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Big sports year for Callaway High

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

It wasn’t the storybook ending they were hoping for, but it was nonetheless another memorable and ultra-successful season for the Callaway High football team.

Under head coach Pete Wiggins, who is forging a Hall of Fame career, Callaway reached the state semifinals for the fourth time since 2013 while posting a 12-2 record, with the losses coming in the first and last games of the season.

The Cavaliers’ semifinal run was the top highlight of what was a stellar 2019-2020 year in sports for Callaway High.

Unfortunately, the spring-sports teams were unable to see their seasons through to their conclusions because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The spring teams were in the midst of their seasons when everything was postponed in the middle of March, and the seasons were later canceled.

Despite that unsatisfactory ending to the school year, there were plenty of highlights for an athletic program that is thriving.

While the football team continues to churn out spectacular seasons, many of other Callaway’s other programs have excelled as well.

Here’s a look back at the 2019-2020 school year for Callaway High athletics:

CLOSE CALL: For the second consecutive season, the season came to an end in heart-breaking fashion for Callaway’s football team.

In 2018, Callaway was inside the 10-yard-line in the closing moments of a semifinal game against Rockmart, but it was unable to find the end zone in a 28-22 loss.

One year later, Callaway was in the same position.

Callaway was inside the 10-yard-line with an opportunity to score a touchdown and advance to the state-championship game, but it wasn’t meant to be.

Brooks County made the defensive stand, and it held on for a 39-35 victory to advance to the state-title game where it lost to Dublin.

It was still a phenomenal season for the Cavaliers, who have thrived under the leadership of Wiggins, who is 138-47 since taking over the program in 2005.

Standing on the turf of Callaway Stadium following the painful loss to Brooks County, Wiggins talked about how much the players mean to him, and how appreciative he was of everything they gave to the team.

“We talk about integrity, and just commitment, and foundation, all kind of words that we used throughout the year that I think describes our football team,” Wiggins said. “Any time you’ve got a group of guys that are willing to pay the price, that are believing in what they do, and believing in one another, and when you’re down three scores and those guys stick together and keep battling, I think that’s a great testimony to what kind of kids they are, and I think it’s a great testimony to our program.”

It was a team led by senior running back Cartavious “Tank” Bigsby, who ran for 270 yards on 26 carries in that final game, and he finished the season with 1,636 yards on 143 carries with 27 touchdowns.

Callaway also had a dynamic passing attack led by quarterback Demetrius Coleman, with senior wide receivers Jacob Freeman, Antinez Blount and Markus Morman leading the way.

While the seniors weren’t able to leave with a championship, they helped the Cavaliers post a 47-8 record over the past four seasons with three trips to the state semifinals.

“I’m really proud of our seniors, I’m proud of all the guys on our team, our coaching staffs, and the commitment that all of these individuals have toward our program,” Wiggins said.

CHASING A TITLE: It was a spectacular season for Callaway High wrestler LaQuize Gilbert, who only lost two matches while finishing second in the Class AA state tournament.

Gilbert, competing in the 160-pound weight class, won his first three matches before falling to Dade County’s Dakota Johnson in the finals.

In a competitive match, Johnson won 6-2 to capture the gold medal.

Gilbert, who was an all-region linebacker in football before making the transition to wrestling, finished with a 31-2 record while placing at state for the second time.

While putting in the work to be the best he could be, Gilbert was also always there for his teammates.

“We’re a family,” Gilbert said. “If I see they need to work on a move, I go over there and talk to him, and tell him what they need to fix and how to do it.”

Also for Callaway, Anthony Elliott finished third at 182 pounds as he placed for the second time at state.

Elliott lost in the semifinals, but he bounced back to win his next two matches, and he beat Allen Woods of Model 7-3 in the third-place match.

Callaway’s third state placer is Ladarrious Williams, who finished fifth at 132 pounds.

NET SUCCESS: A talented group of seniors helped Callaway High’s volleyball team enjoy an exceptional season that ended with a loss to Johnson-Augusta in the opening round of the state tournament.

Callaway breezed through the regular season with a 9-1 record in area matches, and it finished third in the area tournament to qualify for state.

Seniors Abby Hammock, Katie Dubree, Cheney Eubanks, Emily Bokoko, Callie Shelton and Kassidy White helped Callaway find success last fall.

