SIKESTON -- There was plenty of moving and shaking in the high school coaching ranks this year, but none of them topped the headlines as much as the return of Fred Johnson and Lennies McFerren, both of which came out of retirement to coach again.
Johnson, who built the Sikeston Bulldogs boys basketball team into a perennial top-10 team in Class 4A in the early 1990s, retired in 1998.
During his eight-year stay as the head coach, Johnson led Sikeston to the 4A state quarterfinals twice ('91 and '94) and the final four once ('95).
He returns to the sidelines in 2005 to try to do the same thing for the Sikeston girls basketball team, which has never won a district championship.
McFerren coached the Eagles from 1994-2001, compiling a record of 121-70 including three district championships and two state championships in 2000 and 2001 in Class 3A.
Following his retirement, the program has fallen on hard times the last three years, going 23-54, including a 6-20 ledger this past season.
One of the top stories of coaches moving was David Heeb's return to his alma mater, Scott County Central.
Heeb had become a hot coaching commodity after he turned around a mediocre Bell City program, taking them to Class 1 state championships in the 2002 and 2004. The Cubs finished fourth in state in the season just concluded. His career record at Bell City was a stellar 119-37.
No. 2 - Kelly softball wins state championship
BENTON -- The Kelly Lady Hawks softball team wrapped up a magical season with the ultimate prize -- a state championship.
Kelly (25-6) defeated Bishop LeBlond of St. Joseph 1-0 in the Class 2 title game at the Rainbow Softball Center in Columbia.
"I'm still on cloud nine and will be for the next several weeks," said Kelly coach Rhonda Ratledge, after her second state title. The first was in 1996.
The Lady Hawks, behind pitcher Whitney Beggs and a flawless defense, made a patented Kelly-style manufactured run stand up for the victory.
In the fourth inning, senior shortstop Kelly Essner drew a lead-off walk, then, with one out, stole second. After senior Rachel Kline had sacrificed Essner to third, Beggs, also a senior, drilled an RBI single down the left-field line for what proved to be the game-winning run.
Beggs allowed one hit, struck out eight and walked none.
Senior third baseman Jessica Burnett doubled to left-centerfield for the other Kelly hit.
Beggs was one out from a perfect game, when Erin Coyne singled on a 3-2 count in the bottom of the seventh. The next batter grounded out to Essner, who went errorless throughout the entire season, for the final out.
"Gosh, it's a shame she lost the perfect game," said Ratledge, "but, hey, we'll sure take that state championship win."
Ratledge, who ran her stellar career coaching record to 259-60, proved to be a prophet, as well, when after the quarterfinal win, she proclaimed, "We're going all the way."
-- Larry Lewis
The Sikeston Bulldogs won the school's first boys soccer district championship by beating top seed Notre Dame 3-2 in four overtimes.
Sophomore Blake Taylor headed in a corner kick from senior J.R. Bizzell, setting off celebration on the middle of Notre Dame's mucky field with players and a hundred or so Sikeston fans.
"They've been our nemesis every time we play them," Sikeston coach Derrick Long said. "I think it's been two years since we even scored on them. We just wanted it more from the get-go."
After each team scored two goals in a wild second half, during which Sikeston never trailed, the teams then played scoreless through three 10-minute overtimes before Sikeston scored the winner midway through the final stanza before penalty kicks.
"It was a great game played by both teams," said Long, in his sixth year coaching the Bulldogs. "You hate to see anyone lose a game like this."
But for Sikeston, avoiding the loss brought history.
Sikeston eventually lost to Affton in a state sectional game 3-1.
The Bulldogs not only won their first ever district championship, they also completed their first winning season in school history at 12-11-1.
Bizzell was rewarded with first team all-state with 25 goals and 25 assists, becoming the first Bulldog to ever be named to the first team.
Taylor was named as an honorable mention all-stater with 26 goals and 14 assists.
Sikeston finished ranked 10th in Class 2.
-- Derek James
EAST PRAIRIE -- They flew under the radar for most of the season but people finally started to take notice after the East Prairie baseball team captured the Class 2, District 1 championship by beating South Pemiscot in as 12-7 slugfest.
It was the Eagles' second district championship in school history with the last one coming in 1995 when head coach Jason Aycock was a senior.
The Eagles didn't stop there as they defeated Scott City, 4-1, in a Class 2 Sectional game at East Prairie.
That victory gave the Eagles their first 20-win season in school history.
"(Twenty wins), that's a first -- you can mark this down as the best season ever in East Prairie," said Aycock.
But now they had to focus on tackling Clearwater, which had been ranked No. 1 for the majority of the season.
A first-ever final four appearance was within the Eagles' grasp, but a lack of timely hitting and the Clearwater defense, which was oftentimes spectacular, kept the dream from becoming a reality.
East Prairie lost the game 3-0 in front of a large contingent of Eagle fans at East Prairie's home baseball field.
"(The seniors are) going to be proud when they go in the gym and see those banners with their names on them," said Aycock.
East Prairie finished with a 20-3 record, the best in school history. They also won the Scott-Mississippi Conference title.
Preston Shoemaker, Ben Walters and Hunter Jones were all three rewarded with second team all-state.
-- Derek James
The Bluejays' basketball team entered the season with sky-
high expectations, but things didn't start the way they had hoped.
Right off the bat, Charleston standout Ashton Farmer was battling mononucleosis and had to miss the Bluejays' first few games.
All of a sudden, Charleston was 5-7 and had already lost to two Class 3 teams in Kelly and Caruthersville.
But the team started to hit its stride in January. Like the flip of a switch, Charleston rattled off 17 wins in 19 games. They won three thrilling playoff games games with Kelly in the district final, Portageville in a sectional game and a quarterfinal victory against Career Academy.
The Bluejays' only two losses during the streak were to state-ranked Class 5 schools Poplar Bluff and Jackson.
With a convincing victory against Hogan Prep in the Class 3 semifinals, Charleston needed just one more win to secure the school's first state championship since 1996.
But the Bluejays fell short to Lutheran North in the championship game, 72
"We weren't even supposed to be up here, so we feel like we've accomplished something," said coach Danny Farmer. "We've been up here three years in a row, and you've got some teams that have never been. So we feel like a winner."
The Bluejays accomplished the second place finish with just one senior starter in Farmer, who was named first team all-state. Three sophomores, including second team all-stater Jamarcus Williams, were also major contributors.
-- Derek James