Shelby County schools and those in neighboring communities produce memorable sports stories each year. Deep postseason runs and multiple state championships have increasingly become the norm in the area as the OHSAA has expanded tournaments the last several decades.
There are many memorable stories from 2019, including Minster’s girls cross country team winning its fourth consecutive state title, three Shelby County Athletic League boys basketball teams winning district titles and advancing to regional games, weather delays (on sunny days) resulting in Russia and Minster’s regional baseball tournament games getting postponed (and ultimately moved), and area basketball coaching legends John Willoughby and Carla Siegel earning their 400th career wins.
But there were so many memorable stories this year that those aforementioned four were among many left out of our picks for the top 10 of the year.
Below are the area’s top 10 sports stories of the year, ranked in descending order:
10. Fort Loramie’s Jake Rethman wins D-III 1,600 run state title
Fort Loramie senior Jake Rethman capped off an extremely successful cross country and track career in June by winning the Division III boys 1,600-meter run.
Rethman won in 4:23 and finished about a half-second ahead of senior teammate Joe Ballas, who finished third.
Rethman — a long-distance runner who didn’t compete in the event in tournament meets in 2018 — had struggled in state meets in previous years. He finished 18th in the 3,200 run in 2018, which was the only final he competed in.
It was a fitting end for Ballas and Rethman, who ran side-by-side throughout their prep careers in track and cross country. Ballas finished third in the D-III state cross country meet in 2018 while Rethman was fifth.
9. Dave King retires after 40-year career
Longtime area baseball coach Dave King retired at the end of the 2019 season. He first coached at Sidney in 1977 and remained there until 2002, then coached at Jackson Center from 2006-2007 and coached at Lehman Catholic from 2008 until last spring.
It was a storied career that made him perhaps the most well-known coach in Shelby County. He became the 18th coach in Ohio history reach 600 career wins in 2018 and was inducted into the Ohio High School’s Baseball Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame in January.
King’s final game was a heartbreaking epic. Lehman lost 2-1 in a Division IV district semifinal against Mechanicsburg on May 22 in a 13-inning affair that was played over two days at Miami East High School.
8. Botkins boys soccer squad earns state berth
Botkins’ boys soccer team had its most successful campaign in program history and became the first Shelby County program to earn a state berth.
The Trojans won their first regional title with great defensive efforts despite being outshot in a 1-0 win over Cincinnati Mareimont and a 1-0 win over Cincinnati Seven Hills.
Botkins finished 19-1-2 overall after a 4-0 loss to eventual Div. III state champion Columbus Wellington in a state semifinal at Springfield High School on Nov. 6.
7. Lehman, Riverside among teams to be in new conference
The year saw the disintegration of the Cross County Conference and the formation a new conference that will involve Lehman Catholic and Riverside.
Lehman and Riverside will join the Three Rivers Conference when league play begins in 2021-22. The two teams are leaving the Northwest Central Conference to join the new league, which will also include Miami East, Bethel and Covington.
Those three schools are current members of the CCC, which is disbanding due to 10 schools in Darke, Preble and Miami Counties leaving to form their own league.
Aside from Lehman and Riverside and the three Miami County CCC schools, the TRC will also include current Southwestern Buckeye League schools Milton-Union and Northridge and Metro Buckeye Conference member Troy Christian.
Fort Loramie is a current member of the CCC in football and girls golf. The Redskins are planning to compete without a conference affiliation in football beginning in 2021.
6. Sidney fall sports dominate MVL Valley Division
Sidney joined the newly-reformed Miami Valley League with nine other former Greater Western Ohio Conference members this year.
Though there were some concerns from Sidney fans about the school being lumped with southern-Dayton area schools West Carrollton, Stebbins, Xenia and Fairborn in the MVL Valley Division, the alignment has proven to be a boon for the school’s trophy case.
Sidney won Valley Division titles seven of nine fall sports: girls tennis, boys golf, volleyball, boys soccer, girls soccer, boys cross country and girls cross country.
Conference titles have been rare in some of those sports — including volleyball, which hadn’t won a league title since 1988.
5. Minster girls basketball repeats as D-IV state champions
Minster’s girls basketball team won its second consecutive state championship by beating the same opponent in the D-IV state final. The Wildcats beat Ottoville 53-37 on March 16 to earn the title a year after beating the Big Green 63-48 in the D-IV title game.
