Volleyball team defeats Happy Valley

By Keeli Parkey

As they await players to return from injuries, the Unicoi County High School volleyball team continues to put up a fight against opponents.

“We need to stay injury free, get back to a standard/consistent lineup, and play as a team,” head coach Shelley Swinehart told The Erwin Record. “Once we all get healthy and play consistent matches together, I believe we will see even more success on the court.”

Last week, the Lady Devils (7-10, 3-4) defeated Happy Valley in non-conference play in Erwin on Sept. 16. UCHS made quick work the Lady Warriors, winning in three sets (26.6, 25-10, 25-3)

“We played well against Happy Valley despite having one of our outside hitters out and one middle player out,” Swinehart said. “Ashtan Vance stepped up for us and carried our offense. Our seniors – Ashtan Vance, Hallee Casey, and Gabby Davis – were strong on defense in the back row. Savannah Sparks stepped into our outside hitter role and I have been very proud of her for taking on a role that she has only had to do in JV games so far this season.”

The Lady Devils then lost to KACHEA in non-conference play on the road on Sept. 17. After losing the first two sets (13-25, 18-25), UCHS bounced back to win the third (25-21). However, KACHEA regained control of the match to win the fourth set (15-25) and get the victory.

With less than a month left in the season, Swinehart is seeing a lot of positives from her team.

“Our cohesiveness as a team has been a strong point for us this season,” she said. “We have struggled with this aspect though in the last couple of matches due to the fact that we have had so many injuries.

“This past week, two of our injured players returned. We’re hoping the other two will return this week. Our practice Sunday was one of the best practices we had so far this year. We worked on bringing that team cohesiveness back and we are hoping that will be present in our matches this week.”

Another positive has been the play of the program’s newer members.

“Younger players continue to grow and step up into varsity positions as varsity players get injured,” Swinehart said. “We played in the Rocky Top classic two freshmen and four sophomores. They played hard and consistent. Our seniors supported them on the court. With the encouragement from the other varsity players, our young players still enabled us to constantly compete with teams who were playing mostly juniors and seniors.”

The Lady Devils hosted Elizabethton on Monday, Sept. 23, and traveled to Sullivan Central on Tuesday, Sept. 24, for conference games after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue. They are scheduled to host conference foe Johnson County on Thursday, Sept. 26.

UCHS cross country runners continue to improve race times

From left, Cheyenne Wilson, Marissa Soulier and Darren Soulier were top finishers at the Blue Ridge Invitational at Providence Academy last week. (Contributed photo)

By Keeli Parkey

Coach Thad Higgins is happy with what he is seeing from his Unicoi County High School cross country runners.

“The real takeaway from last week is the overall improvement that the team has seen,” Higgins told The Erwin Record. “At the beginning of the season, I said that our goal was to see constant growth and each runner has met that goal.”

The Blue Devils and Lady Devils competed in the Blue Ridge Invitational at Providence Academy on Tuesday, Sept. 10. The meet saw Marissa Soulier win third place, Cheyenne Wilson take ninth and Darren Soulier win 10th.

Next, the teams competed at the annual Fender’s Farm Carnival on Saturday, Sept, 14.

“The Blue Devils and Lady Devils had an excellent race at the Fender’s Farm Carnival this weekend,” Higgins said. “Marissa Soulier again stood out as one of the top competitors with an eighth-place finish overall.”

Marissa Soulier finished the race with a time of 21:16. Wilson finished the race with a time of 24:12.

Darren Soulier was the top finisher for the Blue Devils, finishing the race with a time of 19:47. Wyatt Miller finished the race with a time of 20:25.

“Wyatt Miller stood out Saturday as he set a personal record by almost a minute and a half,” Higgins said. “Wyatt fought to hold on to Darren throughout the race, but Darren eventually pulled away to clinch the top team performance on the guys’ side with a time of 19:47. They’re beginning to compete with each other in the races, which will be a benefit to both of their times.”

The newest members of the Blue Devil team also made their presence known in Jonesborough on Saturday. Results included: Canaan Webb with a time of 21:29; Tristan Duncan in 21:30; Ivan Luquin in 21:35; Javier Castellon in 23:17; and Austin Crothers in 31:40.

“Our freshmen guys all fought with each other throughout the race as well for the top junior varsity spot,” Higgins said. “Canaan was able to overcome Tristan and Ivan, but they were all within six seconds of each other.”

The Fender’s Farm Carnival was the first race of the season for new runner Tyler Church, who finished the race in a time of 27:22.

“We would like to welcome Tyler to the team,” Higgins said. “He recently joined the Cross Country team and ran his first race ever this weekend.”

Last week’s results showed how much the UCHS runners have improved since the beginning of the season, according to Higgins.

“I can’t overstate how proud I am of our team at this point in the season,” Higgins said. “We have seen incredible jumps in race times. Everyone has dropped their time from what they ran in our first race at Run for the Hills.”

• • •

The next meet for the UCHS runners is the Bristol Cross on Saturday, Sept. 28, at Steele Creek Park in Bristol.

Blue Devil football team defeats Happy Valley

Kody Lewis rushes for a few of his 188 yards against Happy Valley at Gentry Stadium on Friday, Sept. 13. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

After struggling in the first two weeks of the season, the Unicoi County High School football team is back on track.

On Friday, Sept. 13, the Blue Devils (2-2, 1-0) dominated Happy Valley (3-1) in a victory at Gentry Stadium. It was the program’s first win over the Warriors since 2013 and the second consecutive victory for UCHS in as many weeks.

“It was a great win,” Rice said. “Not just because we were 1-2 or they were 3-0, but because of how our guys played. They played inspired for four quarters. It was great to see them play like we know they are capable of.”

The Blue Devils were slow coming out of the gate last week – committing two turnovers on their first two possessions. Luckily, the UCHS defense rose to the occasion and erased the mistakes of the offense.

“They both were fluke plays,” Rice said of the turnovers. “You watch the film and we drop an easy pass and the ball gets knocked loose on the play-action. Sometimes you have things like that happen to you. I was very proud of how we responded to those – our defense came right out and got two huge stops after each of those. Football a lot of times is less about what actually happens and more about how you respond to it.”

The Blue Devils put together their first scoring drive of the game late in the first quarter and continuing in the second quarter. Starting on their own 4-yard-line, it took 13 plays for UCHS to find the end zone, which they did on a run by senior Kody Lewis. Miquel Vasquez then converted the point-after attempt (PAT) for a 7-0 UCHS lead with 11:49 to play in the first half.

Essential to the first scoring drive, as it was to the entire game, was the Blue Devils’ ability to successfully run the ball against the Warriors.

“Running the football and stopping the run on defense is how you win games,” Rice said. “Friday night was a great example of that. Our offensive linemen really did a great job of getting a push and our backs had all kinds of room to get into space.”

The Blue Devils then held Happy Valley scoreless on two possessions. The next UCHS scoring drive began late in the second quarter at their own 47-yard-line. The Blue Devils marched down the field thanks to successful carries by both Lewis and senior Diego Diaz.

“It was great to see so many guys have success running the ball, especially Diego,” Rice said. “He is a senior who shows up to work every single day and never complains; that’s the kind of young man I want to coach.”

Lewis found his way into the end zone with 16 seconds to play in the first half. Vasquez again converted the PAT and UCHS held a 14-0 lead at the break.

Both the Blue Devils and the Warriors were unsuccessful on their first possessions of the second half. However, UCHS took control of the game in the third quarter. Diaz scored on a 26-yard run, then on the next Blue Devil possession, Tracy Vanover recovered the ball in the end zone for another score.

UCHS held a 28-0 lead after three quarters.

The final Blue Devil score of the game culminated with a touchdown carry by quarterback Brock Thompson after an 11 play, 80-yard UCHS drive.

As he had been the previous week at North Greene, Vasquez was perfect on PATs. His steadiness will be important for UCHS as the season progresses, according to Rice.

“He has done a tremendous job,” Rice said of Vasquez. “Caleb Swinehart and Tanner VanHoy have done a tremendous job as well, snapping and holding. There are a lot of moving parts to the kicking game, that’s why a lot of high school teams struggle with it. Coach (Brandon) Adams (the UCHS special teams coordinator) does a fantastic job with all of our special teams.”

