The most memorable stories in sports, as voted by the members of the CourierTraveler staff

In a sad twist of irony, the subject of the 2017 Sports Story of the Year in the Cowley CourierTraveler coverage area was in the photo that accompanied the 2016 Sports Story of the Year this time last year.

Anthony Brantley was an assistant coach on the Arkansas City High School girls tennis team. The Lady Bulldogs’ Class 5A State championship was last year’s Sports Story of the Year.

News is just that — news, whether it’s good or bad news, happy or sad news, or indifferent. Several things make a story stand out. The number of people affected by the news is a big reason. Championships, near-titles and heroic efforts by local athletes certainly are also noteworthy.

Thus, here are the Top 10 Sports Stories of the Year, along with a few honorable mentions, as deemed by the CT newsroom.

Special thanks to Foss Farrar; Rama Peroo of Cowley College; and Scott Nuss of Southwestern College for original stories.

Death of Anthony Brantley

Perhaps no story has ever struck a chord with as many people as the passing of a coach and mentor.

Anthony Brantley died June 3 after collapsing while playing a pick-up basketball game. He was 38.

Brantley was the owner and trainer of ETP Basketball Training, using one of his favorite sayings, “Embrace the Process.” He was a physical education teacher and he was his department head at Arkansas City High School, where he was head coach of the boys basketball team from 2009 through 2016, and was an assistant coach for the boys and girls tennis teams at ACHS and ACMS under head coach Aaron O’Donnell and alongside Andrew Davids the past four years. He also served as an assistant coach at Cowley College and a coach in Willow Springs, Mo.

During his time with the tennis program, the middle school teams won three out of four league team titles and both high school varsity squads won the league team titles in AV-CTL. He helped to guide the Lady Bulldogs to a Class 5A State team championship last fall and a third-place finish in 2015. The boys team placed second and fifth at State as a team. 

“We worked well together and had tremendous successes,” O’Donnell said at the time. “We complemented each other with various coaching and playing experiences and became a very tight coaching group. ‘Hightower’ will be deeply missed. He took right to tennis and was incredibly eager to learn the game. The tennis family here in AC took him right in and made him one of us. He was absolutely ‘one of us’ — the tennis people. He would do whatever whenever to help out. He was always on time and dependable and a constant for weekend practices and weekend tournaments. He always traveled with the team. There is now a huge hole in the tennis team with his passing.”

Brantley was an ACHS Class of 1996 grad before playing at Cowley College, then at Division II Oakland City (Ind.) University. He played professionally in France for Neuville-les-Dieppe before returning to Arkansas City.

“I’ve known Anthony some since we were kids — every bit of 25 years,” said his best friend, C.J. Jennings, who took over as head coach of the boys basketball team after Brantley’s resignation. “We lived around the corner from each other and played ball together.”

Brantley and his wife, Belena, were married in 2003 and have three children, Aislynn, and twins Aidan and Alaina.

Three titles for Robinson

Marcus Robinson captured his third 5A State title in as many years, and he did so in dominating fashion, pinning No. 2-ranked Logan Pirl of Goddard with 15 seconds left in the first period in the 126-pound championship bout.

The No. 1-ranked 126-pounder, Robinson (40-3) captured the 113-pound 5A State title as a sophomore and won the 106-pound 5A State crown in his freshman campaign. He also became the 100th State champion in the history of Ark City High School.

Robinson is gunning for his fourth State title this season, but will have to accomplish the feat in Class 4A, because the Bulldogs dropped down from 5A.

Ark City has had three four-time State champions — Trison Graham (2005-08), Devin Bahm (1993-96) and Justin Ware (1989-92).

“Marcus knows pressure is a privilege,” ACHS coach Greg Buckbee said. “And he will handle it just fine.”

Junior Jacob Beeson also pinned his way to the gold medal, taking a fall on No. 3-ranked Keaton Sander of Great Bend in 5:01 of the 138-pound title match.

Beeson finished the season with a 42-2 record.

Beeson and his father, Chad, became the second father-son duo from Ark City to win state titles, joining Marty and Wyatt Villers.

Montez Robinson (36-11), ranked No. 3 in 5A, joined his older brother atop the medal stand by gritting out a 4-2 upset in overtime in the 132-pound title bout against Conner Ward of Mill Valley.

“I knew I could win if I could come out and wrestle how I can wrestle,” Robinson said. “How I wrestled helped me win.”

Spain is golden

Cowley College sophomore center fielder Joel Spain is known for using his speed to make incredible catches in the outfield.

The standout defender did not make an error in the 2017 season.

Spain was rewarded for his outstanding play by being named the recipient of an ABCA/Rawlings Gold Glove Award.

Spain was one of only nine players in NJCAA Division I baseball to receive the awards, one given for each position.

“I could not be happier for him — he is very deserving,” Cowley coach Dave Burroughs said at the time. “He is a great kid that worked his tail off. It was a lot of fun to watch him play.”

Spain is attending Washburn University in Topeka, where he expects to battle for a starting spot in the outfield in the spring.

Death of Darren Daulton

Few professional athletes from Cowley County were as beloved as Darren Daulton, who parlayed a 1979 State championship football season at Arkansas City High School into a solid baseball career at Cowley College before embarking on a 14-year major league career.

Daulton died Aug. 6 at his home in Clearwater, Fla., after a four-year battle with brain cancer. He was 55.

He underwent surgery to remove two brain tumors in July 1, 2013. Nine days later, he was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer.

Daulton started his major league career with Philadelphia in 1983 and led the Phillies to a National League title in 1993 and was given a plaque of the Phillies Wall of Fame in 2010. He was traded to the Florida Marlins in 1997, helping them to a World Series championship against the Cleveland Indians, hitting .389 in the Series. He retired with a .245 batting average, a .357 on-base percentage and a .427 slugging percentage.

Cowley College baseball head coach Dave Burroughs was a Phillies scout in the early 1980s and signed Daulton to play for the team. He later took a job as an assistant coach at Cowley.

Needham wins National title

Southwestern College senior Taylor Needham captured the National championship in the 400-meter hurdles as a junior in May at the NAIA Outdoor National Championships.

The Cheney native finished the race in 59.92 seconds, winning All-American status as well as the National title.

Needham was runner-up in the nation in 2016 in the 600-meter run.

Needham helped the Cheney High girls track and field team to capture the KSHSAA Class 3A State title as a senior in 2014 by winning the 100- and 200-meter dashes and the 300 hurdles.

Needham was one of four SC track and field athletes named Daktronics-NAIA Scholar-Athletes.

State for Lady Vikings

Winfield High School junior Abby Cantrell drilled a walk-off double with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning, sending the Lady Vikings to a wild 7-6 victory against Wellington in the championship game of the Class 4A Regional Tournament at the Broadway Recreation Complex.

With the victory, the Lady Vikings advanced to the KSHSAA Class 4A State Tournament for the first time in 12 years.

Cantrell, who tossed all seven innings in the circle for Winfield, stepped to the plate with Taylor Byerley on first. Cantrell laced an 0-2 pitch down the left-field line and Byerley streaked around the bases to score the winning run.

The Lady Crusaders tied the game 6-6 with two runs in the top of the seventh inning, setting up Cantrell’s heroics.

Winfield catcher Kerry Murphy, the only senior on the team, was named AV-CTL D-III Co-Player of the Year.

Wrestling a hit at Cowley

First, the Cowley College board of trustees voted to allow the athletics department to proceed with hiring two coaches and take other needed steps to have the wrestling program in place.

Then the college hired Beau Vest, who built the wrestling program at Midland University in Fremont, Neb.

A pair of former wrestling standouts in Winfield and Arkansas City were hired to assist Vest with the startup of the new program.

Jeremy Biddle, a former state champion at Winfield High School, and Sterling Terry, a two-time state placer at Arkansas City High School, were hired as volunteer assistants.

Then Community National Bank in Arkansas City donated $15,000 to the Wrestling Founders Club for the purchase of a competition wrestling mat.

Ark City High School senior Tyler Shannon was the first recruit signed. Shannon won the KSHSAA Class 5A State heavyweight championship as a junior for the Bulldogs.

The Tigers opened their inaugural season at the Oklahoma City Open on Nov. 5 in Oklahoma City, with 23 grapplers taking part.

A large crowd turned out Nov. 9 night to watch the Tigers battle Neosho County in their first-ever home match at W.S. Scott Auditorium. The Tigers did not disappoint, defeating the Panthers 36-13.

“It meant a lot to us to come out and do well,” Vest said. “As a team, it was important for us to get the win. We had great fan support and wanted to put on a good show for them.”