“We grew up together, us six seniors,” Shelton said. “It’s really great to play with all of them, because we know each other. We work well together. We communicate very easily.”

HOOPING IT UP: In what turned out to be his final season as Callaway High’s boys’ basketball coach, Terry Hayes led the Cavaliers to a second-place finish in Region 5-AA and a spot in the state tournament.

Callaway’s season came to a close with a hard-fought 62-60 home loss to Model in the state tournament, and that was Hayes’ final game at Callaway.

Outside of a two-year stretch, Hayes had been the only head coach the program had ever known, and he also coached at Hogansville High where he won a state championship in 1996.

When the 2020-2021 season gets underway, Andre Johnson will be Callaway’s head coach, but Hayes’ contributions will no doubt long be remembered.

“We built that program (at Callaway),” Hayes said. “The program grew by leaps and bounds. The one thing is (the players) always respected Callaway, they respected that C on that shirt.”

Callaway’s girls’ team, meanwhile, continued to succeed under head coach Deyano Martin.

Callaway finished with a 14-8 record, and it made it to the state tournament before falling to Rockmart.

Sophomore Gabrielle Johnson had a big season, averaging more than 20 points per game, and seniors Javonna Bradford and Markiya Harris provided valuable leadership.

Bradford’s senior season was her most productive as a varsity player, and she said “it’s been a really great experience.”

“There have been tough times, but also great times and we’ve had good teams over the years,” Bradford added. “I just feel like this year was kind of my break

out year. I didn’t play too much in my previous years, but I was able to come out and help my team.”

GETTING IT DONE: Callaway High’s softball program continued its solid play last season by finishing fourth in Region 5-AA to qualify for state.

Rockmart, which made a run at a championship before losing to Bremen in the state finals in Columbus, swept Callaway in a first-round matchup at state.

Leading the way for Callaway were seniors Kourtney Grier, Alexus Furgerson and Leijorey Sanders, who made major contributions to the program over the years.

On senior night, those players helped Callaway beat Temple 8-6 in a critical game.

Afterward, head coach Robyn McCann said “it’s kind of special, because I’ve had them since they were little and I’ve watched them grow up.”

The seniors were part of teams that made it to the state tournament for four consecutive seasons, and Callaway won its first-ever state series in 2017.

MAKING IT TO STATE: With seniors Ashley Bowden and Calik Kemp leading the way, Callaway High’s cross-country teams both qualified for the state meet last season.

Bowden finished fourth in the region meet to help Callaway finish third, while Kemp was 10th in the boys’ race as the Cavaliers placed fourth.

Bowden, a first-year runner, “had a phenomenal season” according to coach Shonna Yawn.

“I think she’s placed in the top-10 in almost every race she’s been in,” Yawn added. “She has really set her bar high, and she set some personal goals at the start of the season. It’s her senior year, so she set some goals for what she wanted to do, and what she wanted to accomplish. She has not let anything hold her back.”

Kemp, meanwhile, not only starred in cross country, but he was a key member of the boys’ soccer team as well.

WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN: Under head coach Dusty Hubbard, Callaway High’s baseball program has prospered, and the team was hoping the 2020 season was going to be another big one.

Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, how the season would have played out will forever remain a mystery because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Callaway was 2-1 in Region 5-AA and preparing for a key home doubleheader with Bremen when everything came to a close.

The Cavaliers were looking to make a third consecutive trip to the semifinals of the state playoffs, but they were denied that opportunity.

The news was particularly painful for the seniors, who didn’t get an opportunity to finish their final season as high-school baseball players.

That group includes Jackson Huckleberry, Luke Swann, Ayden Brooks, Dawson Wright, Wesley Marchman and Jabari Smith.

“It breaks your heart,” Hubbard said. “That’s the first thing they say to you when you talk to them is I can’t believe this has happened, and I can’t either. I would have never ever guessed something like this would happen. It’s just unprecedented.”

The seniors helped Callaway make back-to-back appearances in the state semifinals in 2018 and 2019 while winning a pair of region championships.