The Blue Devils won the game, 35-0.

Rice said he was proud of the play of his defense.

“I feel like it was a collective effort,” he added. “It very well may be the best defensive effort we have had in my three years as a head coach. That’s a credit to our kids and defensive staff’s preparation. Coach (Jason) Hensley and our defensive coaches had a great game plan going in.”

For their head coach, it was how the team approached Friday’s game that made the difference.

“The mindset of our guys and their approach to the game was important,” Rice said. “They were locked in all week and went out Friday and executed at a very high level. If we can play like that each week, we will be a tough team to beat.”

Success at North Greene the previous week aided in the win over Happy Valley. 

“Winning produces winning,” Rice said. “I think it becomes a habit. I think we are at a point now in our program, even including those first two games, where our guys expect to win. That’s really important. Hopefully, we can build off of the momentum we have created.”

The Blue Devils had 453 total yards of offense against the Warriors. Of that total, 403 were on the ground. Lewis had 19 carries for 188 yards and 2 touchdowns. Diaz had 21 carries for 186 yards and 1 touchdown. Isaiah Smith had 5 carries for 25 yards. Thompson had 4 carries and 1 touchdown. He also completed 3 passes for 50 yards. Peyton Whitson had 2 catches for 40 yards. Tanner VanHoy had 1 catch for 10 yards.

On defense, the Blue Devils held Happy Valley to 65 total yards. Roby Lemmon led the Blue Devils with 8 tackles. Lane Garland had 5 tackles. Thompson, L.J. Mitchell, VanHoy and Robbie O’Dell had 3 tackles each.

• • •

The Blue Devils will return to Region 1-AAA play on Friday, Sept. 20, when they host the Claiborne Bulldogs (2-2, 0-1).

“They are always tough,” Rice said of Claiborne. “They are 2-2, so they have had some success just like us. We will have to have another good week of preparation and we will have to be sound defensively. It’s a region game, so it’s extremely important.”

UCHS will also celebrate a special annual event this week.

“This week is Homecoming, so we would like to encourage and welcome everyone to come and support these young men on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. at Gentry Stadium,” Rice said.

Lady Devil volleyball team battling injuries

Savannah Sparks completes a dig during a recent Unicoi County High School volleyball match. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School volleyball team added a win – and a loss – to its league record last week.

“We have been plagued with injuries this season,” head coach Shelley Swinehart told The Erwin Record. “It seems every match we play someone has gotten hurt. Right now our focus going forward is to get healthy and stay healthy.”

Playing at home on Tuesday, Sept. 10, the Lady Devils (6-4, 3-4) lost to Sullivan South in three sets (17-25, 23-25, 7-25). Two days later, the Lady Devils defeated Chuckey-Doak in Erwin in three sets (25-12, 25-20, 25-13).

“Our second half of conference play started last Thursday with Chuckey-Doak, so we are also focused on getting some wins against teams we played tough in the first half of the season,” Swinehart said. “The girls continue to work hard and play tough every match. They are resilient and strong. Our seniors continue to show leadership on the court and our sophomores and freshman continue to play strong despite their youth and always facing more experienced players.”

• • •

The Lady Devils hosted Happy Valley on Monday, Sept. 16, and faced KACHEA on the road on Tuesday, Sept. 17, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue. They are scheduled to host Elizabethton on Monday, Sept. 23, and travel to Sullivan Central on Tuesday, Sept. 24.

Blue Devil football team earns first victory of 2019 season

Junior Blue Devil wide receiver Evan Huff makes a North Greene defender miss a tackle during the UCHS football team’s victory on Sept. 6. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

It took one play for the Unicoi County High School football team to score and less than one minute before they completely controlled their first Region 1-AAA game of the season.

That dominance lifted the Blue Devils (1-2, 1-0) to a 65-6 victory over the North Greene Huskies (0-3) in Baileyton on Friday, Sept. 6.

“I was pleased with how we played,” UCHS head coach Drew Rice told The Erwin Record. “We were able to get the ball to a lot of different people and got everyone on the sideline in at some point, so anytime you can do that, that’s a good thing. I thought we came out and executed well.”

After losing their first two games of the season, Friday’s victory was an important won for the Blue Devils.

“I think we saw what we are capable of being,” Rice said. “We just have to continue to improve each week, and good things will happen. (The win is) everything. We know our non-region schedule is tough, so to take care of business in our region is what we must do. I am proud of how our guys approached it.”

The Blue Devils started their first drive against the Huskies at midfield. On first down, quarterback Brock Thompson hit Evan Huff for a 51-yard touchdown return. Miquel Vasquez then converted the point-after attempt (PAT) for a 7-0 UCHS lead.

The UCHS defense then pinned North Greene deep in their own territory, allowing Zhante Breedlove to recover a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown. Vasquez was converted another PAT and the Blue Devils led 14-0 with just over one minute gone in the first quarter.

“I thought our entire defense played really well,” Rice said. “Zhante played like we know he is capable of. He is a big physical kid with a great motor, so we need more of that out of him each week.”

Next, the Blue Devil defense again pushed North Greene deep in the Huskies’ territory – and again took advantage. This time, L.J. Mitchell forced a safety with a tackle in the end zone, giving UCHS a 16-0 lead with 9:55 to play in the first quarter.

“Our guys showed up, went out and executed,” Rice said. “We did a good job of executing our game plans on both sides of the ball.”

The Blue Devils scored two more touchdowns in the first quarter – a 42-yard run by Thompson and a 10-yard run by Kody Lewis. Vasquez converted both PATs and UCHS held a 30-0 lead at the end of the first quarter and never looked back. UCHS lead 51-6 at halftime and 58-6 before scoring another touchdown in the fourth quarter for the 65-6 final.

The lead allowed Rice to play everyone on his bench.

“I thought they played great,” he said of his less experienced players. “We didn’t play hardly any starters in the entire second half so our young guys got some great work. We know we have some really talented young guys, so their development throughout the season is a very high priority for us.”

The Blue Devil offense had its best game of the season so far – amassing 393 total yards, including 218 passing yards by Thompson. The junior quarterback completed 8-11 passes, for 3 touchdowns; he also had 2 carries for 34 yards and 1 touchdown.

“Going in we wanted to get our offense and Brock going,” Rice said. “So hopefully, we can continue that momentum going into Happy Valley this week. We have to play our correct techniques and carry out our assignments.”

Huff had 4 catches for 96 yards and 1 touchdown. Tanner VanHoy had 1 catch for 70 yards and a touchdown. Peyton Whitson had 2 catches for 45 yards and a touchdown. Tracy Vanover had 1 catch for 8 yards. Vasquez was a perfect 9-9 on PATs.

The Blue Devil offense also had 175 yards on the ground. Nehemiah Edwards had 7 carries for 46 yards and 1 touchdown. Lewis had 4 carries for 39 yards and 1 touchdown. Charles Hopson had 3 carries for 19 yards. Robbie O’Dell had 2 carries for 15 yards and 1 touchdown. Diego Diaz had 3 carries for 14 yards and 1 touchdown. Caleb Pelaez had 2 carries for 8 yards.

Gabe Tipton had 5 tackles and 1 sack for the UCHS defense. Roby Lemmon had 4 tackles and 1 sack. Isaiah Smith, Breedlove, Edwards, Dylan Adams and Mitchell each had 1 sack in the game.

• • •

The Blue Devils will face rival Happy Valley in non-region play on Friday, Sept. 13, at Gentry Stadium in Erwin.

“They are 3-0 and are a very good football team,” Rice said of the Warriors. “We are going to have to put together a complete football game Friday night. We have to take care of the football and play our assignments on defense.”

Getting their first non-league win is important to the team, according to the head coach.

“It would be huge,” Rice said of a win over Happy Valley. “It’s not a region game, but it is a rivalry game, and that’s the important thing this week. We have to have a great week of practice and we hope everyone comes out and supports these guys because they deserve it.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

For more photos of the 2019 UCHS football team, visit The Erwin Record’s online photo store.

Blue Devil football team drops to 0-2 on season

Blue Devil Matthew Sellars had his eyes set for the end zone after intercepting a pass during the Unicoi County High School football team’s loss to Hampton at Gentry Stadium. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

Almost 400 rushing yards drove the Hampton Bulldogs (1-1) to a 32-13 victory over the Unicoi County High School football team on Friday, Aug. 30, at Gentry Stadium.

