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The Year in Review in Sports: Changes highlight last year of the decade

From personnel changes to championships, the final year of the first decade of the 2000s was a busy one on the courts and fields of Rockdale County.

As 2009 ended, the thoughts of championships lingered in the county with Rockdale’s football team having just made a tremendous run to the state semifinals. When the calendar turned football was put on the back burner, and the signs of a new year were clear as an ending was the first big story.


McBrayer retires

On Jan. 15 Jim McBrayer announced his retirement as Athletic Director of Salem High school, leaving behind 30 years on the front line of education following the end of the 2009-10 school year.

McBrayer started at Salem in its first year, 1991. He was the school’s first boys’ basketball and girls’ soccer coach under then Athletic Director Johnny Tucker, who retired in 2003.

"My wife is going to retire at the end of year," McBrayer said at the time of his retirement. "And I felt like it would be a good time for me to bow out."

McBrayer’s retirement also coincided with election season, as 2010 marked another chapter in his life in education. In November he was elected to the Rockdale County Board of Education.

"I think I can add some insight to the board that maybe other people couldn’t," McBrayer said. "I’ve been in the career of education for over 39 years, and just by experience alone I think I could make a contribution."

McBrayer would be replaced by Bill Roberts in the top athletics position at Salem, but his tenure wouldn’t last long. Roberts would leave in the summer to take a girls basketball coach and Maurice Gibson would guide the Seminoles through the 2010-11 school year.

McBrayer made a few more decisions before moving on from Salem, one of them being the hiring of a new football coach.


Salem hires Starr

After Chad Estes resigned following the 2009 season, the Seminoles were left with a vacancy until Feb. 12 2010, when they hired John Starr.

Starr came to Salem after coaching at Class AAA Josey High from 1992 until 1997, winning a state title in 1995, spending 12 more years at Chattooga, becoming the school’s winningest coach and made six playoff appearances. Before coming to Salem Starr was the offensive line coach at Ridgeland High in 2009.

Starr was one of 200 applicants for the job and came highly recommended by former Salem coach Frank Caputo.

When Starr took over the Seminoles, he tried to get the players to buy into having fun while on the field.

"One of the things I always try to do is figure out what the kids want out of life and football, Starr said."My understanding is that football is not about coaches, but it’s about the kids and trying to help the kids get where they want to be.

"My philosophy is helping people get what they want out of life, and we’ll get what we want out of life from that."

The Seminoles’ football team kept that attitude on the field in their first year, although it wasn’t the most successful in recent times. Starr’s team finished 4-6 losing to both Heritage and Rockdale.

Despite the record, Starr feels the team is on the rise.

"Toward the end of the season, we were beginning to develop some consistency on offense," Starr said to the News following the 2010 season. "We were starting to cut down on the turnovers."


Rockdale basketball tops Region 8-AAAA

The first sport of 2010 was basketball, and the Rockdale’s boys’ hoops team got it going in style.

The Bulldogs won their first 13 games of the season before falling to Gadsden, Ala. The state’s No. 1 ranked AAAA team then went on another winning streak, this time 14 games leading up to the state playoffs.

Rockdale, which finished the season 28-2, including a perfect 17-0 in region play, beat Winder-Barrow 62-51. Bernard Thompson led the way with 29 points and 13 rebounds and Corrdarryle Bethley finished as the tournament’s MVP.

Rockdale went on to defeat Fayette County 75-72, overcoming a 15-point deficit in the opening round of the state’s playoffs. The Bulldogs season ended shortly after, however, as they fell to Hillgrove, 64-60 in the second round.


Salem baseball

As Rockdale’s season ended, another successful season was underway. The Salem baseball team rode the bat and arms of two Division I signees to an 18-10 record. Six of the Seminoles 10 losses didn’t come until the very end of the season. Salem challenged for first place in the region and had three separate stretches of four straight wins before injuries and wear and tear caused it to slide at the end of the year.

Salem entered the playoffs as the No. 3 seed before falling 16-9 and 9-6 to Northgate in the first round.

"Before the season started if you told me this is what we’re going to do, I would have been extremely pleased," Salem coach Chad Kitchens said after the loss. But because we were so successful our hopes rose. That’s what makes this end even harder. We saw what we’re capable of and couldn’t finish the deal."


Soccer teams have success

With baseball season in full swing, soccer was also underway. Three teams stood out in Rockdale with the Heritage boys’ and girls’ teams and Salem’s girls’ team leading the way.

The Lady Seminoles led the way, earning a No. 5 ranking in the state.

Salem started the season with a 6-4 win over Northgate, but couldn’t repeat the feat in the first round of the playoffs in 2010.

The Lady Seminoles fell 3-0 to Northgate in the first round, along with the Heritage girls’ team falling 4-0 to McIntosh and the Heritage boys’ team falling 6-0 to Whitewater.


