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Happy holidays to everyone

In this, our last publication before Christmas, I would like to wish all my readers and many friends and neighbors in Bainbridge and Decatur County a very Merry Christmas and happy, healthy and safe New Year.

I enjoy college and professional sports as much as anyone, but high school sports, as far as I am concerned, is really where it’s at.

Unlike college athletes, who are getting a free education, or professional athletes, who are making millions of dollars, the young men and young ladies who perform on the fields and courts for the Bainbridge High School Bearcats and Lady Cats and Grace Christian Academy Cougars and Lady Cougars are playing for school, community and county pride.

In my nearly 40 years of covering sports for this fine newspaper, I have, in many instances, covered three generations of family athletes.

There have been great coverage moments, like when the Bearcats, coached by current Decatur County School Superintendent Ralph Jones, posted a 7-6 victory over the Gainesville High School Red Elephants on a rain-soaked City Park Stadium turf in Gainesville to win the 1982 State Class AAA football championship.

Another great coverage moment occurred during the last school year when I had the opportunity to cover coach Latreisha Moon’s and coach Rickey McCullough’s Lady Cats and Bearcats basketball team’s drive to Region 1AAAA championships and the State Class AAAA Final Four.

I have covered many outstanding athletes, who have gone on, or will go on to play collegially and professionally, through the years.

As far as Bainbridge High School female athletes are concerned, there are three names that really stick out, basketball players Carol Chason-Whitmire, LeAnn Harrell-Inlow and current senior Alexis Burke. who recently signed with the University of Illinois.

During their senior years at BHS, Chason-Whitmire, a member of the Valdosta State University Sports Hall of Fame, who played professionally and was a former head coach of the University of Florida Lady Gators basketball team, and Harrell-Inlow, who was a member of a strong University of Georgia Lady Bulldogs basketball team and a national champion Florida State University Lady Seminoles softball team, won senior athlete of the year awards.

What made their senior athlete of the year awards even more special was the fact that they won them when only one award was given. Today two awards are given, one to the male senior athlete of the year and one to the female senior athlete of the year.

Burke, who has been starting since she was a freshman, consistently averages in double figures and is a strong force on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. Her collegiate career at Illinois should be great as well.

When I think about the outstanding male athletes I have covered, two names, Kirby Smart and James Butler, stick out in my mind.

Smart, top ranked University of Alabama Crimson Tide defensive coordinator and recent winner of the Frank Broyles Award, which goes annually to the top assistant college football coach in the country, was Region 1AAAA defensive player of the year with the Bearcats and All-Southeastern Conference defensive back with University of Georgia Bulldogs.

Butler, an All-Atlantic Coast Conference defensive back with the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and a member of the New York Giants 2007 Super Bowl championship team, is now with the St. Louis Rams.