“It was disappointing for sure,” Blue Devil head coach Drew Rice said of the loss. “We just couldn’t get off the field defensively. Our guys never quit though, and I am proud of them for that.”

The defeat dropped UCHS to 0-2 on the season.

“We just have to put this one behind us, and get back to work,” Rice said. “We start region play this week, so this game this week is a must-win.”

The game started off on a bright note for the Blue Devils as senior Kody Lewis raced away from the Bulldogs for a touchdown – and a 6-0 UCHS lead – on the first possession of the game.

After being kept out of the end zone and held mostly in check the previous week at South Greene, Rice and the Blue Devil offense created more opportunities for Lewis against Hampton – and he took advantage.

“We made it a priority to get him going,” Rice said of Lewis. “We still have to do a better job of getting him the ball, but yes, it was much better than the week before. He is a special talent. We are better when he is rolling; there’s no question about that.”

Hampton then tied the game on a 19-play, 65-yard drive doing what they do so well – run the football.

“That’s what they do,” Rice said. “They are a top 10 team in the state year in and year out, and to be successful you have to be able to consistently run the football. Our size on the line has really hurt us these first two games, but we have to own that and continue to improve.”

The UCHS defense forced a fourth down halfway through the drive, but could not get off the field.

“We had a play on each of their scoring drives in the first half that could have gotten us off the field,” Rice said. “When you watch the film and you see fourth and 3 and they convert it on a busted assignment, and then third and 12, and they complete a pass in double coverage for 13 yards – it’s tough to swallow.”

The Bulldogs stalled the next UCHS drive, then blocked a punt to get the ball back on the Blue Devils’ 33-yard line. On first down, junior Blue Devil defensive back intercepted a pass in the red zone and gave UCHS the ball back, but UCHS was forced to punt again.

Hampton found the end zone again on their next possession, going 70 yards on 10 plays. A successful two-point conversion put the Bulldogs up, 14-6. After forcing the Blue Devils to punt again, Hampton scored again, this time going 79 yards on 10 plays, with less than a minute to play before halftime.

In the second half, the teams traded turnovers before Hampton scored again and took a 26-6 lead early in the fourth quarter. In typical Blue Devil fashion, however, Rice’s team kept fighting to get the win.

On the ensuing kickoff, Lewis took the ball 91 yards for a touchdown that gave life to his team and the Blue Devil faithful at Gentry Stadium. The UCHS defense then held their ground against the Bulldogs and forced a punt.

“I think it says a lot about them,” Rice said of his team’s efforts late in the game. “I told them after the game I was extremely proud of how they kept fighting. It’s a compliment to them and shows how invested they are in what we are trying to do.”

The Blue Devils took possession around mid-field and put together one of their best drives of the night and marched into the red zone. Lewis found the end zone again, however, the score was called back on a substitution penalty. This stalled the drive – and any hopes of a comeback for the Blue Devils.

“It was huge,” Rice said of the penalty. “The officials never came and told us who had to come out, so we took out the player who we thought they called the timeout for, but turns out they both were supposed to come out. I’ve never seen that happen in all of my life being around football, but it’s nobody’s fault but mine. We scored there and that would have made it 20-26 with 6 minutes left and us with all the momentum, who knows what may have happened. We talk about how every single detail matters, and that’s a great example of that.”

Hampton scored on the final possession of the game for the final score of 32-13.

UCHS had 168 yards of total offense – 67 in the air and 101 on the ground. Hampton had 453 total yards – 55 passing and 398 rushing.

Lewis had 95 rushing yards and the 2 touchdowns. Quarterback Brock Thompson was 8-15 for 67 yards. Evan Huff had 12 yards on 1 carry. Tannery VanHoy had 35 yards on 2 catches. Peyton Whitson had 22 yards on 1 catch. L.J. Mitchell had 14 yards on 1 catch.

Lewis had 12 tackles to lead the UCHS defense. Lane Garland and Roby Lemmon each had 7 tackles. Mitchell had 6 and Robbie O’Dell had 4.

• • •

The Blue Devils will play their first Region 1-AAA game when they travel to North Greene to face the Huskies on Friday, Sept. 6.

“We have to be ready,” Rice said. “They are 1-1, so they have won more football games than we have so far. We have to have a great week of practice this week and get things rolling.”

A victory on Friday is needed, according to Rice.

“It’s everything right now,” he said. “We are 0-2, and we certainly aren’t happy with that. But both the teams we have lost to are either ranked in the top 10 in the state, or receiving votes for the top 10. So we have to keep in mind that it’s a long season and all of our goals are still very much right in front of us. Accomplishing those goals begins this Friday night.”

Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

UCMS cross country teams begin season

The 2019 Unicoi County Middle School cross country team includes, pictured from left, back row, coach Lydia Hilliard, coach Kelly Whaley, Johnny Tipton, Luke Capps, Kade Lemmon, Ethan Falkenstein, Andrew Hill, Bryan Villalobos and Alex White; middle row, Brayden Phillips, Gabriel King, Adrienne Arnold, Austin Falk, Emilio Soto, Victor Luquin, Jose Lopez, Connor Tipton, Humberto Mendoza, Matthew Rogers and Keilet Rodriquez; front row, Michelle Murphy, Danielle Bryant, Autumn Cooper, Mary Pendleton, Quartnee Baker, Chloe Fletcher, Danika Hendricks, Abigail Vidrio, Mikayla Beard and Karrah Dean; not pictured, Samuel Cox and John Tolley. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

Coach Lydia Hilliard has high hopes for the 2019 Unicoi County Middle School cross country season.

“We have runners from last season that have been running on their own and are ready and eager for a successful season,” Hilliard told The Erwin Record. “We also welcome coach Kelly Whaley to our cross country teams.”

There are 20 Jr. Blue Devils and 10 Jr. Lady Devils racing for UCMS this season.

“Coach Whaley and I expect each runner to work hard all season, set goals, continue to improve, decrease running time and, of course, enjoy the experience,” Hilliard said.

Experienced runners, including Keilet Rodriguez who qualified for the TMSAA Cross Country State Championships last season, are leading the way for the Jr. Blue Devils.

“Returning runners Keilet Rodriguez, Luke Capps, Kade Lemmon and Victor Luquin have been running strong for the boys’ team and new runners Gabriel King and Brayden Phillips are showing great potential.”

Sixth grader runners Danika Hendricks and Abigail Vidrio have been lead runners for the girls’ team, according to Hilliard.

• • •

The UCMS runners competed in their first meet of the season on Aug. 24 at the Run for the Hills held in Bristol. Two-hundred runners, representing 14 teams, competed on the Run for the Hills’ 1.5-mile course.

The Jr. Lady Devils turned in a team score of 287 thanks to the following individual results: Hendriks in 29th place with a time of 11:46; Vidrio in 40th place with a time of 12:19; Mary Pendleton in 60th pace with a time of 13:35; Mikayla Beard in 76th place with a time of 14:36; and Danielle Bryant in 82nd place with a time of 15:50.

In the boys’ race, 260 runners, representing 17 teams competed in the Run for the Hills. The Jr. Blue Devils turned in a team score of 237. Individual results included: Capps in 22nd place with a time of 10:11; Rodriguez in 28th place with a time of 10:18; Lemmon in 58th place with a time of 11:14; VLuquin in 64th pace with a time of 11:25; and Phillips in 65th place with a time of 11:29.

At the Terry Hull Crawford Classic in Greeneville on Thursday, Aug. 29, the UCMS teams raced on a 2-mile course.

The Jr. Lady Devils competed in a field of 240 runners, representing 19 teams and posted a team score of 354. Individual performances for the team included: Hendricks in 42nd place with a time of 16:35; Vidrio in 53rd place with a time of 17:00; Pendleton in 72nd place in a time of 18:21; Michelle Murphy in 92nd place with a time of 20:54; and Beard in 95th place with a time of 21:17.

The Jr. Blue Devils competed in a field of 307 runners, representing 22 teams and finished with a team score of 248. Rodriguez placed 18th with a time of 13:36; Capps placed 22nd with a time of 13:49; Lemmon placed 62 with a time of 15:27; Luquin placed 66th with a time of 15:39; and King placed 80th with a time of 16:06.

