I’m still a big ol’ kid when it comes to Christmas.
I still get excited about Christmas lights and decorations. I’ve tried to create a tradition in my household regarding when we put up our Christmas tree.
I can walk around the crowded stores or malls for hours without purchasing a thing, just because I love to soak up the atmosphere of holiday hustle and bustle with its Christmas music soundtrack playing through the store’s PA system.
And although I don’t care nearly as much about getting gifts anymore, I still love watching my six-year old son’s eyes light up when his gifts are revealed. That’s probably why I still heartily answer the question: “What do you want for Christmas?”
At age seven it was Nintendo games. At age 17 it was all about the first PlayStation and the kinds of clothes that make a teenager look “cool.”
At 27, I was content with just eating my favorite foods and being around family. Now, as a 37-year old husband and father, most of my Christmas wishes are for others. And most of what I want is to see other people smile because of the joy the season brings.
That’s why my Christmas wish lists have little to do with me anymore, and much to do with those whom I care for most. And just in case I haven’t told you in a while, Covington and Newton County, I care about you – our readers – a great deal. Especially our student-athletes, their coaches, parents and fans.
So here goes, in no particular order, my 2017 Newton County sports Christmas wish list for the upcoming calendar year:
- As merry a Christmas as possible for the families of Sean Beam and Mike Hipps. Newton County lost these two meaningful members of our sports family earlier this year, and with this being the first holiday season without them, it will be undoubtedly tough and different. Beam and Hipps families, my prayers for your continued comfort and strength go out to you this Christmas.
2. A deep state tournament run for a young group of Newton Rams basketball players. Junior point guard Ashton Hagans is the only returner from last year’s nationally ranked squad. And while a state title may be a bit far-fetched for this group, it would be cool to see coach, Rick Rasmussen navigate this young squad back to postseason play.
3. NCAA Tournament appearances for former Rams, J.D. Notae (Jacksonville University) and Isaiah Miller (UNC-Greensboro). Both have wasted little time making their presence felt on the Division I college hoops scene, as Notae is averaging 14.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists for the Dolphins. That actually makes him the team’s second leading scorer – as a true freshman – behind junior Jace Hogan. Meanwhile, Miller has averaged close to eight points per contest, and has already had one of his dunks – an electrifying alley-oop against NC State – go viral on social media and ESPN.
4. A Division I scholarship offer for Eastside’s Spurgeon Gaither. Listed somewhat generously at 6-foot-2 and 275 pounds, Gaither was as quality a defensive lineman as you’ll find in Georgia, but his sleight stature places a mark against him as far as D-I recruiters are concerned. I hope someone takes a chance on the kid. But if they don’t, I hope he’ll go somewhere where and play in such a way that makes those who passed on him regret that choice.
5. A top two region finish for Alcovy football. For all that coach Chris Edgar has done to reinvigorate football at Alcovy, the program is still seeking its first region win during Edgar’s tenure. The talent is in place. I believe a solid culture is in the making. Here’s hoping that in 2018, the Ws begin to fall the Tigers’ way.
6. A region championship for the Newton Lady Rams basketball team. When I think of the way the Lady Rams finished the 2016-17 season with a thud against a Duluth team that Newton should’ve won, I reflexively think back to the double overtime loss to Archer in the region championship game. A game Newton should’ve won got away from it at the very end, and I think that carried over into the first round state tournament loss. Let’s reverse that fortune this year, ladies.
7. A return trip to Columbus, and a couple of wins while there, for the Eastside softball team. With just one departed senior, I think it’s safe to say that the 2018 Eagles, at least on paper, will be one of the state’s most talented teams. Backed by another year of growth and experience and an unexpected Columbus run in 2017, the sky is the limit for coach, Heather Wood’s bunch.
8. A fourth straight state wrestling crown for Social Circle. Okay, so this one is probably as much for me as it is for them. I love covering state championship contenders and teams, and the Redskins are traditional and dual champions three times over – as in three straight times. When The Covington Newstook on new ownership in September and it became evident that Social Circle sports would be more of a coverage focus for us, I was instantly intrigued to see these grapplers in action. Social Circle wrestling, you’ll be seeing my face soon.
9. Speaking of wrestling, a full program turnaround for Newton coach Jay Boyter. A couple of weeks ago, the Rams’ wrestling program did something really cool in the name of autism. You can read about it in this week’s edition. But it’s that kind of heart and spirit that makes you want to root for a program even if, as a journalist, you’re not supposed to root.
10. A healthy 2018 season for the Newton Rams. When I look at how things shook out in the Class AAAAAAA state playoffs, I couldn’t help but wonder “what if.” What if Myron Middlebrooks and Nuru Tinch stay healthy? What if speedster Elija Godwin is 100 percent all year? What if there was no hurricane-shortened practice week before Lowndes? All that’s water under the bridge now. And some of those key players will graduate and move on. But Newton should still have enough talent to make noise next season if the injury bug stays away.
11. More readers and more subscribers to our print edition and website. Not just for my job security (smile), but because if that happens, that means you all care about the stories we tell and the coverage we provide regarding our sports teams. And with that said, my 12th and final wish for 2018…
12. To build the best, comprehensive “small newspaper” sports coverage in Georgia. That’s another goal that sounds like it’s for me, but it’s really about you, our student-athletes, teams, coaches, cheerleaders, band directors, band members, parents, boosters and fans. This area deserves more than half-hearted, after-thought sports coverage. We have athletes who can run with the best that Georgia has to offer, and that needs to be something the rest of the state knows and sees. So my goal is to find ways to go bigger and be better at what we do, for our athletes and teams, but also for you, our valued readers next year.
And with that I say thank you for your readership and support in 2017. Merry Christmas to you and yours from The Covington News sports staff.
Gabriel Stovall is the proud sports editor of The Covington News. He can be reached for tips and story ideas at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Gabriel Stovall1 and @CovNewsSports.