Coaches’ brawl top local sports story of 2013
by Johnathan Bentley and W. Brian Hale
Jan 03, 2014 | 1917 views | 0 0 comments | 30 30 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cullman assistant football coach Matt Hopper is escorted by police following a confrontation with former Walker High School head football coach John Holladay after Cullman’s season-opening 13-10 win at Walker’s Ki-Ro Gambrell Field. Holladay resigned four days later and the Walker football team was placed on restrictive probation by the AHSAA six days later, keeping the Vikings out of the playoffs. Photo by Jeff Johnsey
Cullman assistant football coach Matt Hopper is escorted by police following a confrontation with former Walker High School head football coach John Holladay after Cullman’s season-opening 13-10 win at Walker’s Ki-Ro Gambrell Field. Holladay resigned four days later and the Walker football team was placed on restrictive probation by the AHSAA six days later, keeping the Vikings out of the playoffs. Photo by Jeff Johnsey
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For area sports, 2013 was an eventful year.

Parrish won a state softball championship and Addison won a sixth state volleyball title.

There were also individual stand-out performances and record-breaking players.

However, when it comes to the top sports story in the Daily Mountain Eagle’s coverage area for 2013, nothing garnered more attention than an incident that had nothing to do with on-the-field play.

1. Walker’s Holladay involved in brawl; Vikings excel under Brunner

In many respects, Aug. 30 was just a typical night at Walker High School’s Gambrell Ki-Ro Field.

In the season opener between rivals Walker and Cullman, the game came down to a few key plays with the Bearcats getting the breaks late in a come-from-behind 13-10 victory.

As players headed off the field, that’s when the rivalry took an ugly turn.

Foregoing the usual post-game hand shakes, Walker head coach John Holladay hurried his players off the field in the direction of the lockerroom. While waving his players off the field, Holladay was approached by Cullman assistant coach Matt Hopper.

After a short exchange, punches were thrown, and both Holladay and Hopper went to the ground. Assistant coaches and police officers eventually separated the pair, but the damage was done.

Video and photos of the incident went viral.

Two days later, Holladay stepped down from his post, just one game into his seventh year as the Vikings’ head football coach. Six days after the brawl, Walker was placed on restrictive probation by the AHSAA, meaning the Vikings were banned from playing in the postseason. Both Holladay and Hopper also received one-year bans from the AHSAA.

By the second Friday night of the season, Walker was under interim head coach Heath Brunner and was already out of the playoff hunt.

Despite facing those devastating circumstances, the Walker High School football team, led by a close-knit group of seniors, flourished under Brunner, closing the season by winning eight of its last nine games and earning a second straight region championship with a perfect 7-0 region mark.

The incident led to Brunner being named the school’s full-time head football coach in mid-December.

2. Parrish wins Class 1A state softball title

The Parrish Tornadoes quest to win their first AHSAA state championship culminated in 2013 following a season filled with adversity and injuries.

Wading through an ultra-competitive area schedule, the Tornadoes advanced to the postseason and only lost once — against No. 1 Kinston — a loss that was avenged in the championship final that saw Parrish prevail 4-3.

The team also captured multiple accolades for their efforts on the year, with Grayson Culverson being named Class 1A’s Pitcher of the Year by the Alabama Sports Writers Association, while Chris Harris was tabbed as the Coach of the Year. Savannah Jones also closed out her career at Parrish by being named to the All-State First Team.

The Daily Mountain Eagle coverage area had a strong showing at the state tournament, with Curry, Corner and Sumiton Christian joining Parrish in Montgomery.

Curry had its best ever state finish as well, taking third place in Class 5A.

3. Addison wins Class 1A volleyball championship

Following back-to-back runner-up finishes at the state volleyball tournament, Addison opened the 2013 season, looking to get back over the top.

The Bulldogs did just that, sweeping their way through he tournament and knocking off two-time defending state champion Donoho to win their sixth overall title and first since 2010.

Addison’s Summer Hinton was named the Elite Eight State Volleyball Tournament MVP and the Bulldogs finished the season with a 55-6 record.

4. Boshell becomes county’s first 3-time state wrestling champion

Blake Boshell’s stellar career as a member of Dora’s wrestling team was dotted with achievements going into 2013 — from being named a multi-year All-American to winning state championships in two previous seasons. One goal remained unconquered for the grappler entering his senior season — winning a third-consecutive state championship, a feat that had never been accomplished by a Walker County wrestler.

When a knee injury in the preseason threatened to upstage the journey to a three-peat, Boshell worked hard to recover quickly and returned to the mat ahead of his projected rehab date.

Making his way to the state tournament in Huntsville, Boshell overcame a gauntlet of tough competitors and a serious challenge from Lincoln’s Jamario Howard before earning his third state crown and etching his name into wrestling history.

5. Cordova’s Ryan Smith plays key role for Tigers

Auburn defensive back Ryan Smith is going for his second national championship ring after playing a big part in the Tigers’ resurgence under head coach Gus Malzahn.

After playing just four games as a junior in the Tigers’ 3-9 season in 2012, Smith, a former standout at Cordova High School, has played a key role for first-year Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson.

Smith, who was a freshman on Auburn’s 2010 national championship team, is third on the team in tackles with 62 and is second in solo tackles with 41. He is also second on the team in interceptions with three.

Auburn (12-1) will take on Florida State in the BCS Championship game set for Monday night.

6. Lynn’s Meeks breaks two state football records

For five years, Brody Meeks was a fixture at quarterback for the Lynn Bears, providing leadership and posting big numbers not only through the air, but also running the ball and as a returner.

Entering his senior season, Meeks was within sight of breaking two state records: all-purpose yards and total offensive yards — records he broke during the course of the season.  Though Berry’s Terrance “Tank” Hollingsworth broke Meeks’ marks during the playoffs, his name will be firmly entrenched in the state record books as one of the most prolific players Alabama High School Football history.

7. Lynn Lady Bears make a trip to the Final Four

With a roster filled with returning stars, the Lynn Girls basketball team looked to overcome the obstacle that had been in their path for the previous three seasons: making it to the AHSAA Final Four in Birmingham. Though the Bears eventually fell to state runner-up Keith, the goal of making the trip to the Final Four was accomplished for coach Adam Gray and his team.

Lynn star players Jackee Dodd and Reagan Tittle were named to the All-State Basketball Team.

8. Dora’s Johnny Wright has heart bypass surgery

Johnny Wright battled opponents and heart problems in 2013, taking a short absence from the team to recover before returning to coach the Bulldogs through the playoffs from the press box.

Despite losing their coach, Dora advanced to the state playoffs, losing in the first round to eventual state runner up Charles Henderson.

9. Parrish’s Hill becomes a Division I commit

The Parrish Tornadoes produced the area’s first Division I basketball commit in recent history when Barry Hill signed with Jacksonville State after heavily considering several high-profile programs from across the nation. Hill helped guide the Tornadoes to the championship game of the Northwest Regional Tournament.

10. Long-tenured area coaches leave their posts

Lynn’s Philip Smith, Walker’s Scotty Ware, Curry’s Shay Oliver joined Holladay as a string of coaches who left their programs after serving their programs for a number of years. Smith resigned as the Lynn football coach, but remains at the helm of the softball program.