The next meet for the UCMS runners is the Warriors Invitational in Kingsport on Thursday, Sept. 5.

South Greene Rebels best UCHS Blue Devils in season opener

Blue Devil senior L.J. Mitchell avoids a tackle after catching a pass during the UCHS football team’s 28-7 loss at South Greene in the first week of the 2019 season. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

The start of the 2019 season didn’t go as well as the Blue Devils had hoped.

Playing in Greene County on Friday, Aug. 23, the Unicoi County High School football team (0-1) ran into a physical South Greene Rebel squad (1-0) and lost 28-7.

“It was disappointing, to say the least,” UCHS head coach Drew Rice said. “We felt like we were prepared going in, and we just got wore out up front on both sides of the ball. We have to do a better job of playing our assignments on both sides of the ball. Our guys never quit though, and I am proud of them for that.”

A physical front line on both offense and defense gave the Rebels an edge throughout the game. However, the Blue Devils didn’t back down from the fight.

“The difference in the game was definitely up front,” Rice said. “To South Greene’s credit, they are a really good football team with a really good quarterback and tremendous offensive and defensive lines. I feel like that was definitely the difference in the game. … They were definitely big and physical; it’s probably the biggest and most physical line we will see until the playoffs. With that being said, I don’t think our guys backed down from it, they fought all night. I do think the way they dominated the line of scrimmage was the difference in the game, though.

South Greene took a 6-0 lead early in the second quarter, doing what they did with dominance the entire night – run the football.

“They run a tough offense to defend, and then when you mix that with a four-year starter at quarterback, it’s just really tough to defend,” Rice said. “They are a well-coached football team, too.”

The Rebels took their 6-0 lead into halftime. On their first possession of the second half, they scored again and successfully completed a 2-point conversion for a 14-0 lead.

Things then looked even bleaker for the Blue Devils as South Greene recovered an onside kick to take possession again. But, the UCHS defense rose to the challenge, getting a needed stop and giving possession back to their offense.

The Blue Devils again couldn’t get anything going on offense and were forced to punt. A fumble on the punt, which was recovered by Blue Devil Diego Diaz, gave UCHS possession – and needed momentum – again.

As it happened throughout the game, penalties cost the Blue Devils on that possession and prevented them from putting together a scoring drive.

“The penalties are what absolutely killed us; they came at the worst possible times,” Rice said. “We would get a drive going, and then we would have one or two penalties and it would just kill any bit of momentum we could get.”

South Greene added two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter, taking a 28-0 lead and putting the game out of reach of the Blue Devils. The lone touchdown of the night by UCHS was scored by junior Jordan Bridges on a 58-yard touchdown catch from Robbie O’Dell, the junior backup quarterback.

A key factor in the game was South Greene’s efforts to contain senior Blue Devil running back Kody Lewis. The Rebels held Lewis to 61 yards on 15 carries.

“We have to get him in space and create running lanes for him,” Rice said of Lewis. “His lack of production was not on him; I have to do a better job of getting the ball to him and we have to do a better job of blocking our assignments for him.”

Including the yards gained by Lewis, the Blue Devils offense had only 200 yards, compared to the Rebels’ 370, all but 7 of which were on the ground.

Starting quarterback Brock Thompson was 6-15 for 49 yards for UCHS. O’Dell completed 1 pass for 58 yards and a touchdown. Bridges had the touchdown catch for 58 yards. Senior Peyton Whitson had 3 catches for 24 yards. Senior L.J. Mitchell had 1 catch for 18 yards. Junior Evan Huff had 1 catch for 8 yards.

Despite the disappointing loss, Rice knows his team can bounce back.

“We just have to get back to work,” the head coach said. “We know we have talented guys, and they know how to play. We just have to wash this one off, and go play the way we know we are capable of.”

Things won’t get any easier for the Blue Devils this week as the always tough Hampton Bulldogs come to Gentry Stadium.

“They are a really good football team,” Rice said of Hampton. “I have said all summer that these first two weeks of the season could be two of the best, if not the best, teams on our schedule. So we know we are going to have to be ready. We have a couple of key guys who we are going to have to monitor throughout the week to see if they are going to be able to play or not. If that’s the case, then we are going to have to have some guys step up and make a difference for us.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 30.

UCHS won’t have a Region 1-AAA challenge until Friday, Sept. 6, when they travel to North Greene.

Blue Devils ready for another successful season

The Unicoi County High School football team will open the 2019 season on Friday, Aug. 23, at South Greene. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. (Contributed photo)

By Keeli Parkey

The 2018 season was one of the most memorable in recent history for the Unicoi County High School football program. In addition to finishing with a 9-3 record, the Blue Devils also hosted and won the school’s first playoff game in decades before being eliminated from the postseason by eventual state champion Alcoa.

“I think the high point of last year was winning the home playoff game,” head coach Drew Rice recently told The Erwin Record. “We hadn’t hosted a playoff game since 1991 and hadn’t won one since 1985. So to have that sort of historical relevance, and it be at home in front of our fans was really special. Finally getting over the five win mark like we had been at for the previous three years was huge too; it was a special year for a lot of people.”

With the 2019 season upon them, the question now is, can the Blue Devils repeat – or even top – the success of last season? To do that, coaches and players will have to take the season one game at a time, according to Rice.

“It’s such a long season, and it’s such a physical and mental grind for both our guys and our coaches … ,” Rice said. “We have always talked about going 1-0 each and every week, but last year was definitely a product of that mindset. I hope our guys truly learned how to win. We had tasted success in the couple years prior, but it was never sustained success. So my hope is that our guys saw and learned what it takes to be successful throughout the course of an entire season. We had tremendous leadership last year from our seniors, so I hope this year’s seniors can model that same type of mentality and approach.”

With 56 players on the roster, including 31 upperclassmen, Rice has high expectations for the 2019 season.

“We have four goals every year – have a winning season, win the region, host a playoff game and advance in the playoffs,” Rice said. “Last year we accomplished three of those four. In order to do that, we have to go 1-0 each and every week. So ultimately we think we can be competitive for the top of our league, but we have to do a lot of proving between now and the end of the season. Last year’s accomplishments, mean absolutely nothing when we kick off the season.”

With that many upperclassmen on the team, the Blue Devils bring an experienced and athletic lineup to the field.

“I think our greatest strength is our depth,” Rice said. “We have 31 upperclassmen and it has really shown in these scrimmages when we put in our second group of guys and there’s really not much of a drop-off. So hopefully, throughout the course of the season that will prove to be a real weapon for us. I also think our team speed is exceptional for a school our size. In our summer testing in June, we had 24 guys under a 5 second 40-yard-dash.”

Aiding the Blue Devils in their quest for a region title and playoff success will be several familiar faces to UCHS fans, including senior running back Kody Lewis. Lewis carried the ball 194 times for 2,025 yards and 24 touchdowns – all without a single fumble – during the 2018 season. His efforts earned him all-state honors from the Tennessee Football Coaches Association.

“He is a preseason all-state selection this year and will be the feature back,” Rice said. “He has next-level speed and we are excited for him.”

Running the offense will be junior quarterback Brock Thompson, who threw for just over 100 yards a game and 15 touchdowns last season.

“He has been starting since the third game of his freshman year, so we have all the confidence in the world in his ability,” Rice said. “He has really grown and matured as an athlete and a quarterback.”

Junior Robbie O’Dell will be the backup quarterback this season.

“Robbie has really had a great summer,” Rice said. “He is a great athlete who can do a lot of different things for us.”

Senior Diego Diaz will also get a lot of touches this season.

“He has really had a great offseason and he runs extremely hard,” Rice said.

On the outside, wideouts Peyton Whitson, Tanner VanHoy, Evan Huff, Tracy Vanover and Jordan Bridges all bring athleticism to the field.

“They all can make plays for us,” Rice said.

L.J. Mitchell and Isaiah Smith will play H-back this season.

“Their position is absolutely critical to our offense,” Rice said.

The offensive line is anchored by the experienced senior trio of Roby Lemmon, Michael Harrington and Nick Farnor.

