Top 10 Local Sports Stories of 2016
Published 12:07 am Saturday, December 31, 2016
1. Summer of Inika
For nearly two months, Inika McPherson generated an excitement around Port Arthur and surrounding areas that was hardly matched in 2016.
The anticipation of the Summer Olympics was heightened in the area thanks to McPherson’s qualifying jump in the U.S. Olympic Trials on July 3. For the first time, someone who graduated from Memorial High School would compete on the world’s biggest stage.
Those who couldn’t make the trip to Rio de Janeiro headed to restaurants or stayed glued to their living-room flat screens to see McPherson go for the gold.
Summer 2016 was Inika’s season. And her presence in the Olympic Games became The News’ top local sports story of the year, as determined by the newspaper’s sports writers.
McPherson finished tied for 10th, but it was the highlight of a highly decorated career that’s seen her win a state championship for Lincoln High as a freshman and earn All-America honors at California. The 2005 Memorial graduate has since moved from Houston to Phoenix to further her training, and she hopes to qualify for the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo.
2. Mustangs repeat
What West Orange-Stark achieved during the 2016 football season was nothing short of phenomenal.
Sure, the Mustangs won 16 games for the first time in school history and won the 4A Division II state championship for a second straight year. But it’s how they stayed on the top that opened the eyes of Texas.
The Mustangs outscored opponents 811-69 this season, a per-game average of about 51-4.
Four points allowed per game. That’s WOS’ defense for you.
The Mustangs put a cap on their repeat with a 24-6 win over Sweetwater at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Jeremiah Shaw was even highlighted on ESPN’s SportsCenter for his 90 rushing yards and a touchdown in the arena, drawing a comparison to another blue-and-silver No. 21 — Ezekiel Elliott.
3. Landry leads at the Open
One more stellar round of golf, and Andrew Landry would have stunned the sport with an unlikely major championship.
The Groves-born Web.com regular played in his first major, the U.S. Open, in June and played the rounds of his life on the Oakmont Country Club course in Pennsylvania. He led an oft-interrupted first round (due to rain) with a 4-under 66 and was still leading when the second round was suspended due to darkness. He stood in second place when the round was completed and was four strokes behind Ireland’s Shane Lowry at 7-under 203.
Landry bogeyed six holes and double-bogeyed the fifth in the final round to end up tied for 15th. But his hot start at Oakmont brought national attention to his hometown and earned him a sponsorship he used to help a 3-year-old girl fight cancer.
4. Phillips gets roasted
Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips was welcomed back to Jefferson County for The News’ Homecoming Roast on June 3, and the stars came out to honor him.
Houston Texans star J.J. Watt and former Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson were among the roasters at the Bob Bowers Civic Center. Phillips even brought a replica of the Vince Lombardi Trophy to present to Port Neches-Groves football coach Brandon Faircloth.
Four months earlier, as Port Arthur wound down another Mardi Gras celebration, Phillips — a 1965 PNG graduate — dialed up one of the most outstanding defensive performances in a playoff, as Denver shut down NFL MVP Cam Newton and Carolina 24-10. Von Miller was named Super Bowl MVP.
5. Vincent runs to gold, picks LSU
If college football fans don’t know who Kary Vincent Jr. is, they will soon find out.
Port Arthur Memorial’s star cornerback announced his decision to commit to the LSU football team through an online video on July 24. That was two months after he won the 200-meter dash in the 6A state track and field meet.
Vincent went on to become high school football offenses’ worst nightmare this season, finishing with eight interceptions. He returned three of them for touchdowns.
He is rated as a four-star athlete and ranked 23rd on the national ESPN 300 list of 2017 senior recruits. At noon Sunday, Vincent will take the field along with other top recruits in the Under Armour All-America Game in Orlando, Fla. The game will air live on ESPN.
Talk about a happy new year to come for Vincent, who will sign his letter of intent Feb. 1.
6. Golden footballs
Locals had been waiting since the previous fall for the Port Arthur ISD to have its golden moment in the football world.
The Super Bowl High School Honor Roll program honored the district with eight golden footballs during a ceremony at Memorial High on Feb. 5. Each ball represents a graduate of the district who either played or was a head coach in the Big Game. Former Seahawks defensive back Jordan Babineaux and 49ers linebacker Bobby Leopold, both Lincoln alumni, were on hand for the celebration. Leopold is a teacher at Memorial, which received the most golden balls of all the high schools in the world.
7. District 22-5A football
It’s the season Southeast Texas waited for since February.
That was when the University Interscholastic League assigned Memorial to District 22-5A, making the Titans an immediate favorite to win a league that had been dominated in recent years by Nederland and Port Neches-Groves. The Titans made an immediate impact, routing Nederland 42-12 thanks in part to Vincent’s two pick-sixes, and beating PNG 33-28 before a packed Memorial Stadium house.
The loss didn’t end PNG’s hopes of a district title, though. Memorial’s defeat at Vidor and PNG’s 41-21 win over Nederland in the Bum Phillips Bowl allowed the Indians to share the district crown with Memorial and Vidor. The Titans and Indians both reached the regional semifinals (third round) of their respective state playoffs.
8. Welcome to the league, Elandon
April 30 was Patriot’s Day in Port Arthur.
Memorial graduate and University of Houston linebacker Elandon Roberts was drafted that day by the New England Patriots in the sixth round. Fresh off a Peach Bowl victory over Florida State, Roberts didn’t hesitate to play his role in the Patriots’ defense as a rookie and has played in 12 games this season, making 38 tackles (19 solo). His 11 stops last Saturday against the New York Jets is a career high.
9. Seahawks win zone
Lamar State College Port Arthur achieved not a first, but a second.
The Seahawks basketball won the Region XIV South Zone championship for the first time in four seasons behind the All-American play of Colton Weisbrod and Christian Albright, now regular contributors at Lamar University. LSCPA finished 22-10 and ranked fifth in the NJCAA in attendance with an average of 338 fans per game.
Weisbrod, then a sophomore swingman from Nederland, averaged 21.4 points per game and shot 60.8 percent from the floor.
10. Sharks surge
In football, the Sabine was rising.
Sabine Pass ended an 18-game losing streak and marched to its first winning season since 1983 and first UIL playoff appearance since 2011 in football under Jason Thibodeaux, who made his return to the sidelines shortly after Trey Harvey left. The Sharks finished 6-5 and wrapped up their playoff berth with a win over Colmesneil. Their playoff, however, was one to forget; they lost to Tenaha 82-0.
But it didn’t take away from a winning record the whole community waited 33 years for.
Honorable mention stories (in no particular order): Will Davis succeeded Jim Gilligan as Lamar baseball coach … The Lamar baseball team beat Arizona and LSU at home … Former PAISD athletic director and new Texas High School Basketball Hall of Famer Andre Boutte returned to the basketball sidelines as West Brook’s coach … Ray Woodard was fired as Lamar football coach after seven seasons … Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas (West Orange-Stark) and Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles (Memorial) battled career-threatening injuries … and Weisbrod proposed to girlfriend Allison Jacks on the court following Lamar’s Dec. 21 win over Arlington Baptist.
I.C. Murrell: 721-2435. Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews