COVINGTON, Ga. — As we prepare to bid farewell to 2020, The Covington News staff recently took a look back at the top news stories from the year.
Additionally, I compiled a list of what I believed to be the top 10 storylines from my first year as a sports editor on Usher Street.
COVID-19 dominated headlines, rightfully earning its spot at No. 1 on our list for both news and sports. But this year wasn’t all doom and gloom. As a matter of fact, in many ways, it was a year of triumph and inspiration.
Let’s take a look back at some of the most memorable moments in the local sports scene from the past 12 months:
1. The impact of COVID-19
On March 13, Newton traveled to Rockdale County for a regular season baseball game on a Friday evening.
At the time, Newton County had announced it would be the final sporting event “until further notice” in an effort to decrease the spread of COVID-19. But nobody could have predicted the ensuing ripple effect the novel virus would have on the sports world for the next several months.
The remainder of all spring athletics were canceled, forcing high school seniors to forfeit a significant chunk of the final year of their prep careers. No Senior Days were celebrated. No champions were crowned. No redemption was in sight.
Spring gave way to summer, and suddenly fall sports appeared to be in jeopardy as well.
On Monday, Aug. 17, Newton County School officials announced the indefinite suspension of all fall sports and extracurricular activities. Coming on the heels of other indefinite suspensions around the state, it appeared as though the plug had been irrevocably pulled on athletics for 2020.
However, just one week later, the county reinstated all sporting events. Consequently, Alcovy, Eastside and Newton were permitted to play out their respective athletics this fall and winter.
Nevertheless, the shadow of COVID-19 remained — as it continues to do so today.
2. A flurry of college signings
If Newton County wasn’t on the national radar before 2020, it sure is now.
The past 12 month have been inundated with a multitude of high school student-athletes signing scholarships to play sports at the next level. These signings have come at all four local schools, in a wide array of sports, for programs spread across the country.
The most recent crop of signees were Eastside’s Devin Brown (Murray State) and Newton’s Nyland Green (Georgia) and Darius Green (Minnesota), all of whom signed National Letters of Intent to play college football on Dec. 16.
Other notable signings in 2020 included: Eastside’s Aralyn Everett (soccer/Georgia College); Newton’s Blake Peacock (baseball/Bryan College); Peachtree Academy’s Emily Earwood (beach volleyball/Mercer); Alcovy’s Unique Reed (basketball/Carver Bible College); and plenty more.
Covington is a hotbed for athletic talent. Each year, it appears more and more college programs are taking notice.
Blurb: On Tuesday night, the Eastside Lady Eagles game against the Hampton Lady Hornets was brought to a complete stop for a moment of celebration of a historic achievement by senior Alysee Dobbs.
Dobbs became the first Lady Eagle to join the 1,000 point club with a 3-pointer from the top of the key in the early part of the second quarter against the Lady Hornets. Dobbs did not know until the day before the game that she was only 14 points away from reaching this colossal achievement.
“Honestly, I didn’t know I was that close until the day before at practice because my dad would never tell me because he would say ‘I don’t want you to think about it or get in your head about it’ and the day before coach King told everybody at practice that I was 14 points away,” Dobbs said.
Lady Eagles’ head coach Gladys King knew that she wanted Dobbs to get her 14 points that night and was happy to see her thriving and get that achievement in such a quick fashion.
“To be honest, for me, it didn’t matter how she made it. I just wanted for her to get the points that she needed to reach that milestone, which was 14 points. She is a great shooter, but she’s very versatile inside and outside and that is always good.” ...
4. Historic prep football season
A pandemic couldn’t stop Newton County from completing another high school football season.
And what wondrous results it produced.
For the first time since 2009 — just the second time ever — Alcovy, Eastside, Newton and Social Circle qualified for the postseason in the same year.
The Tigers played a de facto region championship game and came minutes away from their first region title in program history. The Eagles made it back to the state quarterfinals for the second time in three years. The Rams knocked off nationally-ranked Brookwood and made it to the playoffs for the ninth consecutive season. The Redskins finally quenched their thirst following a postseason drought that dated back to 2009.
Years from now, 2020 will be remembered as one of the most successful prep football seasons in the history of the county.
Blurb: Newton High School track and field assistant coach Jay Rollerson died over the weekend from an apparent heart attack, Newton head coach Demetrice Perry-Stokes announced. He was 66.
Funeral arrangements were not immediately made available.