“All three of them have started since they were sophomores on the offensive line,” Rice said. “Dakoda Bell and Rodrigo Castellon will play our guard spots and Caleb Swinehart will be a very valuable backup for us.”

In addition to the experience, there are several youngsters who are ready to make a name for themselves on the gridiron this season.

“We have some tremendous young talent like Bryson Peterson, Lucas Slagle, Nehemiah Edwards, Esteban Mendoza and Caleb Pelaez,” Rice said. “All those guys are going to have very bright futures in our program.”

Players to watch on defense include Mitchell and senior Zhante Breedlove. Rice said they will be the defensive anchor at their defensive end positions.

“On the interior defensive line, Rodrigo Castellon, Nick Farnor, Michael Harrington and Ethan Fuller will all play meaningful snaps,” Rice said. “Our linebackers are senior heavy with Roby Lemmon and Lane Garland on the interior. Both have played a lot of football for us, and are very committed to our program. Isaiah Smith is an extremely talented sophomore who will play all three linebacker spots for us; he is going to be a name people hear a lot over the next three years.

“Preston Woodby and Diego Diaz will hold down the outside linebacker spot for us, and provide speed and athleticism for us on the edge. In our secondary, Kody Lewis, Jacob Schreck and Robbie O’Dell will all split time between the two safety spots. At corner Tanner VanHoy and Matthew Sellars will start. Tracy Vanover will provide valuable depth there for us as well.”

In addition to Rice, the 2019 Blue Devil coaching staff includes Malcolm Foreman, Jason Hensley, Brandon Adams, Jordan Cooper, Mark Peterson, Eric Tilson, Trevor Berry and Austin Hensley.

A successful 2019 campaign will depend on how well the Blue Devils do the little things, according to their head coach.

“We have to take care of the football on offense and we have to tackle well defensively,” Rice said. “If we do those two things night in and night out, we can have a tremendous season.”

The Blue Devils will once again play Region 1-AAA with Chuckey-Doak, Claiborne, Johnson County, North Greene and West Greene.

“We think we are going to be in the mix,” Rice said of the race to the region title. “We have to stay healthy, and we have to control what we can control. If we take care of business each and every week, we will have a chance at a championship come November.”

The Blue Devils open the 2019 season at South Greene in non-league play on Friday, Aug. 23. Their first home game will be Friday, Aug. 30, against Hampton. The first region game will be played on the road at North Greene on Sept. 6. Kickoff for each game is set for 7:30 p.m.

“We would just like to encourage everyone to come support these young men,” Rice said. “It’s an exciting time for football in Unicoi County. They have committed to something that is much bigger than themselves, and because of that, I hope the community will come out and support them. There are currently 110 young men in grades 6-12 who are playing football in Unicoi County right now between the high school and the middle school programs. We want to build long term success in Unicoi County.”

Season tickets and parking passes are still on sale in the main office of UCHS for $30 each.

Blue Devil football team hosts Sullivan North for scrimmage

Kody Lewis takes a hand off from quarterback Brock Thompson during the Blue Devils’ scrimmage with Sullivan North on Friday, Aug. 9, at Gentry Stadium. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School football team’s preparations for the upcoming season continued last week with a scrimmage against Sullivan North at Gentry Stadium in Erwin.

“I thought we did some good things, but also showed some places that we have to clean up,” Blue Devil head coach Drew Rice told The Erwin Record. “Overall, I think it was a good showing for us though. Sullivan North was a big physical football team and it was a good test for us.

UCHS will open the 2019 season on Friday, Aug. 23, at South Greene. As that kickoff draws ever closer, Rice said the competition against North gave the coaching staff an idea of what the team needs to focus on in the coming days.

“I think it showed us some places that need to improve over the next two weeks,” he added. “We did a lot of good things on defense, but we have to be better tacklers. We had five or six different plays bottled up in the backfield, and we let them break out of it for positive yards. Our run game has to get cleaned up, as well. We aren’t communicating up front as well as I would like for us to be. Those two things will be the focus over the next two weeks.”

As it was in the scrimmage at Northview Academy on Aug. 2, depth was a bright spot for the Blue Devils against North, according to the head coach.

“I think our depth has been really evident on both sides of the ball in both scrimmages now,” Rice said. “Our second offense scored two touchdowns in less than eight plays, so that is something that we have a lot of confidence in moving forward. Defensively, I think our young guys fly to the ball really well. They are still learning how to play in some places, but we definitely have a lot of talent.”

With the players returning to the classroom this week, Rice said the team will continue its preparations.

“This week we will really try and get in our weekly routine,” he added. “We will try to get our legs back under us a little since we have now been pushing really hard for over a month. With that in mind, we will still make conditioning a huge focus between now and the first game. We have to tackle better on defense, and be more efficient with our blocks up front.”

The Blue Devils will face another preseason test when they host Cosby for their final preseason scrimmage on Thursday, Aug. 15, at Gentry Stadium. Rice said the scrimmage is tentatively scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m.

• • •

After going on the road to face South Greene on Aug. 23, the Blue Devils will play their first home game on Aug. 30 against Hampton.

Season tickets are now on sale at the main office of the high school. Parking passes for Gentry Stadium are also on sale; however, a limited number of parking passes are available.

Griffith enjoying collegiate coaching career

Unicoi County native Megan Griffith served as the pitching coach for the University of California San Diego softball team during a 2019 season that saw the squad advance to the NCAA Division II Women’s College World Series. (Contributed photo)

By Keeli Parkey

An Erwin native who made a name for herself on the diamond is now having success in the dugout.

Megan Griffith concluded a successful softball career at Science Hill High School in 2011.

“I was the three-time Big 8 All-Conference Player of the Year, 2008 all-tournament team, 2009 all-tournament MVP, four-time All-Northeast Tennessee Team, 2008 MVP Fastpitch for Chicks 16-18U, two-time FCA Tennessee All-Star Team, member of the National Society for High School Scholars,” Griffith said of her time with the Lady Hilltoppers. “I earned a high school diploma and an International Baccalaureate Diploma.”

Next, Griffith moved on to Gulf Coast State University where she played for a year and a half after having back surgery and redshirting.

“There I led the team in most every offensive category including doubles, homeruns, slugging percentage (.591), RBIs (57), total bases (110) and extra base hits (23)” Griffith said.

Griffith then returned to her home state where she attended Middle Tennessee State University and played shortstop for the Lady Raiders.

“There I was an NFCA Division I All-American Scholar Athlete, made the dean’s list and was Conference USA Player of the Week multiple times,” Griffith said.

Griffith graduated from MTSU in May 2016 with a bachelor of science degree in exercise science. College was a memorable experience for the Erwin native.

“There were many amazing experiences, however, my two favorites were hitting a grand slam in Florida followed by a 3-run homerun the next at bat and a two run double the next. I broke the NJCAA record for most RBIs in a single game,” Griffith said. “The second was hitting a walk-off grand slam against MTSU’s rival Western Kentucky University in a hard-fought battle.”

Griffith said she also learned many important lessons playing softball at the collegiate level.

“College athletics helped shape me into the person I am today,” she added. “I learned so many lessons about commitment, integrity, what it means to be a true competitor and how to work relentlessly towards your goal. Being a collegiate athlete is much more difficult than some imagine. You have to be a pro at time management. I balanced 5 a.m. workouts, a full course load, study hall, practice, community service, studying, homework and various other obligations on a daily basis.”

After graduation, Griffith decided to make the move from the field to the sidelines.

“I was drawn to coaching to be able to give back to the sport that gave me so much,” she said. “Through softball I was able to travel all over the country, meet amazing people, learn a multitude of life lessons and have my education paid on scholarship.

“I coach collegiately because I feel this is where young women need the most guidance and best role models. For me college was such a growing experience. I want to help build strong, young women who will be successful on and off the field long after they have hung up their cleats. There is nothing more rewarding than knowing you’ve helped someone and been able to give back to the community that gave so much to you.”

Pursuing her coaching career took Griffith to California in September 2016.

“When I got to California, I had no jobs lined up and really no way of knowing what was going to happen,” Griffith said. “I was blessed that a former college teammate’s family let me stay with them until I could get my feet under me. I worked as a server at a restaurant and a volunteer assistant at Whittier College.”

Volunteering at Whittier College opened up doors for Griffith.