“It’s been a good group (of seniors),” Hubbard said. “For so many of those seniors, they were program guys. They played junior varsity their ninth and 10th-grade year, and then it became their chance to play. That’s what I hate for them. They bided their time, they stuck with it, and a lot of them were getting a chance to play a little bit. Ayden Brooks hadn’t played much for us, but he’s a guy that we trusted on the mound and was starting to throw more innings, and you could see his confidence coming along. And then all the sudden it’s over with.”

One of those seniors, Dawson Wright, said “it means a lot to me, being there for four years, and being on the baseball team for five. It’s definitely going to stick with me forever.”

SEASON CUT SHORT: The Callaway High boys’ soccer team seemed to just be rounding into form when the season ended in March.

The Cavaliers (5-5 overall) had won two of their past three matches to improve to 2-2 in region play, and they were in position to possibly earn a home game for the state tournament.

Instead, a 5-2 victory over Spencer on March 11 turned out to be Callaway’s swansong for the season, and for a group of seniors who helped elevate the program.

The Cavaliers won the first state-tournament game in school history in 2018, and they returned to state last year and appeared poised to make it again this year.

The seniors are Joe Neese, Elbin Jacob, Tyson Harr, Neal Ellisson, Zach Wylie, Taylor Hardy, Calik Kemp and Elton Rubio.

“The seniors themselves have been a fun group,” said Callaway head coach Mike Petite. “They’re friends outside of soccer as it is. A bunch of them hang out. They brought that tight-knit community to us already. They just brought that chemistry that they already had and mixed it in with the young guys. We just had a really good, fun group of guys to be with. I enjoyed every single minute of being with these guys this season. That’s what was so disappointing. I was having so much fun with them. They wanted to be out there, they were working hard. They had a good time with it. It was just a positive and a feel-good day every single day out there, and those seniors were a big catalyst to having all of that, because of their good connection and how they went about what they were doing.”

Callaway’s girls’ soccer team was also playing well when the season ended.

Callaway beat Spencer 4-1 on March 11 to win its third match in a row and improved to 6-4 overall, and 2-2 in region competition.

It’s team that featured two valuable seniors, Alyssa Niner and Ashley Bowden, who were four-year starters and were a part of teams in 2017 and 2018 that reached the second round of the state playoffs.

“I have literally carried those girls from travel ball, to rec ball, and all four years of high school,” Callaway coach Shonna Yawn said of Niner and Bowden. “So this is not how I wanted their senior year to be.”

TENNIS TEAM DENIED: Following the best season in the history of the program, the Callaway High boys’ tennis team was eager for a repeat performance.

Callaway made it to the third round of the state tournament in 2019, and the team appeared poised to make another run this year.

Like every other spring-sports team, though, the Cavaliers saw the season cut short, and they finished with a 6-2 record.

Callaway got a home win over Temple on March 12, and that was the season finale.

Senior Jared Nation, a key doubles player the past two seasons, said “it’s been great,” to be a part of a team that improved so much.

“We were not very good my freshman year, but we’ve come a long way.” Nation said.

Nation is appreciative of the way some of the former Callaway players helped pave the way for the current success.

“The seniors before me, they helped show us how to play,” Nation said.

Callaway’s girls’ team has also had plenty of success in recent years, and that included a victory in the state tournament in 2018.

With the win over Temple, Callaway finished this season with a 4-4 record.

The Temple matches were the final ones for seniors Jared Nation, Jayvon Nunley, Austin Ozley, Tityasha Sapp, Callie Shelton and Charity Musik.

OVER BEFORE IT STARTS: Two of Callaway’s spring-sports teams didn’t even get a chance to compete during the spring before the season was canceled.

Callaway’s track and field team, coming off a spectacular 2019 season, was preparing for its opener when everything was shut down.

Callaway’s teams exceled at the state meet in 2019, and nearly everyone was coming back for the 2020 season, including some gifted seniors.

Among the seniors who didn’t get a chance to compete this spring were Aniyah Simpson, Darrick Williams, Leijorey Sanders, Markiya Harris, and Antinez Blount, who all placed at state in at least one event in 2019.

Harris, Sanders, Aniyah Simpson and Niakoe Burks finished third in the 400-meter relay at state last season, and they would have been one of the favorites to win the title this year.

Blount was a part of the 1,600-meter relay team that placed third at state last year.

Callaway’s golf team, meanwhile, also didn’t get a chance to compete before the season was halted.