Minster didn’t struggle much on its second consecutive state championship run. The squad beat Cornerstone Christian by 34 points in a state semifinal, beat Fort Loramie by 14 points in a regional final and beat Tri-Village by 10 points in a regional semifinal.
It was also the second consecutive year the Wildcats beat neighboring Fort Loramie in a regional final at Vandalia-Butler’s Student Activity Center to earn a state berth.
4. New Bremen volleyball wins D-IV title by beating Fort Loramie
New Bremen earned its second Division IV state volleyball championship in three years by beating Fort Loramie 3-1 in the state final on Nov. 9 at Wright State University’s Nutter Center.
The squads met in a state final thanks in part to redistricting done by OHSAA to tournaments this year, which resulted in the teams competing in different regionals. New Bremen won the Northwest district D-IV regional this year after winning the Southwest district regional the last two years. The Cardinals beat Fort Loramie in regional matches in both 2017 and 2018.
Fort Loramie took an early lead in the first set of the match but lost 28-26, and New Bremen took a 2-0 lead by winning the second set 25-20. Fort Loramie won the third set 26-24 but the Cardinals secured the win with a 25-20 victory in the fourth game.
For all the state events area teams competed in this year, the biggest game of the year came in a district semifinal baseball game at Sidney High School in front of over 500 spectators on a Monday afternoon.
Russia upset top-ranked and defending Div. IV state champion Fort Loramie 1-0 in extra innings to earn its third consecutive berth in a district title game. The Raiders went on to win their third district championship and earned a regional berth.
Fort Loramie won its first 25 games of the year before losing a nonconference game at Division I Troy two days before the matchup with the Raiders.
Russia lost its first seven games of the season and entered the tournament matchup with an 11-16 overall record.
But a great pitching performance by Russia ace Daniel Kearns was too much for Fort Loramie’s hitters to contend with. Kearns had 13 strikeouts with two walks, one hit batter and five hits in 9 2/3 innings.
Russia didn’t get much at the plate either but was able to get a run across after two hits in the 10th.
2. Historic season for Sidney boys basketball team
Sidney finished a historic basketball season in 2019 that featured many sellout contests. The program won a single-season record 20 games before losing to Springfield 65-60 in front of a near-capacity crowd of over 4,000 people at Vandalia-Butler’s Student Activity Center.
Andre Gordon, who surpassed 2,000 career points in the district semifinal loss to Springfield, returned to Sidney for his senior season late in 2018 after transferring in the previous spring and spending all summer and fall with Huntington Prep in Huntington, West Virginia.
Gordon finished with a program-record 2,013 career points, 550 career assists and 236 career steals. He scored 598 points during the season, including 45 in a sectional final win over Springboro. He also set social media ablaze many times during the season spectacular dunks, including his signature 360-degree slam.
And in case you haven’t noticed, the success of Sidney’s basketball program has continued without Gordon: the Yellow Jackets are off to an 8-0 start for the first time since 1978.
1. Anna becomes 1st Shelby County football team to win state title
Anna’s football team became the first Shelby County gridiron squad to win a state championship when it beat New Middletown Springfield 48-14 in the Div. VI state title game earlier this month.
The Rockets finished 14-1 and also earned their first regional and second Midwest Athletic Conference championship. They outscored their five postseason opponents by an average of 45.4-13.6 and won with a running-clock margin of 30 or more points in four of their five playoff games.
Anna won with running-clock margins in 12 of its 14 wins and scored 36 or more points in all but a midseason loss against MAC rival Marion Local, which won the D-VII state title.
The squad relied on 22 seniors to lead the success, including quarterback Bart Bixler and running back Riley Huelskamp.
Bixler threw for 1,584 yards and 17 touchdowns and rushed for 1,527 yards and 27 touchdowns. Huelskamp, who was named a D-VI co-offensive player of the year by the Ohio Prep Sportswriters Association, rushed for 2,651 yards and 44 touchdowns.
The playoff run was a reversal of Anna’s previous postseason struggles. The program had a 2-11 postseason record and had never won more than one playoff game in a season before its state title campaign.