By D. Mark Mitchell
The 2015-16 athletic year at Opelika started with change and ended with a 6A state championship in boys track.
January 2015 was the beginning of change inside the athletic department. Over the next seven months, many other changes occurred.
Seven-year assistant and current offensive coordinator, Bryan Moore, took the head job at Eufaula. Moore hired Coach Brandon Johnson, OHS strength and conditioning coach, as his top assistant.
Coach Stephanie Brown retired after 18 years as head softball coach.
Coach Jones stepped down as head baseball coach. Other sports needed assistant coaching positions filled.
Dr. Ferrell Seymore, Opelika High Principal, and Brian Blackmon, athletic director/head football coach, went to work. Zach Blatt took over strength and conditioning.
Blackmon decided to go back to calling plays, a job he did for 16 seasons. He made moves inside his staff to make up for the loss of Coach Moore.
Former Auburn University softball coach, Tina Deese was hired as the new OHS softball coach.
Rick Wade, assistant baseball coach, was named Interim Head Coach for the 2015-16 school year.
Wesley Butts took over as John Wadsworth’s top assistant for boys basketball.
These were some of the major changes that occurred before the 2015 school year started.
THE ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT HAS ANOTHER BANNER YEAR
Football started things off with a 12-1 record. They captured the region championship, defeated rivals Auburn and Central and finished the regular season 10-0. The Dawgs lost in the state quarterfinals to eventual state champion Spanish Fort.
The wrestling team sent eight wrestlers to state. The Indoor track team won the 6A state championship. Both girls and boys basketball won their area championship and advanced to the state play-offs.
The tennis teams, girls and boys, won their sectional meets and advanced to the state tennis tournament. Kevin Lazenby and Andrew Bizilia won the 6A number one doubles championship.
The Lady Dawgs softball team finished 25-14, won the area championship and advanced to the regional tournament.
The baseball team finished 26-14, won the area championship and advanced to the quarterfinals, losing to eventual state champion Hillcrest of Tuscaloosa.
Conner Pruitt won his second consecutive diving championship.
The Lady Bulldog track team won the sectional meet and finished third in the state meet. The boys track team won the 6A state meet for the second year in a row.
As you can tell, the 2015-16 athletic year was successful.
We all know it’s not just about winning but how you play the game and represent the school and the individual.
The student athletes at Opelika must keep passing grades and set an example of excellence.
I am proud of the Opelika athletics department, the coaches, players and support staff for working hard and long hours to represent the people of Opelika with class.
Due to the prospect of stormy weather Friday night, Coach Blackmon moved last week’s spring game to Thursday.
Opelika beat Park Crossing 20-16 after a slow start. OHS trailed 10-0 at halftime, but rallied to win 20-16.
The Bulldogs are replacing 15 of 22 starters, including the punter, kicker, place kicker and holder.
Opelika played with energy, but their youth was obvious. Mistakes turned into 10 Park Crossing points.
Opelika settled down at halftime and played an inspired second half.
Blackmon knows his team has a bunch of work to do but was pleased with effort.
“I knew the inexperience would show so that was expected. We made some mistakes which are correctable.
The guys will work bars this summer. I feel like we will be fine as the year go by.”
This scrimmage was the last athletic event on campus for the school year.
Friday night is graduation night for the Class of 2016 at Opelika’s Bulldog Stadium.
The ceremony begins at 7 p.m.
Congratulations to each senior and an extra congratulations to those seniors that I know on a personal level.
D. Mark Mitchell is sports director for iHeart Media, Alabama Dixie Boys State Director and the vice president of the A-O Sports Council.