BACK HOME - In a surprise move Phil Strickland has moved back home to the Midlands … sort of. The former Batesburg-Leesville boss, who took his highly successful act to the big time and Gaffney in 2003, resigned in the spring and turned up at Newberry to replace Sam Baird, who retired after 21 years on the job with a 161-88 record … Strickland has done the job at every stop during his stellar 23-year career. He went 34-14 in four seasons at Ridge Spring- Monetta, guided lowly Brookland-Cayce to a 5-7 record in his one and only season with the Bearcats, took the already established Batesburg-Leesville program to new heights (131-24 and two state titles in 11 seasons) and proved he belong at the elite level by going 76-23 and winning three Big 16 championships during his seven-year stay in Cherokee County … With 170 wins while in charge of Midlands teams, Strickland is sixth on the all-time area wins list behind Joe Turbeville (202 wins in 24 seasons at Spring Valley and Irmo), Lon Armstrong (193 in 29 seasons at Mid-Carolina), Charles Macaluso (187 wins at A.C. Flora, Columbia and Fairfield Central), Billy Ammons (179 wins in 26 seasons at Camden) and Bill Kimrey (172 wins in 27 seasons at Dutch Fork and Lower Richland) … Strickland’s overall report card includes a 246-68 record, a glittering .783 career winning percentage and five wins in eight state championship game appearances.
CHANGE OF CULTURE - This is a term that is widely used by new coaches, but rarely does it actually happen. To make the point and offer a little contrast, let’s take a look at the state of two Richland 1 programs heading in opposite directions – Keenan and Eau Claire … Mitch Moton took over at Keenan in 2008 and immediately set the Raiders on a new, improved course. Keenan is 17-6 under Moton, the best showing by any coach in school history at the outset of his tenure. Not even Buddy Pough, the highly successful man in charge at South Carolina State and the most productive coach in Keenan history, can top Moton’s out-of-the-starting-gate accomplishments. Pough's first two Raiders editions produced a combined 8-16 record. Under Moton, the Raiders improved from 8-3 in 2008 to 9-3 last year and scored their first state playoff win since Pough’s 1992 team went 10-3 and advanced to the third round in the first year of the expanded 3A playoffs. Prior to Moton’s arrival from Fairfield Central, Keenan has suffered through 12 straight losing seasons, winning just 22 of 122 games … Ronnie Baker enters his second season in charge at Eau Claire. The Shamrocks went 1-10 under new management in 2009 with one small consolation being EC’s one victory was good enough for playoff qualification. The task of Baker is the same as a parade of other EC coach since the early 1970s – i.e. try to establish at least a level of competitive consistency. It has been a daunting challenge in change-of-culture terms. The bottom line: Eau Claire has finished in the black just one time since 1975, and enters 2010 on a run of 23 consecutive losing seasons.
THREE PEAT? - After waiting 61 years to celebrate another state football championship, the Dillon Wildcats are on the brink of establishing a dynasty … Jackie Hayes did everything but win a title in his first 16 seasons as the coach at his alma mater. That all changed in 2008 when his Nasty Cats nipped Central (Pageland) 7-6 in the Class 2A clash at the Weekend of Champions. Dillon liked the attention so much it served up a repeat performance with a virtually all-new team in 2009 – edging the same Central crew by a different score but by the same razor-thin margin of victory (21-20) … This fall? How about the motivation of becoming the first 2A school to win three straight championships since Swansea’s great run (1992-94) under Robert Maddux.
MOVING DOWN - The makeup of the 2A classification has changed dramatically over the course of the first decade in the 21st Century. This year, Lake City and North Charleston drop down from 3A for the first time, bringing the total of former as long-time 3A players on the 2A rolls to 11. In addition to the newcomers, the other schools on the list include Dillon, Newberry, Eau Claire, Keenan, Broome, Manning Marion, Timberland and Strom Thurmond … Indian Land, after 42 seasons in Class 1A, has grown enough to graduate to 2A this year.
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2000-09 HONOR ROLL
ABBEVILLE - The Panthers, who move down to Class 1A, won more games (105) than any other 2A team had had the best winning percentage of any 2A club over the course of the entire decade (.778). Abbeville, however, went 0-2 in state championship games.
CHERAW - One can make a strong case for the Braves being the team of the decade, going 100-35, advancing the state championship four years in a row and winning back-to-back titles in 2005-06.
BATESBURG-LEESVILLE - The transition from Phil Strickland to Courtney McInnis was relatively seamless, which allowed the Panthers to stay ranked among the classification elite. During the decade, B-L complied a 99-35 record and came away with a state championship in 2005 under McInnis.
CENTRAL - When Al Usher bowed out in Pageland after the 2002 season and long-time assistant Joey Mangum took over, there were whispers that the glory days might be over for the Eagles. Not so. In fact, the Eagles have hardy skipped a beat despite the regime change. Central finished with a 98-31 mark during the decade, going 72-20 while winning three Upper State championships and one state title since 2003 under Mangum. The old school way still works in Pageland.
SILVER BLUFF - At the outset of the decade, Al Lown’s Bulldogs were at the top of the 2A short list, producing consecutive 15-0, championship seasons. Since then, Silver Bluff still wins with enough regularity to have compiled a 94-30 record for the decade, but is no longer a major player in the postseason. Since 2002, the Bulldogs have not made it past the second round.