“Eventually the head coach at Whittier College helped me find a better paying job still in the realm of softball,” she said. “I worked as tournament coordinator, college coach liaison and travel ball coach for several months in order to build up my resume. I then applied for the assistant coach position at University of California San Diego.”

Griffith was offered – and accepted – a job at UCSD in September 2017.

“It took a great deal of hard work and determination,” she said. “I refused to give up on my dream after nearly a year of praying and battling and God opened the right door for me.”

In her first year at UCSD Griffith served as the hitting and field instructor.

“In the 2018 season the team hit 30 points better than the previous season and boasted the highest average in the last 10 years, finishing the season at .306, “she said. “My first year we made it to the regional tournament and fell rather quickly, which was a disappointment.”

For the 2019 season, Griffith took over pitching coach duties due to a sudden illness.

“This was an incredibly rewarding and amazing experience,” she said. “During my time overseeing the pitching staff we earned five conference pitcher awards, improved our regular season ERA down to 2.20, earned first team all-conference pitcher, first team All-West Region Pitcher, the first no-hitter in school history, and six shut-out victories. This was a huge improvement from the previous years and I could not be prouder of the work ethic and dedication of those athletes. They bought into my system and trusted me and we went the furthest the team had gone since 2012.”

UCSD finished the 2019 season with an overall record of 37-17.

“We play in a very competitive Division II conference,” Griffith said. “This year we were able to accomplish an unbelievable amount. We were conference regular season champions (first time since 2011), All-West Regional Champions (since 2012), Super Regional Champions (since 2012) and made a NCAA Division II Women’s College World Series appearance (first since 2012). Unfortunately, we weren’t able to win it all and come back with a ring. However, to be one of the last eight teams standing in the nation was such an honor. The pride and joy I feel when coaching those athletes are incomparable to anything else. I truly believe I have found my calling and am so passionate about my work.”

This summer, Griffith decided to accept a position as a hitting/assistant coach at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia – a Division I university in the Atlantic 10 Conference.

“I will start there in the fall of this year,” Griffith said. “I valued my time and experiences in California a great deal, but I chose to make the move to be closer to my family on the east coast.”

It is her family that Griffith credits with her success.

“I would like to thank my parents and family for always supporting me, encouraging me to chase my dreams and never give up,” she said. “They taught me to be strong, independent, honest and hard working. I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without their love and support. I am truly blessed.”

True blue: Gene Ramsey remembered for support, generosity

Gene Ramsey, pictured with his wife, Sally, was an avid supporter of local sports teams prior to his death earlier this year. He is remembered for his generosity, kindness and willingness to help others. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

Unicoi County athletics lost an important member of the Blue Devil family earlier this year when long-time supporter Gene Ramsey passed away on March 4.

In addition to being a loving husband to Sally Bradford Ramsey and a devoted father to Amy Ramsey Reed, Ramsey was a mentor and father figure to many athletes that put on the Blue Devil blue and white. He also enjoyed watching his grandsons, Raben and Boone, play sports through the years.

“He was a great supporter of the Blue Devils,” Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely said. “I remember when I was younger he paid for kids on the football team to go to camp when they could not afford it. His help didn’t end there – he helped me get my first summer job when he worked at Hoover Ball in 1974.”

Former Unicoi County High School athletic director and head football coach Doug Cooper remembers Ramsey as a friend and mentor.

“He was like a second father to me,” Cooper said. “While my father was sick, (Gene) made sure I never missed a University of Tennessee game. Some of my favorite memories are going to bowl games with Gene.”

According to Cooper, he and Ramsey made it to every major bowl that Tennessee played in, including the Vols’ 1998 National Championship victory over the Florida State Seminoles at the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Arizona on Jan. 4, 1999.

According to Cooper, Ramsey never stopped giving to the UCHS athletic program.

“Not only did he attend every sporting event he could, he was there to help each program financially,” Cooper said. “During my tenure, he never turned down a chance to donate, oftentimes he would donate anonymously.”

Glenn Fisher, who currently serves on the Unicoi County Board of Education and was the head coach of the UCHS Lady Devil basketball program for decades, shared similar experiences with Ramsey.

“It didn’t matter what sport it was, he was always the first to support Unicoi County athletics in any way he could,” Fisher said. “I will always remember him getting chilled watermelons every summer for the football team.”

Ramsey’s giving spirit spilled over from field to field and court to court.

“He would always take care of our athletes in so many different ways, whether it was giving them bookmarkers, encouraging signs for the locker room, buying pizzas, donating money to help or just overall support,” Unicoi County Director of School and former UCHS basketball coach John English said. “You could always count on his support for not only our basketball teams, but Blue Devil sports in general.”

Ramsey offered moral support  in addition to monetary donations.

“He also sponsored the most valuable player award at the high school football banquet for years, but his biggest attribute was encouragement to all the players win or lose,” Evely said. “He was just a great person who always put others first, along with Sally.”

Ramsey provided support for the coaches as well as the athletes.

“We had many great conversations on the phone after big wins or even tough losses back when I coached,” English said. “Those really meant a lot to me then and even more now.”

While Mr. Ramsey’s heart may have bled Blue Devil Blue and white, his love was at home. According to Ramsey’s daughter, Amy Ramsey Reed, Ramsey was just as giving at home. Ramsey said some of her favorite memories with her father was riding down to Greenville to pick up watermelons for the football team.

“He has given those boys watermelons for as long as I have been alive,” Reed said. “I remember my dad carrying me on his shoulders at the Tennessee games. Since then I completed my undergraduate and graduate studies at Tennessee, I couldn’t imagine going anywhere else.”

Reed will miss her father, but Unicoi County will miss one of the most giving individuals to ever reside in the county.

“He was always so supportive of Blue Devil athletics. He absolutely loved pulling for the Big Blue,” English said. “You could always count on seeing him and Sally at games.”

Fisher agreed.

“He will be missed,” Fisher said. “Unicoi County athletics will not be the same.”

All-stars claim second place in Southeast Regional

Competing on the 8-10 year-old Unicoi County softball all-star team were Carly Baxter, Kianna Woodward, Aaliyah Engle, Annabelle Eanes, Kyndal Engle, Kinley Carver, Emma Hummer, Kaley Toney, Reagan Carroll, Chloe Conner and Noly Cooper. The team is coached by Terry Higgins, Daniel Engle and Aaron Toney. (Contributed photo)

From Staff Reports

Unicoi County’s 8-10 year-old softball all-stars battled to the very end, but fell just short of a regional title.

After winning the state championship earlier this month, these future Lady Devils traveled to Cunningham, Tennessee, to play in the region tournament with other teams from Georgia, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Dickson County, Tennessee.

Playing in pool A, Unicoi County opened the tournament with a 5-4 loss to Georgia on Saturday, July 20, according to coach Terry Higgins. The team then bounced back with an exciting 4-3 victory over Virginia later that day. Higgins said they won on a walk-off in the bottom of the sixth inning.

On Sunday, July 21, Unicoi County bested West Virginia, 2-1, to advance to the championship game. There, they ran into a tough South Carolina team and lost, 3-0.

“All the girls played their hearts out,” Higgins said. “We finished in second place for the Southeast Region in the Tournament of State Champions.”

The all-stars advanced to the Southeast Region after winning the District 5 championship in June, then winning the state tournament earlier this month in Erwin.

The team is made up of players Carly Baxter, Kianna Woodward, Aaliyah Engle, Annabelle Eanes, Kyndal Engle, Kinley Carver, Emma Hummer, Kaley Toney, Reagan Carroll, Chloe Conner and Noly Cooper.

The team is coached by Terry Higgins, Daniel Engle and Aaron Toney.

All-stars win state title, advance to region

The Unicoi County Little League 8-10 year-old softball all-star team won the state championship last week. The team, which is made up of players Kaley Toney, Noly Cooper, Kinley Carver, Kyndal Engle, Chloe Connor, Reagan Carroll, Emma Hummer, Annabelle Eanes, Carly Baxter, Carmindy Williams, Kianna Woodward and Aaliyah Engle, is pictured above with their state championship banner. The team is also coached by Terry Higgins, Aaron Toney and Daniel Engle.

From Staff Reports

Unicoi County has another state softball title.

