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Butler tops sports story

The top 10 Decatur County sports stories of 2008 ranged from former Bainbridge High School Bearcat and Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket star defensive back James Butler Jr. winning the Super Bowl with the New York Giants and giving back to his native Climax and Decatur County to the Bainbridge Middle School Bearcats baseball team winning the Southwest Georgia Middle School Baseball League tournament and regular season championships.

No. 1, Butler Super Bowl Champion

Topping Decatur County’s 2008 sports stories is Climax native and former Bainbridge High School Bearcat and Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket star defensive back James Butler Jr. turning in a team-high nine tackles to help the New York Giants defeat the previously undefeated New England Patriots 17-14 in Super Bowl XLII Feb. 3 in Glendale Ariz. to win the 2008 National Football League championship.

Butler, son of the Rev. James Butler Sr. and Nadine Butler of Climax, gave back to Climax, Bainbridge and Decatur County throughout the year.

On June 28 at Centennial Field, he hosted a free youth football clinic and camp for 250 8- to 14-year-old youngsters. The camp was part of the James Butler Celebrity Charity Weekend hosted by his Dream Program, a non-profit initiative that provides programs focusing on mentoring, education and youth leadership and benefiting literacy and low income families.

Following the camp that night, Butler, joined by former Thomas County Central High School and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and Buffalo Bills running back Joe Burns, bowled with local youngster at the Bainbridge-Decatur County YMCA to raise funds for the Dream Program.

At James Butler Day on May 1 in Climax, signs, which were placed at the two Climax city limits, were unveiled proclaiming the town to be the home of James 0. Butler Jr., New York Giants Football 2008 Super Bowl Champions.

During halftime of the Bearcats Sept. 12th home and Region 1AAAA opener against the Lee County High School Trojans at Centennial Field, Chip Ariail, one of Butler’s first coaches at Hutto Middle School, presented framed copies of his No. 2 Bearcats jersey and No. 22 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets jersey that will be retired and placed on permanent display at the new Bainbridge High School to his parents.

No. 2, Pilcher Bearcats new coach

Ed Pilcher, who led the Thomas County Central High School Yellow Jackets to five state championships and six state title games during an outstanding 17-year career, was officially hired as Bainbridge High School Bearcats head football coach Jan. 14 at a called Decatur County Board of Education meeting.

BHS principal Tommie Howell called Pilcher, who represents Region 1AAAA on the Georgia High School Association executive committee, probably the most respected coach in all of Georgia. He replaced Ricky Woods, who resigned Dec. 18, 2007, after leading the Bearcats to a 9-4 record and a berth in the quarterfinals of the State Class AAAA playoffs.

No. 3, Reynolds excels academically. athletically

The achievements of Bainbridge High School Bearcats offensive guard and champion heavyweight wrestler Ben Reynolds in the classroom and the arena were outstanding in 2008. During the season he was featured in a players spotlight with his picture on the cover of “In the Game,” a South Georgia sports magazine. In the classroom, he is ranked No. 1 in his class with a with a 4.0 grade point average. In addition, he is on the Principal’s Honor Role, president of the National Junior Honor Society, and a semifinalist to be a national merit scholar.

In December, Reynolds was named Hall of Fame Scholar Athlete for the Southwest Georgia Region and selected to play in the Florida Georgia Border Wars Senior Bowl football game at Thomas Central High Schools Jackets’ Nest Stadium.

No. 4, Rice named SEC Legend

Former Bainbridge High School Bearcats tackle and fullback Ken Rice, who played for coach Spencer “Onion” Davis’ Bearcats in 1954, 1955 and 1956, and went on to earn All-American honors as a defensive tackle with the Auburn University Tigers and have a successful professional football career with the Buffalo Bills, Oakland Raiders and Miami Dolphins, was honored as a Southeastern Conference (SEC) Legend in January.

On Sept. 25 he returned to Bainbridge to honor coach Davis and former Bearcats coach Sam Williams at a reception in their honor at the Elcan-King Elementary School cafeteria. Davis said Rice was one of the fastest players he ever coached.

