HOOVER – Decatur’s Tanner Burns and Westminster Christian’s Annie Willis were named Mr. Baseball and Miss Softball, respectively, by the Alabama Sports Writers Association on Sunday night at the group’s 46th annual convention at the Hyatt-Wynfrey in Hoover.
In addition, Mobile Christian’s Ethan Hearn was named the recipient of the ASWA’s Jimmy Smothers Courage Award. Named after the long-time sports editor of the Gadsden Times and guiding force in the ASWA, it recognizes his commitment to local and high school sports coverage, and honors a high school athlete who has overcome adversity and shown immense courage.
Burns, expected to be a high choice in the Major League Baseball player draft this week, was selected the ASWA’s Class 6A first-team shortstop and the 6A Player of the Year when the group’s prep committee met last week to select its all-state team. Burns was also the 6A hitter of the year in 2016 as a utility player, a first-team pitcher in 2015 and first-team designated hitter as a freshman.
In 37 games for the 32-5 Red Raiders, the senior hit .467 with 18 homers, 46 RBI, 49 hits and 56 runs. He walked 29 times and struck out just six times. As a right-handed pitcher, Burns went 10-1 with a 0.88 ERA and 116 strikeouts against 22 walks, while allowing eight earned runs in 64 innings. The Auburn signee helped Decatur to the quarterfinals – where the team was ranked 32nd in the nation before its loss to Cullman.
Willis was the Pitcher and Player of the Year in Class 4A in helping her team to a runner-up finish and a 51-4-1 record. With 543 strikeouts this year, she finished her pitching career with 1,975. This year, she went 43-3-1 and had an ERA of 0.40. She pitched five no-hitters, three perfect games and 21 shutouts. Willis allowed 44 walks, 90 hits and 15 earned runs in 259 2/3 innings.
The senior hit .464 this year with 12 homers, 64 RBI, 70 hits, scored 40 runs, walked 23 times and struck out just nine times. She was a first-team all-state pitcher as a junior and sophomore and was honorable mention as a freshman. The Troy signee helped the Wildcats to a high-water mark of 14th in the country.
Hearn was honored for his courage in the face of tremendous adversity. The sophomore returned from football practice on a Thursday night last November to find his mother dead of an apparent suicide. Though his teammates and coaches rushed to his house to comfort him that night, few expected him to make the trip to Oakman early the next morning for the team’s Class 3A quarterfinal playoff game. Not only did Hearn make the trip, he made 8.5 tackles in a Mobile Christian victory and eventually helped power the Leopards to the title game.
ASWA SUPER 10 VOTING
(First place votes in parentheses)
Tanner Burns, Decatur (9) 117
Bubba Thompson, McGill-Toolen (2) 87
Jacob Heatherly, Cullman 80
Cody Greenhill, Russellville 66
Sam Praytor, Helena 57
Connor Jednat, UMS-Wright 39
Taylor Hayes, Piedmont 37
Jonah Smith, Sweet Water 17
Brock Guffey, Hoover 13
Drew Williamson, T.R. Miller 11
MR. BASEBALL WINNERS
2017: Tanner Burns, Decatur
2016: Owen Lovell, Cullman
2015: Brax Garrett, Florence
2014: Cody Reed, Ardmore
2013: Keegan Thompson, Cullman
2012: Mikey White, Spain Park
2011: Daniel Koger, Huntsville
2010: Daryl Norris, Fairhope
2009: Luke Bole, Hartselle
2008: Tyler Stovall, Hokes Bluff
2007: John David Smelser, Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa
2006: Del Howell, American Chr.
2005: Colby Rasmus, Russell Co.
2004: Patrick White, Daphne
2003: Joey Doan, Baker
2002: Allen Ponder, Lee-Scott Acad.
2001: Eric West, Southside-Gadsden
2000: Wade Miller, G.W. Long
1999: Matthew Maniscalco, Oxford
Annie Willis, Westminster Chr. (8) 115
Jenna Ergle, Sumiton Chr. (3) 105
Kendall Beth Sides, Sumiton Chr. 73
Mary Katherine Tedder, Spain Park 70
Abbey Latham, Demopolis 56
Josie Page, Washington Co. 49
Lacey Fincher, Faith Acad. 39
Zoie Emrick, Buckhorn 24
Alex Wilcox, Brantley 23
Amy Woodham, Slocomb 17
MISS SOFTBALL WINNERS
2017: Annie Willis, Westminster Chr.
2016: Ashlee Swindle, Curry
2015: Lacey Sumerlin, Baker
2014: Madi Moore, Winfield
2013: Kasey Cooper, Dothan
2012: Haylie McCleney, Mortimer Jordan
2011: Shelby Holley, Pisgah
2010: Leigh Streetman, Hueytown
2009: Hilary Phillips, Ider
2008: Lindsey Dunlap, Hueytown
2007: Whitney Larsen, Vestavia Hills
2006: Anna Thompson, Grissom
2005: Tara Donaldson, Baker
2004: Anna Thompson, Grissom
2003: Holly Currie, Pisgah
MONTGOMERY – Seven individuals who have made an impact as exemplary role models have been selected as the 2017 Making a Difference Award recipients by the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) and the Alabama High School Athletic Directors & Coaches Association (AHSADCA).