This latest one came thanks to the efforts of the Unicoi County Little League’s 8-10 year-old softball all-star team.

The road to the state title began in the District 5 tournament, which the team won last month. That tournament win sent the team to the state tournament played at Erwin’s Kiwanis Park.

According to manager Terry Higgins, these future Lady Devils opened the state tournament on Saturday, July 6, with a 13-3 victory over Dickson County. Later that day, they defeated Smith County, 12-2. These victories set up a game with Goodlettsville on Sunday, July 7, which Unicoi County won 7-4. This victory sent the team to the championship round.

After the loss to Unicoi County, Goodlettsville battled out of the losers’ bracket to face the hometown team once again on Tuesday, July 9. This time, Goodlettsville came out victorious, defeating Unicoi County, 4-3.

This forced a winner-take-all game the following day. In that game, the now-familiar foes battled to a 0-0 tie after six innings. Then, Unicoi County’s offense came alive for what Higgins described as “an extra-inning thriller.”

“We scored six runs in the top half of the seventh inning and held Goodlettsville off in the bottom of the seventh,” Higgins added.

With a state title in hand, the all-stars now set their sights on a Southeast Regional championship. Higgins said the team is expected to open regional play on Saturday, July 20, in Cunningham, Tennessee. The opponent and time have yet to be announced.

In addition to Unicoi County, the tournament will include teams from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, Higgins said.

Unicoi County Football League tryouts set for July 27

From Staff Reports

The Unicoi County High School football program is inviting boys in third, fourth and fifth grades to play in the Unicoi County Football League.

“It is an exciting time for Unicoi County football,” head coach Drew Rice said. “We are entering the third year of our flag football league backed by the National Football Flag Program. Every third, fourth and fifth grade male student has the opportunity to play in an official NFS jersey with classmates from across the county.”

Rice said tryouts will be held on Saturday, July 27, beginning at 11 a.m. Practice will begin on Thursday, Aug. 1, with games starting on Thursday, Aug. 15.

“Teams will play at least five games and have a playoff leading up to the Blue Devil Bowl to be played on Sept. 26,” Rice said. “All games will be played at Gentry Stadium and the entire season will be completed by the beginning of fall break.”

Rice described the new league as “a top priority for our football program as a whole.”

“We believe that for our high school team to be successful, we must begin cultivating well-rounded football players at the elementary age,” Rice said. “This league, which is fully backed by both Unicoi County schools and the National Football League, plans to be the first step in a very successful football career for these young athletes.”

The cost of the league, which includes a reversible jersey, flags and player/parent membership in USA Football, is $40. Players should register online at https://nflflag.com/register – Step 1: Create a Parent Account; Step 2: Select Unicoi County Football League; Step 3: Register your Child.

Checks should be made payable to UCFL and mailed to Unicoi County Middle School Attention: Coach Hensley, 599 S. Mohawk Dr., Erwin, TN 37650.

For more information, contact Rice at 743-1632 or [email protected] or contact assistant coach Jason Hensley at 735-0236 or [email protected]

All-Star team reaches state championship

The 6- to 8-year-old Unicoi County Little League baseball all-star team includes, pictured from left, back row, Reed Carroll, Owen Masters, Ty Toney, Miles Gouge, AJ Holt, Wyatt Shelton and Mason Wright; front row, Nevan Sifford, Blake Bennett, Justin Ramsey, Braydan Sifford and Mason Blackburn. (Contributed photo)

The 11- to 12-year-old Unicoi County Little League baseball all-star team includes, pictured from left, back row, coach David Butler, manager Roger Allen and coach Donnie Hensley; middle row, Matthew Whitson, Ryan Allen, Albert Alaniz, Ethan Butler, Rhett Allen, Christian Nasser and Josh Randolph; front row, Angel Delgado, Gabe King, Ethan Falkenstein, Dillon Gast, Dillon Sifford and Emanuel Chavez. (Contributed photo)

From Staff Reports

Of the six all-star teams representing Unicoi County Little League in tournament action this summer, one is still standing – and playing for a state title.

8-10 Year-Old Softball All-Stars

This group of youngsters won the District 5 championship last month, which sent them to the state tournament competition being played in Erwin.

The softball all-stars opened the state tournament on Saturday, July 6, with a 13-3 victory over Dickson County. Later that day, they defeated Smith County 12-2, according to coach Terry Higgins.

These victories set up a game with Goodlettsville on Sunday, July 7, which Unicoi County won 7-4. The win sent the team to the championship game which was played on Tuesday, July 9, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue.

According to Higgins, if the team wins on Tuesday, they will play in the regional tournament in Cunningham, Tennessee, beginning July 19. The time and opponent for that game is yet to be decided.

6-8 Year-Old Baseball All-Stars

The youngest baseball all-star team was eliminated from tournament play by losses on June 11 and June 12 in Bluff City.

According to coach Nick Gouge, lost 9-6 to Johnson City Major on the first day, then lost to Blountville 10-4 the second day.

11-12 Year-Old Baseball All-Stars

The 11-12 year-old baseball all-star team was also eliminated with consecutive losses while playing in Bluff City.

Coach Roger Allen said the team lost to Johnson City Major 14-4 on July 1, then lost to Johnson City American 15-0 the following day.

The 6-8 year-old softball all-stars, the 8-10 year-old baseball all-stars and the 10-12 year-old softball all-stars were all previously eliminated from tournament play.

Unicoi County Little League all-star tournament results

The 6-8 year-old Unicoi County Little League softball team includes, pictured from left, back row, manager Ruth Jackson, assistant coach Mallory Jackson, assistant coach Dino Tipton and assistant coach Seth Jones; middle row, Tommi Hensley, Olivia Nasser, Abigail Peterson, Ava Hoyle, Lisa Wharton and Nevaeh Hoffman; front row, Olivia Jones, Brooklyn Doughty, Ella Jones, Grace Odom, Kylee Honeycutt, Madelyn Edwards and Leandra Parsons. (Contributed photo)

The 8-10 year-old Unicoi County Little League baseball team includes, pictured from left, back row, coach Eric Garland, coach Eric Wainwright and coach Travis Griffith; middle row, Asher Wainwright, Colt Hensley, Bryson Garland, Isaiah Ebernickle and Ashton Kinley; front row, Peyton Falkenstein, Liam Jones, Noah English, Guycen Jones, Silas Morris and Dalton Fuller. (Contributed photo)

The 8-10 year-old all-star softball team includes Kaley Toney, Noly Cooper, Kinley Carver, Kyndal Engle, Chloe Connor, Reagan Carroll, Emma Hummer, Annabelle Eanes, Carly Baxter, Carmindy Williams, Kianna Woodward and Aaliyah Engle. (Contributed photo)

The 10-12 year-old Unicoi County Little League softball team includes, pictured from left, back row, coach Jessica Banner, Kynzie Jones, manager Aaron Banner, Maddison Williams, Peyton Higgins, Kylee Hensley, Abby Hampton, coach Josh Jones and Leia Richardson; front row, Haley Rush, Miley Woodward, Mikayla Beard and Baylee Adams. (Contributed photo)

From Staff Reports

Three Unicoi County Little League were recently eliminated from the region’s tournament play.

6-8 Year-Old Softball All-Stars

The 6-8 year-old Unicoi County Little League softball all-star team opened tournament play on June 11 with a 10-2 loss to Jonesborough, according to manager Ruth Jackson.

The following day, the team found itself losing to Bristol by four runs going into the sixth inning. Jackson said her team reclaimed the lead thanks to an inside-the-park home run by Nevaeh Hoffman and multiple hits from her teammates. Unicoi County held an 8-7 lead going into the bottom of the sixth, unfortunately, Bristol added two more runs to win the game 9-8.

The loss eliminated the team from tournament play.

“It was a heartbreaker,” Jackson said. “We were definitely the underdog. We had a young team and no travel ball players.”

8-10 Year-Old Baseball All-Stars

The 8-10 year-old Unicoi County Little League baseball all-stars were eliminated from tournament play by two losses last week.

Playing at Bluff City, the team lost to Jonesborough 17-7 on June 24 and 12-4 to Johnson City Major the following day.

