This past year will be remembered for a lot of negative things but there’s one thing that should be noted: it couldn’t keep area athletic programs from grinding it out and shining despite everything that 2020 tried to throw in the way.
Championships, big wins and even bigger accomplishments highlighted 2020.
As we begin 2021, here’s one final look back at the year that was 2020:
It came swiftly and dramatically changed the course of 2020 for sports of all levels. In the middle of March, just as spring sports were ramping up the coronavirus brought the sports world to a grinding halt.
On March 12, the University Interscholastic League suspended the boys state basketball tournament after just a few games. Then, on Friday the 13th, the UIL suspended all activities through the end of March as the world began to grasp the seriousness of COVID-19.
That meant baseball, softball, soccer, golf, tennis and track, as well as spring football practice, were halted in their tracks, robbing seniors of their last chance to step on a high school field.
In April, all spring sports were canceled.
Nearly a month later, light at the end of the tunnel appeared with the UIL announcing that summer workouts could begin June 8 ending a 13-week shutdown for student-athletes.
Things would be different, from mandated virus screenings and mitigation plans that were to be followed to the letter.
But sports programs persevered and a return to what was deemed the ‘new normal’ happened.
Things looked different and there were hiccups but both volleyball and football were able to complete their seasons and basketball got started.
For the eighth time in the past 14 seasons and fourth in the past five seasons, Carthage hoisted a state championship, doing so in typical dominant fashion.
With a strong showing on both offense and defense, the Bulldogs completed an undefeated season with a 70-14 win over East Texas foe Gilmer to claim the Class 4A, Division II state championship at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
The Bulldogs ran the table in a 14-0 season and capped it with a stellar performance against the Buckeyes, who finished the season at 14-2 with both losses coming against Carthage.
Scott Surratt moved to 179-28 at Carthage, and he has more state titles (8) on his resume than playoff losses (63 wins, 6 losses in the postseason).
Carthage running back Mason Courtney garnered Offensive MVP honors and Brandon King, who picked off four passes and returned two for touchdowns, was named the Defensive MVP of the title game.
Pine Tree just kept checking off boxes in a storied 2020 season.
First seven-win season since 1983. First eight-win season since 1977. First playoff win since 1976.
The Pirates started the season at 5-0, including a win over Marshall for the first time since 1985. After its first loss of the season to Texas High, the Pirates knocked off then-undefeated Whitehouse for a 3-0 finish to the regular season, earning the Pirates a home playoff game.
They then avenged a 2019 loss to A&M Consolidated in a 34-28 overtime win and advanced to the second round for the first time in 44 season.
Their season ended then in a 34-21 loss to Nederland but a historic season was just the latest benchmark in five seasons under head coach Kerry Lane, who credited his senior class.
“They wanted to put Pine Tree back on the map and bring this program back to life over the past couple of years and they’ve done that,” Lane said. “I told them in that huddle, what they’ve done for this program, you can’t measure in wins. They’ve done so much more than what the win-loss column says and those things have laid the foundation for a long time.”
CLAIMS ASC CROWN
LeTourneau topped rival East Texas Baptist in February, claiming the first American Southwest Conference Championship Tournament title in program history.
The win earned the YellowJackets (23-5) a trip to the NCAA Division III tournament for the second time in three seasons.
Senior Nate West was named the tournament MVP, among several other postseason awards for the Houston native.
A mainstay deep in the volleyball postseason, Beckville had company in 2020.
Joining the Ladycats were Harmony, Sabine and Gilmer who all reached the regional tournament this past season.
Beckville closed its season in the regional final round at 31-3. Harmony reached the regional final round as well before falling to Gunter to end the Lady Eagles’ season at 22-4.
Sabine concluded its best season in more than three decades at 26-2. Gilmer (25-5) fell to Aubrey in the regional semifinal round.
NEW LOOK FOR
Realignment dropped Longview down a classification and into a new district full of new faces and a few old ones.
Longview competed in District 7-5A, DI, which included old foe Tyler High and put together a showdown with Highland Park for the first time in 44 years. The Scots grabbed an 18-13 win to win the district title.
Also this season, longtime defensive coordinator John Berry resigned his post as the head coach at Gladewater to return to the Lobo football program.
It was an historic season for Lobo running back Kaden Meredith, who broke the Lobo school record in total career touchdowns and career rushing touchdowns. Both records were previously held by Fred Talley.
Longview fell to No. 1 Denton Ryan in the third round to conclude its season at 9-3.
Gladewater’s Winston Hill, an All-Pro offensive tackle who logged 15 seasons in the trenches and earned a Super Bowl championship with the New York Jets, was selected as a member of the National Football League’s 2020 Hall of Fame class in January.
Hill, who died in 2016 at the age of 74, was one of 10 senior candidates, three contributors and two coaches named on Wednesday as part of the hall’s celebration of the NFL’s 100th season.
Hill attended Weldon High School in Gladewater.
He played 195 games for the Jets, and earned eight AFL All-Star/NFL Pro Bowl appearances.
He joined the Jets as a free agent in 1963 after a standout career at Texas Southern University.
Five more local players began their NFL careers as Daingerfield’s Denzel Mims (New York Jets) and Longview’s Broderick Washington (Baltimore Ravens) were selected in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Gilmer’s Blake Lynch (Minnesota Vikings) and Longview’s JaMycal Hasty (San Francisco 49ers) signed undrafted free agent deals.
Already a mainstay in the NFL, Longview’s Trent Williams was traded to San Francisco after a long career in Washington. Williams was later selected to his eighth Pro Bowl.
TAKES HEAD SPOT
Longtime Gilmer Buckeye head coach Jeff Traylor, after serving as an assistant coach in the collegiate ranks at Texas, SMU and Arkansas, was named the third head coach in UTSA history in December.
The first season for the Roadrunners was a big success.
UTSA finished with a program-best seven wins and advanced to a bowl game for the second time in the 10-year history of the program.
TITANS TAKE TITLE
A dominant fourth quarter and solid performances from all-tournament picks Marlin Reeves, Caed Liebengood and Jy Christian added up to a TAPPS Class A state championship for the Trinity School of Texas Titans in March.
Reeves scored 11 points and grabbed eight rebounds for the Titans (21-4), who held a one-point lead against Robert M. Beren Academy before outscoring the Stars 18-2 in the final eight minutes to capture a 50-33 win.
Liebengood added nine points and 15 rebounds, and Christian filled the stat sheet with nine points, seven assists and six steals. Patrick Pither finished with eight points and six steals.
Ford, the longtime tennis coach at Spring Hill, passed away on Jan. 5 and it was announced in July that she would inducted into the Texas Tennis Coaches Hall of Fame. Malone, who won 861 games and a couple of state baseball championships, passed away in March.
Williams, a longtime proponent of youth golf in East Texas, passed away in June.
Meeks, who guided Chapel Hill and Henderson to football state championships, passed in August.
Whitley, a longtime sportswriter in East Texas and for the past five years at the News-Journal who loved family and football more than most, passed away in September.
Woods, who guided the Kilgore College Lady Rangers to 90 wins in five seasons, passed in October. Longview High graduate Loyd Phillips, who went on to a standout career at the University of Arkansas and the NFL, died in December.