Ridaught: It was a bizarre year for prep sports

Last week marked the official end of our high school sports coverage for the 2021-22 school year.

While we will continue providing prep coverage during the summer, the announcement of our softball and baseball small school and big school All Area teams, and coaches of the year, finalized the spring season.

With Dixie County softball and baseball reaching their first final four in program history, and Fort White doing the same, it was a season to remember.

Columbia (Lake City) baseball also advanced to its first state semifinal in program history.

Dixie County and Fort White softball both finished in the top 20 of the regional all-classification rankings, while Columbia baseball finished as the top-ranked team across 26 counties in Florida.

It seems so long ago, but earlier this month Marty Pallman and I hosted one final episode of “The Prep Zone” sports show to look back at the year that was. That show put us well over 120 “live” high school broadcasts during the 2021-22 school year.

While there were so many great memories from this past school year, I wanted to list a few bizarre moments and events that stood out the most to me.

Despite covering sports for over 30 years, I continue to see something that I’ve never seen or experienced before.

Although Mainstreet Associate Editor CJ Gish had this first-hand account, it’s very rare that a football game would be stopped before its completion until there was a mercy rule, or a weather issue, for example.

But that’s what happened back in October when Union County (Lake Butler) football hosted Newberry.

Tempers flared, and with 11 seconds left in the third quarter the game was eventually called after a man on Newberry’s sideline was ejected from the stadium, refused to leave and had to be detained by law enforcement.

“It was a surreal moment where I went from covering a Friday night high school football game to witnessing a tense interaction between law enforcement and an unknown individual near the Newberry sideline,” Gish explained. “It felt like something you see on TV. And then to be caught up in the middle of fans, players, coaches and law enforcement was definitely one of the most unique situations that I’ve been involved with in 30 years working in media.”

The Union County Sheriff’s Office officials defended the way their deputies handled the situation.

Union County’s ground attack paved the way to a 45-13 win. The Tigers capped an unbeaten regular season (10-0) the next week, before falling at Chiefland in the Class 1A-Region 3 Final.

Lo and behold, a game was suspended, and eventually canceled, again. 

This time Marty and I were on hand to witness the Bronson-Trenton boys basketball game in December, which got called with just 9.8 seconds to play with Trenton leading, 51-49, and in possession of the basketball.

At the time, we were informed that the bizarre ending was a Trenton win, giving Trenton coach Cedric Booth his first win against the Eagles. However, Bronson coach Billy McCall, Jr., who was in his first season, would later define the FHSAA rule and tell me that the two schools were unable to agree upon completing the game, so the game was called. 

Trenton didn’t get the victory. It was as if the game had never been played.

And just when we thought that was it for suspended games, this happened. Due to a brawl following a postgame handshake between Bronson and Chiefland during their spring football game in May, the Williston-Chiefland game was canceled.

It led to Bronson football coach Russell Holley stepping down after the altercation.

The final bizarre event, if you will, happened back this past spring when the Santa Fe (Alachua) baseball team were our radio guests on “The Prep Zone” sports show on 106.9 FM “I am Country” on April 6.

But in this case, I end on a positive note.

I’ve always known that baseball players are the most superstitious of all athletes. 

At the time, Santa Fe just had an 11-game winning streak snapped. Leave it to sophomore Conner Brown to offer his explanation as to why it might have happened. Holy Cow!

I’ve heard several superstitions in the past but that might be the best superstition of them all.

So while there were a lot of great memories too, I don’t think I’ll ever forget all of the strange events this past school year.

But that’s what makes covering sports so much fun – the unknown.

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