10-12 Year-Old Softball All-Stars

The 10-12 year-old Unicoi County Little League softball all-star team opened tournament play on June 15 at Daniel Boone Little League with a 20-6 victory over Johnson County, according to manager Aaron Banner.

The team suffered its first loss later that day against Daniel Boone by the score of 15-0.

Next, the team faced Johnson County again – and won again – this time on June 16 by the score of 19-5. The victory set up another game with Daniel Boone. Unfortunately, the second matchup went the same as the first with Daniel Boone defeating Unicoi County 27-0. The loss eliminated the team from the tournament.

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The 8-10 year-old softball all-star team recently won the District 5 championship.

Coach Terry Higgins previously told The Erwin Record that the team lost 13-12 in the bottom of the sixth inning to Daniel Boone.

“We had to play them again on Sunday, June 16,” Higgins said. “We beat them 11-2, which led to the if-necessary game and we won it, 11-1.”

The victories clinched the district title for the team and sent them to the state tournament, which is scheduled to begin on July 6.

The team, which is made up of players Kaley Toney, Noly Cooper, Kinley Carver, Kyndal Engle, Chloe Connor, Reagan Carroll, Emma Hummer, Annabelle Eanes, Carly Baxter, Carmindy Williams, Kianna Woodward and Aaliyah Engle. In addition to Higgins, the team is also coached by Aaron Toney and Daniel Engle.

Information about the remaining Unicoi County Little League all-star teams will appear in upcoming issues of The Erwin Record.

Achin’ for the Bacon 5K River Run set for June 29

From Staff Reports

The Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce is again teaming up with CASA of Northeast Tennessee to host the 8th Annual Achin’ for the Bacon 5K River Run on Saturday, June 29.

Runners and walkers of all ages are invited to participate in the race. The race will begin at 9 a.m. and a portion of the proceeds will benefit CASA.

The race features a flat and fast course along a section of the Nolichucky River. The start/finish line of the race will be in the parking lot of the Mountain Inn and Suites (former Holiday Inn Express) located at 2002 Temple Hill Road, Erwin.

From Temple Hill Road, racers will continue to Jackson Love Highway and then to Industrial Park Drive.

Runners will race down Industrial Park Drive to the Linear Trail access point near the Trail Gazebo and race back on the Linear Trail alongside the Nolichucky River.

Electronic tag timing and professional race management from We Run Events will be provided again this year.

Following the race, awards in various categories will be given. Registration will begin at 7 a.m.

All participants will receive a race T-shirt, racer goodie bag and a complimentary bacon and pancake breakfast following the race.

The cost to preregister for the Achin’ for the Bacon 5K River Run is $25. The cost on race day is $30. Preregistration is available through June 27.

For more information call the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce at 743-3000.

Registration is available at https://www.athlinks.com/event/achin-for-the-bacon-5k-river-run-24816.

Hawkins competes at state track meet

Halie Hawkins clears a jump during the recent TSSAA state meet held at Middle Tennessee State University. (Contributed photo)

By Keeli Parkey

Halie Hawkins concluded her athletic career at Unicoi County High School with a top-10 finish in the pole vault at the TSSAA Spring Fling Track Championships held at Middle Tennessee State University on Thursday, May 23.

“Halie finished the day in ninth out of 16 vaulters and a jump of 9 feet,” UCHS head coach Thad Higgins told The Erwin Record. “It’s always a proud moment to have any athlete represent UCHS at the state meet, but to have an athlete be one of the top 10 vaulters in the state is really incredible. I was also proud of how Halie overcame unexpected obstacles and remained mentally tough. We’re so proud of Halie for how she competed throughout this entire season and especially for how well she represented UCHS at the state championship.”

Going back to the state meet for the second time was a special experience for Hawkins, who will continue her track and field career at Milligan College next year.

“Getting to represent your school and town at the state meet is an amazing experience,” Hawkins said. “The atmosphere is unlike any other meet I have ever been to. When an athlete hears the phrase, ‘You are going to Murfreesboro,’ you can’t help but get excited. It’s the best of the best. Being among the top track and field athletes in the whole state is really cool.”

This year, Hawkins competed in a different division than she did two years ago due to reclassification by the TSSAA.

“We moved up to the large schools division,” Hawkins said. “This made getting to state much more difficult these past two years. Last year it was heartbreaking when I just missed the cut at sectionals by one placing. This year I knew I had to work really hard to make crucial vaults in order to even make it to state.”

Hawkins qualified for the state meet with a jump of 10 feet at the sectionals held at Hardin Valley on May 11.

“Our section has become very competitive, specifically in pole vault,” Hawkins said. “There are about four of us in this section that are from different schools. We have become really good friends and we have pushed one another, as a result all our heights have increased. We compete against one another but are the ones cheering one another on. We borrow poles, hang out before and after our vaults – even the coaches are really helpful to all of us. It’s very unique. We are all going on to vault in college so it will be fun to continue that.”

Hawkins said last week’s state competition started out well.

“In warmups I felt fantastic,” she added. “In fact I had my best vault I have ever had. When the bar went up however I had a crucial first miss at my opening height of 9 feet. When it’s hot the poles tend to flex a lot more and I was feeling really good and carried some extra energy into it so I hit it on the way up. I regrouped and made it on my next attempt, but it still hurt my overall placing.”

At the next height – 9’6” – Hawkins ran into some bad luck.

“I had three unlucky misses,” she said. “This sport is notorious for having lots of variables. Some days it comes together for you and others the variables just get kind of tricky. You can change one little thing and it has an impact on five others. The strides, my energy, pushing the standards back or forward, which pole I use, how high my grip is on the pole, what height I enter competition at, all that has to come together on top of what I do to take off and turn in the air. It’s so much to think about. That’s what I love about it though.”

Despite the bad luck, Hawkins said she is ready to continue competing.

“Even the top vaulter in the state can have a bad day and no height,” she added. “For me the pieces just didn’t quite come together on Thursday. I still ended up ninth though. Top 10 in the state isn’t bad. I am super excited to see what heights the next season holds.”

UCHS football team concludes spring practice

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School football team is already preparing for the 2019 season.

“We finished up two weeks of spring practice with a scrimmage at Sullivan Central last Friday,” Blue Devil head coach Drew Rice told The Erwin Record. “I think we had a great two weeks of practice and we got to evaluate a lot of different guys at a lot of different positions. I thought the scrimmage served its purpose – we found some guys we can for sure count on and identified some areas where we definitely have to get better.”

Rice and the Blue Devils are looking to continue their successful run in the 2018 season when they finished with a 9-3 overall record, took second in Region 1-AAA with a 4-1 league record and won a playoff game. Working toward that goal began earlier this year.

“We have been in the weight room, either lifting or speed training five days a week since Jan. 7,” Rice said. “These guys love to work and I think them having the success they did last year only fueled that desire even more. Our numbers in the weight room have been really good; we have some guys who are really moving some weight around.”

The Blue Devils completed spring practice with 45 players on the roster. This number only includes players who will be sophomores, juniors or seniors at the start of the 2019 school year.

“We expect a big freshman class coming in this week to start summer workouts, so we hope to be at or above 60 kids by the fall,” Rice said. “We are really excited about the incoming freshmen. They had a lot of success last year in middle school and it’s a really talented group that we can’t wait to get with us.”

Friday’s scrimmage saw the Blue Devils’ strength training pay off, according to the head coach.

“I think our offensive and defensive lines were in control most of the scrimmage, which I think is a testament to the offseason our guys had in the weight room,” Rice said.

The head coach also saw room for improvement.

“We had some mistakes at some key positions that we are going to have to get corrected if we want to be the type of team we think we can be,” Rice said. “I think our offense, minus a handful of plays, executed really well for spring ball. (Quarterback) Brock (Thompson) really took control of the offense and made some big time throws. I think our passing game is well beyond where we have been in the past during spring practice. We have a really talented receiving core with a lot of depth there.”

The Blue Devils will continue preparing for the 2019 season in the coming months.

“We will start summer workouts this week as soon as school lets out,” Rice said. “We will go five days a week until the dead period which starts at the end of June. We will be lifting, speed training, and doing some 7-on-7 passing work during that time. We will be working every day to build off of the success we had last season.”

The Blue Devils will open the 2019 season on Aug. 23 at South Greene. The first home game will be Aug. 30 against Hampton.