shooting doesn’t typically register too highly on the sports landscape, but in 2020 it definitely did.
On May 9 the T-County Clay Busters, a shooting team that includes children in grades 5 through 12 from Brighton, Munford, Covington and a couple of other area schools, became the first local organization to practice since COVID-19 restrictions began.
“I tell you,” said Richard Griggs, the organization’s president, “they were glad to be back on that field.”
It was just the beginning of the news the squad made last year.
The quintet of Sam Long (Munford High School), Cody Taylor (Brighton High School), Aiden Griggs (Covington High School), William Rice (Munford) and Jebb Smith (Munford) hit 486 of 500 targets in the varsity trap shooting competition to claim the state title on July 2 in Nashville.
Long led the way with a perfect score of 100 and ended up finishing third in the state in the individual competition and high overall state singles.
On month later in Missouri Tyler Johnson, a freshman from Munford High School, won a national title in his class.
Johnson and sub-junior teammates Peyton Whitesides, Logan Campessi and Connor Bradshaw nearly earned the Clay Busters’ second national title, but had to settle for second.
“Considering the hand we were dealt this year and not being able to do some of the things we normally do, I think we came across real well,” Griggs said.
4. Covington football sees strong season end in COVID forfeit to Milan
At 11 a.m. on Nov. 13, just a few yours before the Chargers were going to board a bus for Milan to play a much-hyped second round playoff game, the news broke that Covington was going to forfeit its game because of COVID issues.
Covington head coach J.R. Kirby had the unpleasant task of informing his players their season was over.
“That’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do as a coach, tell them their season is over with,” Kirby said. “It’s very, very disappointing to see our season end like this. On the positive side, we did get to play our season, but to have to tell the seniors, who have been such a big part of our success the last three or four years, that they’re done is tough … I support our administration’s decision. They’re making the best decision for everyone involved. It was a very difficult decision.”
Because Milan beat Covington in triple overtime in the regular season and the rumors that someone connected with Covington had instigated an investigation of Milan possibly playing with ineligible players, the rematch was drawing a lot of attention.
Covington won its first six games of the season and rose to No. 2 in the state rankings before falling to region foes Milan and South Gibson, which edged the Chargers 22-21. It was the first time in four seasons the Chargers did not advance to at least the state semifinals.
“I feel bad for those seniors,” Kirby said. “They’re not going to get to play another football game. I’ll coach more games, but they won’t get to play again. You can imagine it was very emotional, a lot of tears, a lot of tears and sad long faces. Those guys have meant so much for this program. I want them to know how proud I am of them and how much I love them.”
3. Covington volleyball makes state for first time in 19 years
With a chance for the Covington Lady Charger volleyball team to get back to the state tournament for the first time 19 years on the line, the ball could not have been in better hands.
Junior Anna Gover, the district regular season and tournament most valuable player, stood at the service line on Oct. 15 with her team leading Lexington 14-7 in set five. One point away from Murfreesboro.
“I just wanted to get it in because I trust my teammates,” Gover said.
She did more than that.
Gover came up with an ace which set off a wild celebration on the court and in the home stands as Covington beat Lexington 20-25, 27-25, 25-17, 19-25, 15-7 in a sectional match to advance to state for the first time since 2001, three years before most of this year’s players were even born.
The Lady Chargers had come up one win short of state the last two seasons, losing in the sectionals in straight sets to Crockett County last year and Jackson South Side in 2018.
Head coach Molly Glass said the 19-year absence from state was discussed but was not the team’s focus.
“I mentioned it before the game in the locker room,” she said. “I told them, ‘You have a chance to do something that nobody in your lifetime has done.’ I kind of laid that out there to see what they could do with it and they capitalized.”
Covington went 0-2 at state, but won 12 matches and district and region titles during a season that was shortened by COVID.
With just one senior on the 2020 team and several talented underclassmen returning, look for this squad to make more noise in the years to come.
2. TSSAA cancels spring sports
It became official on April 15, but for anybody reading the tea leaves, it had seemed inevitable for a while.
On April 15 the TSSAA announced that due to COVID-19 all spring sports seasons, which had been suspended one week into the season, were officially canceled.
Athletes and coaches were in limbo for about month before the decision was finally made.
Covington softball coach Justus Cousar had to tell his team that a trip to Gulf Shores, Ala. for a tournament had been cancelled. A beach house had already been rented and the trip had been in the works for two years.
“All the kids on our team have been looking forward to this for a long time,” Cousar said in March. “I’m just not happy with the whole situation.”
Before the cancelation was announced, Munford baseball coach Scotty Yount said, ““I’ve really been hoping this is a bad dream and I’m going to wake up. I just really feel bad for our seniors. The college season is shut down, but those guys get those years back. Our guys don’t get theirs back. I hope, if we get back into school, the TSSAA takes that into consideration and lets these seniors, in every sport, have as much season as they can have.”
“You watch the news and you don’t know what to believe and what not to believe,” TRA softball coach Johnie Sanfratello said in mid-March. “It’s awful right now. It’s hard to understand. I get the precautions and keeping groups away, but it’s tough when you have seniors who might have played their last game. You don’t want that to be true, but there are obviously way more important things than softball right now.
- Lady Rebels drop heartbreaker in first state tournament appearance
The way the DII-A state semifinal game began March 5 at David Lipscomb University in Nashville, it sure looked like the Tipton-Rosemark Academy Lady Rebels were headed to the title game.
Rosemark led Trinity Christian Academy 12-0 early in the second quarter and its full-court press was giving the state’s top-ranked team serious issues.
The Lady Rebels still led by 14 late in the third quarter, but TCA, the state’s top-ranked team, rallied and beat TRA 64-59 in overtime. It was the fourth time that TCA, which went on to win the state title two days later, beat TRA during the 2019-20 season. Three of those games featured late-game comebacks.
Despite that frustrating loss, it was a historic season for TRA. It was the first time in program history the Lady Rebels made it to the state tournament after coming up just short the previous two seasons. The Lady Rebels were the only Tipton County-area high school team to make it to the final four in any sport in 2020.
“It means the world to everybody who is associated with Tipton-Rosemark Academy, the former players, the players who are coming back and the up-and-coming players,” Cedric Anderson, who was in his first year as the Lady Rebels’ coach, said after the game. “These ladies have raised the bar for a higher expectation. I think what we have to do now is go back home, work hard and put the time in so we can get back, because it’s never promised you can get here. These girls have shown the way.”
“Right now I’m just mad that we lost, really,” senior Megan Sanfratello, who was unsuccessfully holding back tears, said. “Later it will set in that no other team has done this and that’s exciting to accomplish.”