All-Star Sports Week has local flavor, new sport
By Tim Gayle
It took 20 years, but another sport finally has been added to Alabama All-Star Sports Week.
The 21st All-Star Sports Week will be held in Montgomery on July 17-22 featuring male and female high school standouts competing in football, boys and girls basketball, volleyball, baseball, softball, boys and girls soccer and now boys and girls cross country.
The inaugural North-South cross country race will be held on Wednesday morning at the Auburn University Montgomery cross country course. It marks the first time a sport has been added to All-Star Sports Week since soccer in 1998.
The All-Star Sports Week got its start in Montgomery in 1997, part of a collaboration between then-Alabama High School Athletic Association executive director Dan Washburn and then-Alabama High School Athletic Directors and Coaches Association executive director Ken Blankenship.
The first year, the event drew 16,000 fans to the five athletic events and more than 2,000 coaches to the summer convention at the Montgomery Civic Center. While similar all-star events had been held in Tuscaloosa for football beginning in 1948 and ending in 1980, and for boys’ basketball since 1953, Alabama All-Star Sports Week was revolutionary – and overdue – in launching all-star events for female competitors.
The first year included baseball at Paterson Field, softball at Lagoon Park Softball Complex, boys and girls basketball at the AUM Physical Education Complex and volleyball at Montgomery Academy. Alabama All-Star Sports Week has been a fixture in Montgomery since that time except for a six-year stay in Huntsville in 2005-10 while downtown renovations involving the former civic center and current Renaissance complex and the renovation of Cramton Bowl took place.
Football players will report on Sunday before the weeklong event kicks off in earnest on Monday. The softball, baseball and soccer games will be held on Tuesday, followed by cross country and basketball on Wednesday and volleyball and football on Thursday.
In addition to the all-star games, a coaches’ convention will be held at the Renaissance Hotel and Spa. While the games end on Thursday, an athletic directors and principals meeting will be held on Friday, along with the sportsmanship luncheon and the coaches awards banquet that night. Also, an officials conference and luncheon will be held on Saturday.
Among those expected to speak on topics at the coaches’ convention are basketball coaches Bruce Pearl of Auburn, Avery Johnson of Alabama, Josh Pastner of Georgia Tech, Mark Fox of Georgia and Phil Cunningham of Troy. A variety of high school coaches will talk on topics during the football session, including Park Crossing coach Smitty Grider, who will talk on how to defend the run-pass option. And former NFL coach Dan Reeves will be the guest speaker at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes luncheon at noon on Thursday.
The first all-star events will be a baseball doubleheader at Riverwalk Stadium on Tuesday beginning at 4 p.m., followed by a pair of softball games at Lagoon Park Softball Complex at 5 p.m.
A total of 72 outstanding juniors - 18 on each team - were chosen from nominations submitted by high school coaches from across the state. In last year’s softball competition, the North swept both games 12-4 and 4-1 to improve to 24-9-3 in the 20-year series. The North also captured both games of the 2016 baseball competition winning 2-0 in game one and 13-2 in the nightcap. The North holds a 20-11-1 advantage in the all-star competition, which first got under way in 1997.
St. James’ center fielder and shortstop T.R. Robertson is the only baseball player from the city on the all-star squad, although LAMP coach Chad Smith will serve as the South coach along with Andalusia’s Tyler Dent. Trinity coach Ken Whittle (South) and Saint James coach Keith Lucky (North) will reprise their annual roles as administrative coaches.
Other River Region players on the team include Marbury outfielder Brayden Baggett, Tallassee third baseman Casey Baynes and Wetumpka catcher Max Champion.
Alabama Christian outfielder and pitcher Lacey Spear and Wetumpka shortstop Alexis Austin were the only players from the River Region selected to the all-star softball squads.
Also on Tuesday, the North-South soccer games will be held at Emory Folmar Soccer Complex, with the girls starting at 5 p.m. and the boys following at 7 p.m. All selected players, rising seniors for the Class of 2018, were chosen by the soccer selection committee from nominations submitted by the state’s high school coaches. The North swept both matches in 2016 and now hold a 10-4-1 edge in the boys’ all-star series and are 12-2-1 in the girls’ competition.
