By Lee Davis
It was pretty much business as usual at John Hunt Park in Huntsville last weekend.
That’s because no fewer than three Over the Mountain teams claimed state soccer championships, two others earned runner-up spots, and still others capped outstanding seasons.
Oak Mountain’s boys team won their third consecutive Class 7A crown with a close win over Davidson, while Briarwood’s girls brought home the Class 4A-5A title. Indian Springs gained the Class 1A-3A championship. On the downside, the Vestavia Hills girls had a phenomenal year before falling to McGill-Toolen in the Class 7A finals, and the Briarwood boys lost a close battle to Randolph in the Class 4A-5A finals.
Much has been written about the reasons our area is perennially powerful in soccer, and the answers are the same ones that explain why any area is successful in any sport: strong commitment by the schools’ administration, quality coaching, parental involvement and, most important of all, skilled and dedicated athletes. All of these are essential to success.
Another key to soccer’s prosperity and growth may be that it has found its niche in the pecking order of high school sports in Alabama. In retrospect, it’s hard to believe that there was a time decades ago when some of Alabama’s most respected high school football coaches believed soccer was a threat to their sport’s long-term viability. Their argument was that, once a school’s top male athletes saw how much “easier” soccer practices were than football’s regimen, then many would flock to the new sport.
Of course that never happened. Soccer was sanctioned as a spring sport in Alabama in the early 1990s so it could easily co-exist with football. In fact, if anything, soccer and football have helped each other, as many of the top football place-kickers and punters get their first training and experience on the soccer field. Some football coaches even recommend soccer as an “entry” sport for pre-school and early elementary school athletes, where they can learn a love for competition by playing a comparatively safe game with relatively simple rules.
So as we move toward the 2020s, it’s obvious that football is never going to fall off of its perch as Alabama’s number one high school sport. It’s equally obvious that soccer isn’t going away either.
And that’s a good thing for everybody.
It’s a gigantic week for baseball and softball coming up as Hoover and
Spain Park chase elusive state championships in two sports. The Bucs are going for their first baseball state title since 2008, and the Lady Jaguars are seeking their first softball crown in school history. For all the success coach C.J. Hawkins has achieved since coming to Spain Park from Clay-Chalkville a decade ago, the state title is the one mountain that has yet to be climbed. This could be the year.
In baseball, Hoover has put together a solid season under coach Adam Moseley. With two impressive comeback wins in the semi-finals against Vestavia Hills, the Bucs finally shook off the post-season blues that had condemned them to quick exits from the playoffs in recent years. With outstanding pitching and hitting, Hoover appears to be the real deal, and a victory would be a nice cap to a strong athletic year that already includes state championships in football, girls basketball and boys and girls track. Expect the baseball team to add one more trophy to that already impressive collection.
In softball, Spain Park had virtually everyone back from last season’s team and were expected to again be one of Alabama’s best. But perhaps nobody could predict the impact of eighth-grade prodigy Annabelle Widra. As a seventh-grader, Widra produced 12 victories from the pitching circle – an amazing number for a 12-year-old to achieve at the varsity level. But this season, she has been nothing short of incredible. With a 33-4 record and a 1.35 ERA, Widra may be the final piece of the puzzle needed to push a talented team to the top.
All of it should be fun to watch.