While the season is still in progress, the Tigers added another feather in their collective hats Nov. 30 by defeating national power Labette 22-20 in a Jayhawk Conference dual in Parsons.

The sky is the limit.

Brown wins javelin gold

Arkansas City High School junior Halie Brown set the standard for javelin throwers in Class 5A by winning the Regional title with a heave of 134 feet, 2 inches.

She knew she could do better, because she had thrown the spear 145-0 earlier in the season.

Brown saved her best for last — and on the Big Stage, too, throwing the javelin 146 feet even to capture the 5A State title at the KSHSAA All-Classes State Championships at Cessna Stadium on the campus of Wichita State University.

Brown was one busy athlete on the second day of the meet. She had to criss-cross the stadium while competing in both the javelin and the triple jump. Brown already had competed in the discus on Day 1 of the Big Show.

She settled for 13th in the triple jump, hitting 33-4 1/2. But she placed fourth in the discus, throwing the orb 118-2.

Vikings take the Cup

The Winfield Vikings reclaimed the Cowley Cup for the first time since 2010, pulling away for a 24-14 victory against the arch rival Arkansas City Bulldogs in the mostly-annual contest.

The victory snapped a four-game winning streak for Ark City, with no game played in 2012 and ’13.

The Bulldogs hold a 52-24-1 edge in the overall series, dating back to 1908, though the Vikings have a 7-5 record since the game was christened the Cowley Cup in 2004.

Winfield held a 6-0 halftime advantage.

ACHS quarterback Cevin Clark finished with 121 rushing yards on 26 carries, and was 10-of-19 passing for 83 yards, with one interception.

Winfield’s Hayden Gibson was 6-of-7 passing for 50 yards before giving way to KC Crandall, who went 1 of 4 for 19 yards.

Tailback Jack Mull gained 91 yards on 13 totes for the Vikings.

Clark surpasses a legend

The then-No. 23 Cowley College women’s basketball team turned a much anticipated matchup with the conference’s only unbeaten team into a one-sided 88-57 victory in early December against Independence at W.S. Scott Auditorium.

The Lady Tigers scored 47 points off 34 Independence turnovers, but that wasn’t what made the victory memorable.

The win made Todd Clark the winningest head coach in the history of the women’s basketball program at Cowley with 319. He surpassed Hall of Fame coach Linda Hargrove, who guided the Lady Tigers from 1972 to 1989.

Clark was honored after the game.

“Linda is a pioneer in women’s basketball,” Clark said at the time. “She started this program from nothing and has set such a high standard of success. For me, this is really special.”

Honorable Mention

Women’s wrestling at SC

The Southwestern College Board of Trustees has approved the addition of a women’s wrestling program at the school, with the inaugural season slated for 2018-19.

Southwestern’s program will be the fourth in the KCAC. The KCAC joined the Mid-South Conference, based in Kentucky, in August of 2017 as the first two conferences to offer women’s wrestling in the NAIA.

Southwestern will be 40th intercollegiate varsity women’s program in the country.

Hawker repeats as PoY

Cowley College sophomore Jake Hawker was named Jayhawk East Offensive Player of the Year for the second straight season in men’s soccer.

Hawker finished his career as Cowley’s all-time leader in goals scored in a season (21) and career (37), and points scored in a season (47) and career (84).

GPSL champa again

After a three-year hiatus, the Winfield Swim Club reclaimed its spot atop the Great Plains Swim League.

Following three consecutive runner-up finishes, the Seahorses captured the GPSL championship in May.

“As a coaching staff, we are very pleased with workrate, attitude and performance of our swimmers and parents,” said Joe Wood, in his eighth year of coaching the Seahorses.

Fifth in the nation

Cowley College outside hitter Hannah Nicolaisen was named co-Freshman of the Year in balloting by Jayhawk East volleyball coaches after helping the Lady Tigers to a fifth-place finish at the NJCAA Division II National Tournament.

Nicolaisen recorded 531 kills and 85 digs.

A Hall-of-Fame career

Former Cowley College volleyball head coach Jenifer Bahner was announced as one of three coaches for induction into the NJCAA Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Bahner made a lasting impact in her five seasons at Cowley. The Kansas City native helped to guide the Lady Tigers to two NJCAA Division II Volleyball national championships (2011, 2013) and posted a career record of 177-16 (.917).

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