“Ken weighed 244 pounds but he was graceful and could outrun any of our backs,” Davis said. “Our 1954 team only had 21 players He played tackle, but because he was so fast we moved him to fullback on offense.”

No. 5, Moseley wins prestigious award

Auburn University Tigers All-American golfer and former Bainbridge High School Bearcats low medalist Jay Moseley ended an outstanding Auburn career by winning the prestigious Cliff Haire Award, which goes each year to an Auburn male athlete who excels athletically and academically.

Moseley, son of Brown and Susan Moseley of Bainbridge, finished his senior season with a 71.18 stroke average and was named first team All-Southeastern Conference (SEC), third team “Golf Week” All-American, honorable mention Ping All-American and Cleveland Golf All-American Scholar.

No. 6, Cross country teams win Region 1AAAA

Coach Mandi O’Mara’s Bainbridge High School Lady Cats and Bearcats cross country teams won Region 1AAAA championships, and Lady Cat April Thomas won the individual Region girls championship with a time of 20:25. Lady Cat Frankie Warren won Region girls runner-up honors with a time of 21:25 Nov. 1 at the Region 1AAAA meet at Jones County High School in Gray. Leading the Bearcats at the meet were Richie Hughes, Cody Heard, Erick Juarez, Austin Howard, Hunter Bulger, Dylan Faircloth and Davey Reynolds.

No. 7, Akins indoor champion

Former Bainbridge High School Bearcats and Auburn University Tigers All-American record-setting hurdler Ty Akins, son of Phyllis and Samuel Freeman and Howard Stephens, won the Southeastern Conference (SEC) 60-meter hurdles indoor championship with a time of 7.71 seconds in March at the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Indoor Championships at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Ark.

No. 8, Rathel hurls third, fourth no hitters

Bainbridge High School senior right-hander Haley Rathel, daughter of Charles and Susan Rathel, hurled her third and fourth no hitters in March and April while pitching for her Bainbridge Leisure Services Department’s Rathels Wrecking Crew softball team. She shutout Georgia Power 8-0 in March and blanked Beef O’Bradys 2-0 in April. She struck out nine and walked just two in the win over Georgia Power.

First baseman Laura Cerone preserved the no hitter when she made a diving catch just inside the line. She struck out 16 in her no hit effort against Beef O’Bradys. Rathel’s first no hitter came in August 2004 when she hurled the Bainbridge Middle School Lady Cats to an 8-1 victory over the Worth County Middle School Lady Rams.

Her second, a combined no hitter with fellow Lady Cats right-hander Rebecca McNair in August 2005, came against the Worth County High School Lady Rams. Rathel pitched 3 1/3 innings and McNair pitched 1 2\ 3.

No. 9, Lucas scores 1,000 points

Senior forward Joshua Lucas of the Panhandle Christian Conference champion Grace Christian Academy Cougars basketball team eclipsed the career 1,000-point plateau Jan. 29 against Covenant Christian School in Panama City, Fla. Lucas, son of Don and Margo Lucas, averaged a conference and team-high 20.2 points per game for the Cougars who won both the Eastern Division regular season championship and overall conference championship. He averaged 11.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots per game as well.

No. 10, Middle school Bearcats champions

The Bainbridge Middle School Bearcats baseball team won the Southwest Georgia Middle School Baseball League Tournament and regular season championships March 21 and 22 at the Swine Time Field in Climax. They defeated the Washington Middle School Tigers of Cairo 11-1 as Gunnar Griffin went all the way on the mound to pick up the victory.

The next day, the Bearcats, coached by Troy Thomas and Brian Parker, came up with four runs in the bottom of the seventh to pull out a 7-6 victory over Baconton Charter Middle School.

Key blows in the decisive seventh were a two-run double to deep center by shortstop Blake Voyles and a game-tying RBI single to right by winning pitcher Jordan Cox.