Perry-Stokes took to Facebook on Monday to make the announcement and share a heart-felt message about the loss she and the Newton Ram community suffered.
“My heart is sooo heavy right now, l am really in disbelief at this moment,” she said in the social media post. “I lost a great friend, mentor, and legendary coach who stuck with me from the beginning to the end.”
Rollerson, referred to by many as ‘Coach Rollo,’ was an assistant on Perry-Stokes’ staff for the past seven years after retiring from teaching. He oversaw an extremely successful period of the Rams program, which included back-to-back region championships. ...
BLURB: The Piedmont Academy fast-pitch softball team can now say “mission accomplished.”
The Lady Cougars (18-3-1) swept Briarwood Academy 7-1 and 10-5 in the GISA Class AA state championship series in Dublin last week for the second state championship in program history. Piedmont went undefeated in the postseason and stopped a strong Lady Buccaneer team.
“This has been a season to remember for sure,” coach Joe Johnson said. “This group of young ladies have worked very hard since the third week of June and they definitely earned this state championship. I couldn’t be any prouder of them for it.” ...
Blurb: Upset complete.
Hosting previously unbeaten Brookwood at Sharp Stadium for Senior Night, Newton entered Friday night’s contest as a considerable underdog on paper. The Rams were undeterred, however, as they powered their way past the Broncos for a 28-16 win to apply the first blemish to Brookwood’s record.
The victory put an end to a three-game skid for Newton, improving the club to 3-3 overall and 1-1 in Region 4-AAAAAAA play. Brookwood fell to 6-1 and 0-1 in the region.
The script of the game was flipped on three consecutive plays in the third quarter.
Clinging to a 7-2 lead at the break, the Rams began their first drive of the second half on their own 7-yard line. On the first play from scrimmage, junior quarterback Jevarra Martin Jr. connected with senior Nyland Green, who showed off his wheels on his way to the end zone for a 93-yard touchdown.
Following the ensuing kickoff, Newton sophomore defensive lineman Justin Benton powered his way into the backfield and pummeled the quarterback, forcing a fumble. The Rams recovered the ball on the Brookwood 15-yard line, seizing both possession and momentum.
Blurb: It’s a Friday afternoon in September and Jeremy Van Dyke is sprinting down a path on his bicycle.
He reaches the bottom of a hill and stops to check his watch. He sees he shaved a few seconds off his time, prompting a ride to the top for another attempt. He races back down the strip of concrete.
Even his behavior is cyclical.
Van Dyke finds himself on Cricket Frog Trail on this particular Friday afternoon for a scheduled photo shoot with The Covington News following a milestone achievement. But right now, he’s not thinking about getting his picture taken for the newspaper. In fact, he’s not thinking about much of anything other than competing against himself to beat his personal record on that slope.
It’s not that he doesn’t value other things in life; when Van Dyke mounts his bicycle, he simply allows everything else to melt away. The lens through which he sees the world suddenly shrinks to the size of the reflective sunglasses he’s wearing as his wheels spin along the pavement.
This is his escape. ...
Blurb: What a year it was for the Eastside High School swim team.
Under the guidance of second-year head coach DeAnna O’Brien, the Eagles produced the most successful season in program history this winter. After winning a regular-season meet for the first time ever in 2018, they raised the bar during their 2019-20 campaign by earning five first-place finishes. They then capped off the year by sending 10 qualifiers to Georgia Tech for the state meet — nine more than they sent a season ago.
Making such a monumental leap in just a one-year span is no small task. So, how did the Eagles accomplish the feat?
“We redesigned the entire program and the atmosphere,” O’Brien said.
“A big thing this year was teaching them how to be a team and what it meant to be a team, and that swimming is a team sport,” she continued. “If you’re here to be for an individual, you do not need to be a part of this team. It is a team sport and that’s what we’re about.”
Blurb: Former Newton High School standout Ashton Hagans signed an undrafted free agent deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves following the completion of the 2020 NBA Draft on Wednesday.
The news was first reported by NBA Insider Shams Charania of The Athletic.
Hagans spent two seasons playing for head coach John Calipari at the University of Kentucky.
As a freshman guard, he appeared in 37 games and averaged 7.7 points, 4.3 assists. 2.6 rebounds and 1.6 steals per contest. He was named the 2019 Southeastern Conference Co-Defensive Player of the Year alongside LSU’s Tremont Waters.