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STOVALL: My Covington sports Christmas Wish List for 2019 success
Tiffani Johnson
It's been a different kind of season for Newton girls basketball coach, Tiffani Johnson. The Lady Rams fell Saturday to Eastside 58-54 for their first loss to Eastside in eight years. -photo by Anthony Banks

COVINGTON, Ga. -- Yep, I’m thinking about you, Covington and Newton County, even on Christmas Day. 

It’s a day where —  regardless of what we believe about it spiritually or religiously speaking — we can take a pause from the hustle and bustle of life, find our family and closest friends and share love, good food (and a couple of intriguing NBA matchups) together. 

For me, it’s another opportunity to look back on a year that’s almost over and be thankful for what has been while being optimistic for what is to come. 

Right before I sat down to pen this column, I was chatting with my mom back in my hometown, Omaha. And my conversation with her reminded me why this time of the year is so special for me. 

I remember growing up how my mom used to sort of set Christmas as a milestone. She would pray and give thanks to God for giving her one more year to do things like putting up a tree and lights, getting gifts for all of us and doing her part to cook up our big, annual Christmas feasts that would alternate each year between our house and my aunt and uncle’s. 

She’d also use the day to start shaping in her mind how she hoped the soon-coming new year would unfold. 

I think that’s why, ever since I discovered how much I love to write, I take this time to pen my thoughts in my journal in the form of a Christmas wish list. Since I’ve been covering local sports, I’ve sort of emulated one of my sports column writing idols, Tom Shatel of the Omaha World Herald, to provide a sportswriter’s version of my Christmas wish list that pertains to whatever area I’m covering at the time. 

Let’s call it my 12 Days of Covington Christmas wish list. As 2019 looms, these are the things I’m asking Sports Santa for regarding our athletic teams. 

Taylor Carter: A slew of college scholarship offers to come to him between now and February or so. College recruiters can be finicky sometimes. They want what they want, and often want it to come in a special package or with certain measurables. I just hope coaches don’t pigeonhole themselves out of taking a special player in Taylor who would impact whatever team he finds at the next level with a healthy balance of tangible and intangible gifts. 

Eastside Football: An encore performance of the 2018 season, with maybe an extra step or two. I wasn’t around when Eastside last won a region crown or made a deep playoff run, so I can’t compare. But it feels like this past season put a little extra swag in the Eagles. I’d love to see it be the precipice to the makings of a truly dominant program.

Eastside Softball: Softball season’s been over for a while now, but I still think about how that Lady Eagles bunch had Columbus talent despite coming up short. Here’s to coach Heather Wood getting a super gifted group of girls back down I-85 again come October. 

Alcovy baseball coach Jimmy Hughes: A winning season and playoff berth in his first season. You gotta love his energy and enthusiasm. And it’s not like Alcovy’s lacking talent. Two of the top players in the state, if not the nation, in Ryan Spikes and Chandler Hicks are on the Tigers’ roster. Should be interesting to watch. 

Newton football coach Camiel Grant: A winning season and playoff berth right out the gate for the new coach who is looking to help a good program to the next step toward being a great one. 

Newton senior QB LT Stowers: A solid opportunity to continue developing on the collegiate level. Dude’s got a cannon of an arm and is a savvy competitor. He transferred in for his senior and endured an up and down, in and out season. Still, he completed 60 percent of his passes for 1,334 yards and 14 touchdowns. Wish he had another year at Newton. Would’ve liked to see more of him.

Alcovy Football: The right coaching hire that can infuse instant energy into a long-beleaguered program. Along with that, a win (or three or four) in Region 3-AAAAAA. 

Eric Stokes and Jeremiah Holloman: A Sugar Bowl victory with a pick by Stokes and a touchdown catch by Holloman. 

Sheldon Rankins: Some of you die-hard Falcons fans will hate me for this, but, I’m wishing for Rankins to have a chance to play in the Super Bowl (with his New Orleans Saints) in his home state. 

Newton boys basketball: Another deep state tournament run and berth in state championship game. Why not? Remember Tift County? They were an unlikely choice to run the table through the gauntlet side of the Class AAAAAAA state tournament bracket, including an upset win against a then-nationally ranked Newton squad. Folks said Tift didn’t have enough offensive firepower or depth to run the table. Yet they did. Stranger things have happened. Bonus Gift: Coach Rick Rasmussen's ability to sit back and watch a bunch of his former players go deep into March Madness. 

Newton girls hoops coach Tiffani Johnson: The patience and wisdom to continue guiding and coaching a new group of fresh faces and players not used to being in the spotlight, one season removed from a magical state championship run. 

Newton County Board of Education (and/or whomever else applies): Receptive ears and hearts toward the discussion of entertaining major upgrades to area athletic facilities, including but not limited to, an aquatic center and serious plans to bring each GHSA school its own football stadium. 

Newton County baseball teams: State tournament berths for all three squads. Eastside’s been the county standard bearer for a while. However, Newton and Alcovy have new coaches and emerging talent in an area that doesn’t get enough credit for the kind of baseball ability that resides here. 

Alysee Dobbs: A handful of college basketball scholarship offers between now and the beginning of her senior year. It’ll be hard to find a player in the county right now who eclipses the Eastside junior’s work ethic and drive right now. 

I said 12, but I’m already two over, so might as well give you one more…

Eastside boys basketball: Magical seasons that culminate with Region 4-AAAA tournament championships and deep state tournament runs, all dedicated to one special member of the local coaching fraternity and his family. Enough said. 

And finally....

For all: A very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year that brings much goodness to you and your families — local sports and otherwise.