Tigers, Eagles rivalry evokes memories

Published 4:05 pm Friday, June 5, 2009

The rivalry between Hutto Middle School Tigers and West Bainbridge Middle School Eagles sports teams have generated many exciting moments for fans through the years, but with the conclusion of the 2008-2009 school year’s seventh- and eighth-grade basketball seasons, those rivalries have officially come to an end.

Next year, with seventh- and eighth-graders moving to the current Bainbridge High School building and ninth- through 12th-graders moving to the new Bainbridge High School near Climax, everyone will be Bearcats.

West Bainbridge Middle School has closed, bringing the curtain down on the Eagles era, and, while Hutto Middle School will still be open, its student body will consist of fifth- and sixth-graders, who do not play middle school varsity level sports.

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The Tigers

While the Hutto will retain the Tigers mascot, dating back to its Hutto High School Tigers days, there will be no more middle school varsity-level Tigers sports programs.

Recently, Jimmy Harris, Chip Ariail and Beverly Holmes, long-time coaches at Hutto, Ell Willis and Dan Gibbs, long-time coaches at West Bainbridge, and Babs Coyle, who coached at both schools, reflected on several top athletes and coaches they have coached and worked with through the years.

“It is hard to imagine that there won’t be a Tigers, Eagles rivalry any more,” said Harris, who is now head master at Robert F. Monroe School.

“I spent 11 of the best years of my life at Hutto Middle School where I was blessed to coach a number of great young men and women in football, basketball, tennis and track,” Harris said. “I also got to meet, become friends with, work along side and compete against some really good coaches.”

Harris talked about some of those players and coaches, and the positive influence they had on Hutto sports programs.

“Robert Cooper was a running back on my first team at Hutto,” he recalled. “I coached him as a seventh- and eighth-grader, and he was a great natural athlete who went on to play for the Bainbridge High School and University of Cincinnati Bearcats.”

James Butler, who won a Super Bowl Championship with the New York Giants and is now with the St. Louis Rams, was one of those kids who, when you look back at him, he seemed too good to be true, Cooper said. “He was an outstanding athlete, but he was also an outstanding student and citizen, and he was never ashamed to hold up that mantle.”

Harris and Holmes had a mutual respect for each other during their days together at Hutto.

“Coach Beverly Holmes proves that dynamite does come in small packages,” Harris said. She was his colleague for many years, and she was a fixture with seventh-grade girls basketball.

“She worked very diligently with the girls on fundamentals and teamwork. Her best attribute was staying on top of them to be good students and citizens. She always reminded them that one day, sports would not be there for them, but what they learned in school would be there for them and would sustain them,” Harris said. “Coach Holmes was a good mother figure for the girls.”

Ariail remembered coach Byron Reynolds, a very special late Hutto coach who had a special impact on his life and others lives he touched during a long coaching career.

“Coach Reynolds taught me and other coaches how to get the most out of a player,” Ariail said. “He used to always say live it or get out, which, to those of us who had the pleasure of coaching with him, still use today to remind ourselves why we coach.

“Some of the many players I had the pleasure of working with at Hutto were John Strickland, who went on to play for the University of South Carolina; Dustin Dodson, who played in a national championship game at Valdosta State University, and Mike Brown, who was on the 2007 Valdosta State national championship team,” Ariail said.

No more Eagles

Willies and Gibbs also worked with and against their share of outstanding coaches and athletes at West Bainbridge Middle School through the years.

One was running back Jonathan Butler, who teamed with defensive back Kirby Smart, who played at Hutto, to lead the 1993 Bainbridge High School Bearcats, coached by Smart’s father, Sonny Smart, to a 10-3 record, a Region 1AAAA championship a 10-7 victory over the perennially powerful Valdosta High School Wildcats in Valdosta, and a berth in the state Class AAAA semifinals against eventual state Class AAAA champion Dunwoody.

Butler, who went on to play for Eastern Kentucky, and Smart, who went on to play for the Georgia Bulldogs and is now defensive coordinator with the Alabama Crimson Tide, were the Region 1AAAA offensive and defensive players of the year that season.

Willis remembers a West Bainbridge brother combination that was outstanding on the football field and track.

“Patrick and Anthony Riley were both outstanding natural athletes,” Willis said. Both went on to star for the Bearcats, Patrick as a quarterback and Anthony as a defensive back. Patrick went on to play quarterback in college, and Anthony, the 200702008 male senior athlete of the year at Bainbridge High School, is now running track in junior college.

Coyle coached Tasha Hamilton, as good a lady athlete who ever came through West Bainbridge Middle School and Bainbridge High School. She went on to star at Bainbridge High School and Auburn University.

Also coming through West Bainbridge was Alexis Burke, a first-team All-State performer who helped lead the Bainbridge High School Lady Cats basketball team that won the Region 1AAAA championship and advanced all the way to the state Class AAAA Final 4 as a junior this past season

“Tasha Hamilton and Alexis Burke are fine young ladies and special athletes,” Coyle said. “They could do it all on a basketball court. Both helped take their teams to state Final 4’s.”

School principals during the Tigers, Eagles rivalry were Saint T. Thomas, Vick Hill and Marvin Thomas at Hutto and the late Reuben Neely, Suzanne Bonifay, Robert McIntosh and Steven Dupree at West Bainbridge.