The South boys soccer team includes Montgomery Academy midfielder Andrew Harris, Catholic midfielder Peter Garland, Stanhope Elmore midfielder Marcos Cortes and Trinity midblocker Jonathon Green. Stanhope Elmore coach Johanna Angelo will serve as one of the coaches for the South.
The girls team includes Montgomery Academy center back Austyn Barnes, Saint James forward Haley Jolly, Trinity forward Mary Mooneyham, Prattville midfielder Abigail Reed and Stanhope Elmore sweeper Madelynn Cantrell. Montgomery Academy coach Stuart Bonner will serve as one of the South’s coaches, along with Jacey Mitchell of Spanish Fort.
On Wednesday morning, the event’s newest competition will take place when the North-South cross country race is held at AUM. A total of 40 outstanding rising seniors — 10 on each team — were chosen from nominations submitted by high school coaches from across the state. The girls’ teams will run at 7:30 a.m., followed by the boys at 8 a.m.
The South girls cross country team includes LAMP’s Grace Phung, Sailor Miles of St. James and Trinity’s Mackenzie LeGrand. The boys team will include LAMP’s Won Heo, Montgomery Academy’s Will Franklin, Jake Maddox of Saint James and the Trinity duo of Dawson Oliver and Wells Rutland.
That evening, the basketball games will take place at Alabama State’s Dunn-Oliver Acadome. Sixty outstanding junior basketball players, 15 on each team, were chosen from nominations submitted by high school coaches. The girls will open play at 6 p.m., followed by the boys at approximately 8 p.m. The North boys won last year 84-73 and hold a 47-26 edge in the series that started in 1953. The South girls ended an eight-year drought last year with a 57-53 win in the series that started in 1997. It was only the third win by the South in 20 previous meetings.
Competing for the South boys will be Brew Tech center Theo Akwuba, Prattville guard Azariah Seay and Carver shooting guard Jalen Gaston, while Saint James coach Nigel Card will reprise his annual role as the administrative coach for both South squads. Saint James guard Micala Fisanick is the only girls’ player from the Capital City.
On Thursday at 4 p.m., the North-South volleyball best-of-three match will be held at the AUM Physical Education Complex. Twenty-four outstanding junior volleyball standouts, 12 on each team, were chosen from nominations submitted by high school coaches. The South won last summer’s match with a 25-17, 25-16, 25-18 victory for their 13th victory in the 19-match series that started in 1997.
Montgomery Academy outside hitter Caroline Kirkham was chosen to represent the South team, along with setter Elizabeth Skoneki of Saint James. Carver coach Virginia Franklin will reprise her annual role as the administrative coach for the South team and Prattville’s Neysa Hernandez will serve as one of the South coaches.
The games will wrap up on Thursday with the football game that kicks off at 7 p.m. at Cramton Bowl. The South holds a 30-25-2 edge in the series which began in 1948. The North won 14-0 last year in a game called due to inclement weather in the second quarter.
Participating for the South are Catholic receiver David Poole, Wetumpka receivers Maurice Young and Trey Bryant, Park Crossing defensive back Kameron Green, Lee quarterback Mike Huntley, Tallassee defensive back Brady Hancock, Jeff Davis defensive end Marcus Crenshaw, Lee defensive lineman Taryon Edwards and offensive linemen Jacob Baker of Tallassee, Ryan Rush of Elmore County and Thornton Rudolph of Lee.
Several other local players were initially selected before dropping out because of scheduling conflicts. They include Travis Bell and Travez Bozeman of Jeff Davis and Jackson Tate of Park Crossing.
G.W. Long coach Scott Horne was selected as the head coach and will be assisted by Jeff Davis coach Lee Carter and current Wetumpka and former Alabama Christian coach Tim Perry. ACA’s Michael Summers will serve as the administrative coach for the South squad.