MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Prep Sports

June 1, 2014

PHOENIX SCHOOL OF THE YEAR: The Fort’s still fine

Fort Gibson knows what it’s like to be the best, but the Tigers join an elite club after the 2013-14 athletic year.

In capturing their fourth School of the Year honor in six seasons, Fort Gibson joins Oktaha and Sequoyah as repeat honorees. Those three schools are the only ones to win the honor which was first given by the Phoenix in 2003.

State championships in girls basketball (the third in four seasons), a four-peat in girls swimming and runner-up finishes in both boys and girls golf sparked the Tigers’ success.

Boys soccer was a quarterfinalist and fastpitch softball, boys basketball and girls soccer all made the state quarterfinals.

Muskogee, sparked by improvements in 12 sports, was second. The Roughers had two state champions in wrestling and a state finalist in tennis as well as a semifinal slowpitch and girls basketball team and quarterfinalist in boys basketball and fastpitch softball.

Hilldale, getting state championships in fastpitch softball and girls golf, was third, followed by Sequoyah.

“Overall it’s been a great year for us again,” Gary Hendrix, Fort Gibson’s athletic director and boys basketball and golf coach. “I think our tradition is such that our kids and parents expect our athletics to be good, we have good coaches and players, good facilities and good administration  — all those things provide a great environment for success.”

While the Tigers’ swimming program — the only one of its kind in the area — gives it a points advantage of sorts (the points are slightly reduced in that sport because of that advantage), the biggest gains were in golf, where not only the Tigers were runners-up at state in both but four placed in the top eight individually.

Emilee Rigsby was state runner-up, Kadrian Shelton was sixth. Wesley Jackson was sixth and Dalton Rhodes was eighth. Both teams were also in the top three academically, Hendrix said.

Soccer also scored a big points advantage over the Roughers with two teams reaching the semifinals and quarterfinals.

Todd Friend, who coached at Muskogee before spending the past four seasons at Fort Gibson, made the semifinals for the second straight season. He’s 33-8 at FGHS.

“Consistency is key, you know, and we’re starting to build a program here the way we want,” he said. “The kids are buying in and the parents are supporting it. We kind of got the kids to think past the hump they couldn’t get over before I got here, of making the playoffs and losing the first round. Expectations have changed.”

 And yet most of the squads return a core of players for a run next season. Jerry Walker’s girls basketball squad will go for a three-peat and its fourth title in five years with all but one player returning. So will fastpitch, which with rival and defending champion Hilldale may well begin the year ranked 1-2.

“We keep having very good players come up through our junior high and our junior high program is consistent in philosophy with our program at the high school level,” he said. “It’s about having high character kids who are focused on the team and not individual stats and kids and parents who are excited about being part of a successful program.”

With a good argument, Muskogee faces the challenge of competing with 6A schools twice its size. That will change, at least in one sport, when football is split into two divisions starting this fall. From this point on, Muskogee will be split from the Jenks, Unions and Broken Arrows, owners of a substantial number of state titles in all sports over the past two decades.

New athletic director Garrett Davis will watch that usher in as he officially began duties last week off a year of program momentum.

“I’ve been real impressed with our athletes and coaches,” he said. “Hopefully it will be one of those years when we use to build for the future. It’s one of the reasons why I came here because I felt this was a place as an AD where we would be able to experience success and hopefully we can build on this success.”

Sequoyah, a winner of five of the first six School of the Year awards, scored strong in track and basketball, both traditional powerhouses.

Awards week

Monday: Golf, tennis, track

Tuesday: Soccer

Wednesday: Slowpitch softball

Thursday: Baseball

Friday: Female Athlete of Year

Saturday: Male Athlete of Year

Today: School of Year

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