One recipient from each of the AHSAA’s seven classifications was chosen from nominations submitted by AHSAA member schools and other support organizations. This year’s recipients are Alan Beckett, Winterboro High School (1A); Lamar Brooks, G.W. Long High School (2A); Bobby Tittle, Ohatchee High School (3A); Charles McCaleb, Bibb County High School (4A); Richard Dutton, Lawrence County High School (5A); Janiece Calhoun, Chelsea High School (6A); and Alvin Rauls, Buckhorn High School (7A).
The honorees will be recognized at the Championship Coaches Banquet at the Renaissance Montgomery Convention Center July 21. The 6 p.m. event will close out the 2017 AHSAA Summer Conference and All-Star Sports Week for member schools. The Officials’ Awards luncheon will officially close out the week on Saturday, July 22, at the Renaissance at 11:30 a.m.
The Making a Difference Award was established in 2011 by the AHSAA and AHSADCA to recognize individuals who go beyond their normal duties as a coach, teacher or administrator to make a positive impact in their schools and communities. This year’s recipients include one principal, two head football coaches, head softball coach, two athletic administrators and an associate superintendent of education for the Dale County school system.
“The recipients in this 2017 Making a Difference class are excellent examples of men and women who take their positions as role models for their students, faculty and community very seriously. They are each outstanding choices for what this award stands for. Each have had a major positive impact in their communities and schools and across the state," said AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese. “This award is the most important honor a professional educator in our state can receive. Characteristics considered for this prestigious award include the recipient’s character, integrity and service, all of which have enabled these individuals to have a life-changing impact on the community or school where they serve.”
Savarese said this special award exemplifies what makes education-based sports so important.
“This is one way we can honor them for the examples they set and the life lessons they teach on a daily basis,” he said.
Following is a brief synopsis of the Making a Difference recipients for 2017:
ALAN BECKETT, WINTERBORO HIGH SCHOOL – Winterboro’s head football and baseball coach is described as a man of strong character and tireless work ethic. Beginning his fifth year at Winterboro, Beckett guided the Bulldogs from an 0-10 start his first year to two straight winning seasons the last two years. He has been a head football coach for 11 years, including six at Collinsville, and has compiled a 59-48 overall record.
He personally has helped many of his student-athletes through hard times –whether it be a dysfunctional home situation or a problem dealing with other off-the-field difficulties. He personally insures each student can get home from practice – driving countless miles himself to insure they get home safely.
Short-staffed for many years, this son of a coach has had to carry the weight of rebuilding this school’s struggling athletic program and has done the job well -- with a smile on his face and never complaining. Active in FCA, he does not tolerate cursing or bullying and shows impeccable character in his everyday dealings with students, said principal Emily Harris.
She said he is constantly providing a vision for his student athletes, then shows them how to fulfill that vision. Harris sums him up, “He is a father to the fatherless, and a mentor to those who need a mentor.”
LAMAR BROOKS, DALE COUNTY SCHOOLS (G.W. LONG HS) – Brooks, who recently retired as Associate Superintendent of Dale County Schools, spent 40 years in education. He has been a teacher, coach, principal, associate superintendent and has served on the District 2 Board, Legislative Council and the AHSAA Central Board of Control, where he served as president from 2013-15.
“Mr. Brooks has gone above and beyond to serve the students in our community, school and state,” said G.W. Long principal Jason Steed.
Brooks taught and coached at Abbeville and Ashford before moving into administration. He then served as assistant principal at Ashford, then moved to Carroll-Ozark as assistant principal for nine years and career tech director for another four. He then became principal at G.W. Long 1998-2004 and then became Associate Superintendent of Dale County Schools in 2005.
An invaluable member of the AHSAA’s core leadership, his maturity, compassion and understanding of the educational mission of high school athletics has helped the AHSAA move forward in addressing such national issues as: Football contact limitations, health and safety issues in all sports, non-tradition student eligibility issues and good sportsmanship.
He is also a servant in the community – seen regularly at school events, he is also a board member for the Echo Rescue and Fire Squad.
BOBBY TITTLE, OHATCHEE HIGH SCHOOL – Tittle has spent the last decade as an administrator and the last six as principal at Ohatchee. He has worked tirelessly to bring back the tradition in sports and academics that OHS once stood for. His leadership, said assistant principal Michael Graham, has brought back a real sense of pride in the community. The fans now flock to sporting events at this small Calhoun County school for all sports. The football team reached the semifinals of the state playoffs for the first time in 40 years last season finishing 12-2. Academics, other sports and extracurricular activities are thriving as well. The school received an A+ College Ready Grant – a grant totaling more than $240,000 for his school. Tittle has turned the community’s perception of the school around - making a lasting difference.
Tittle graduated from Jacksonville State in 1999 and immediately began teaching music education and serving as band director at Carbon Hill High School. He later held the same positions at Walter Wellborn and Clay County. He moved into administration as assistant principal at Talladega in 2007, became principal in 2010 and moved to Ohatchee in 2012. He is active in CLAS and is a University of Alabama ACCESS instructor.
CHARLES McCALEB, BIBB COUNTY – Charles McCaleb knows Bibb County basketball better than anybody. He grew up in Bibb County graduating from the school in Centreville in 1968. He returned after college at Alabama to become a teacher and coach and has worked at the school every year but two since 1973. Always willing to serve wherever he could, he has held the positions of boys’ and girls’ basketball coach and has also served as athletic director, softball coach and was even head football coach in 2004 when the head coach left for another job. To those in the know, he is “Mr. Bibb County High School”. He was the point guard on the first Bibb County team to make the state tournament in 1967, made it back as a boys’ assistant in 1976 and did it again with three Final Four appearances in four years from 1989-1992 as the boys’ head coach with one state championship. After a two-year retirement from the school after the 1996-97 season, he returned for the 1999-2000 school year as the girls’ head coach, leading them to their most successful run in team history for 10 seasons. Forty-eight of his players signed college scholarships.
He retired again in 2010 after years in education and returned as AD in 2012 where he has served ever since.
He works daily to make sure the school has the best programs possible and has mentored dozens of coaches – including 2017 Class 6A Making a Difference recipient Janiece Calhoun.
RICHARD “RICH” DUTTON, LAWRENCE COUNTY – Rich Dutton is beginning his sixth season as head coach at Lawrence County High School. He graduated from Lawrence County in 1994. He played football, basketball, baseball, and ran track and cross-country to become a rare five-sport standout who played football on Friday nights and then ran cross country the next day. He received his B.S. in Spanish from UNA in 1998 where he ran track and cross-country. He coached at Lawrence County as an assistant from 1999-2005. He was the head cross-country coach in 1999-2000. He has served as assistant football, basketball and baseball coach and as head softball coach at Lawrence County. He also coached at Speake, Russellville and Austin. He served as defensive coordinator, assistant coach and head softball coach at Austin High School from 2008-2011.
His nominator, Denton Bowling, a coach at a Hatton High School, wrote about his friend and former coach. “When playing for Coach Dutton, he not only served as a coach but a mentor as well. He always made time to talk to me as a player regarding athletics, academics and life. He has continued that practice, and I have seen first-hand the difference he has made in so many lives.”
Fluent in Spanish, Dutton is often called on by local law enforcement to become an interpreter in the growing Hispanic community. As head football coach, he has taken the Red Devils from an 0-10 start in his first year (2012) to the school’s first playoff in decade by emphasizing team-building activities. One was having his players dress like super heroes while attending the Lawrence County Special Olympics – creating priceless smiles and joy for the participants and football players alike.
JANIECE CALHOUN, CHELSEA HIGH SCHOOL – Coach Calhoun has spent more than 22 of her 24 years in education at Chelsea where she has coached basketball, softball and volleyball. She is currently serving as assistant athletic director. Principal Wayne Trucks estimates more than 10,000 student-athletes have been affected positively by her leadership and example during this time – and she continues to make a difference each new day, he said.
The Thompson High School and University of Montevallo graduate is known for her “look” or pat on the back that helps guide students in a positive direction. Trucks added, “She always puts the needs of our student-athletes first and always wants what is best for them. She also handles all eligibility reports, scheduling for games and practices, tickets and transportation, drives a bus when called upon and can be found at the end of the night sweeping the gym or lending her ear to someone who has a question.”
She now mentors younger coaches – something she said she learned from this year’s Class 4A Making a Difference recipient Charles McCaleb at Bibb County High School where she got her first job as a teacher and coach.
AL RAULS, BUCKHORN HIGH SCHOOL – This former Central Board member has been a trailblazer of sorts as a teacher/coach and is one of the most respected coaches in his district (8) – serving on the Legislative Council and District Board. He has been an outstanding role model for all students and is well respected by his peers. Coach Rauls, a strong advocate for good sportsmanship, became the first black head coach to win an AHSAA state baseball championship when he led New Hope to the 1992 state 3A championship. In 2017 he guided Buckhorn to the Class 7A state softball championship – becoming the first black head coach to win a fast-pitch softball title in the AHSAA. He is also just the second coach in AHSAA history to win baseball and fast-pitch softball titles.
A native of Albany, Ga., Rauls attended college at Florida A&M playing second base on the Rattlers’ baseball team with former teammate and Hall of Famer Andre Dawson.
He moved to Madison County after college and became the Director of Parks and Recreation at Triana and the first black parks and recreation director in Alabama. He has also served as Alabama A&M head baseball coach, has been an AHSAA basketball official and has had coaching stints at Butler, Sparkman and Bob Jones. His teams have won more than 300 baseball games and 345 softball games.