Troupe drafted by Buffalo

With current Rockdale county players succeeding, 2010 was also a year for past players. On April 30, Torrell Troupe was drafted in the second round of the NFL draft by the Buffalo Bills.

Troupe starred for the Salem Seminoles before moving onto the University of Central Florida. There, the 6-foot-3, 314-pound defensive tackle earned a Conference USA All-defensive selection twice.

His collegiate career was successful enough to propel him to the NFL.

"I wouldn’t have been able to get this far without people at Salem High School," Troupe said. "I give credit to them. I never would have been able to accomplish this without them.

Troupe wasn’t the only former area prep player to see his professional dreams come true.


Austin earns his pinstripes

After four years on the diamond at Heritage High, Tyler Austin made his way to proffessional baseball as the Yankees selected him in the amateur draft in May.

The Patriots’ catcher was picked in the 13th round, 415th overall, bypassing his scholarship offer to Kennesaw State.

Austin led the Patriots to a 14-14 record and the first round of the state playoffs in 2010, and helped Conyers Post 77 to a 2009 state championship.

 "Obviously the Yankees saw something in him," Legion coach Eddie Bagwell said. "He’s a great kid, he’s got a lot of upside, great instincts to play this game and good speed, specifically for a guy his size."


Coaching changes

After Austin brought attention to Heritage’s baseball players, Casey Teal brought attention to coaching.

Teal retired from coaching leaving behind four trips to the Class AAAA final four and a championship series in 2007.

Teal was replaced by Jason Borcherding, formerly an assistant at Wheeler High School and head coach of the 16-and-under team at Team Ga. Baseball Academy in Alpharetta.

Borcherding will helm the Seminoles in 2011 for the first time.

"I’m very excited," Borcherding said at the time of his hiring. "This is kind of what I wanted all my life. From being an assistant coach and coaching travel ball to have an opportunity to take over a program like Heritage that’s been successful and has the tradition that it does; it’s an honor to take on that opportunity."


Bradley retires

While a new era begins on the Salem baseball field, one ended on the basketball court. Heritage boys’ coach and a Georgia coaching legend. Ron Bradley announced his retirement at the end of the 2009 season.

Bradley left the court after 50 years, 101,372 wins, 126 teams coached, 60 championships, 26 region coach of the year honors and countless other accolades.

The 75-year old made his fourth retirement his last, with the Patriots being his final team.

"It’s been 50 years," Bradley said. "I’ve managed for a pretty long time to be with young people, staying out half the night, traveling on a school bus the equivalent of around the world three times. It’s time to let someone else have the responsibilities."

Drew Williams took over the Heritage basketball program, taking them to a 9-3 record in 2010, with 2011 still left.


Legion takes state title

Outside of the high school ranks, Rockdale saw its only state championship come in August.

Conyers Post 77 defeated Douglasville 17-7 to earn its second straight bid into the region tournament in Columbia, Tenn.

Post 77 then lost its first game in Columbia, before going on an incredible run. That run came just short as the back-to-back Georgia champions finished third in the region after falling to Columbia 14-9.

Conyers’ loss saw the last local team swing a baseball bat, leaving way for football to get started.


Football gets underway

The three teams started at different points with Rockdale wanting a repeat of its successful 2009 season, Heritage looking to build upon three years of Chad Frazier as head coach and Salem starting with a new coach in Starr.

Heritage ended the season as the strongest team in the area, by winning the Conyers Cup and brought winning to the school not seen in seven years.

Rockdale couldn’t repeat its winning ways, but finished with a strong look for the future. As did Salem, which ended Starr’s first season 4-6.

Before football finished in December, the girls claimed the spotlight as the Lady Patriots softball team became yet another Heritage team to reach the state playoffs in 2010.


Heritage reaches second round

The Heritage softball team finished 26-10 and reached the second round of the state playoffs before falling to Kell in an elimination game.

"I told the girls, ‘I couldn’t be more proud of them,’" Hightower said following Heritage’s 4-6 loss to Kell on Oct. 31. "We set out for Columbus, and this was our shot and we fell a little short.

The Lady Patriots were led by the pitching of Niki Walden and Kiera Camp and the hitting of Simone Davenport, Calli Alford and Amanda Voyles.

The Lady Patriots marked the fifth team Heritage sent to the state playoffs, but not its last.


Patriots reach playoffs

The Heritage football team opened the season with a 24-7 win over Salem before dropping its first game of the season. However, the Patriots rebounded with two straight wins, including a 31-17 win over Loganville which would prove pivotal at the end of the season.

With Loganville defeating Apalachee at the end of the season, it allowed earned Loganville a spot in the 2010 playoffs, and Heritage a bump to the No. 3 seed.

The Patriots finished 7-4 for their first winning record since 2005 and they reached the state tournament for the first time since 2004. The year 2010 also marked just the fourth year a Heritage football team had reached the playoffs.

"It’s been one of the best seasons I’ve been involved with and certainly one of the best seasons at Heritage," Heritage coach Chad Frazier said to the News.