Top 10 European H.S. sports stories of 2008
Even with fewer schools than at any time since the end of the Cold War, high school athletes and coaches in Europe continued to write history in 2008.
The top stories:
1. Bamberg honors fallen coachThe Barons paid their late coach, Charles Jordan, the kind of tribute he would have cherished most by winning the European Division III basketball championship on Feb. 23. Jordan died of complications from surgery the week before the tournament began, but still inspired his team. "We did it for Coach," Bamberg’s Daniel Kieser said after the Barons’ 44-42 come-from-behind victory over Baumholder. "He was with us the whole time."
2. Ansbach rumbles to another D-II football crownFor the second straight season, the Cougars won the European Division II football title in a romp. This year, the school’s second in Division II, it was 50-13 over Wiesbaden in the title game; in ’07 Ansbach defeated Bitburg 44-8. Ansbach, which under head coach Marcus George has won two D-II and four D-III European titles since 2002, also extended its winning streak to 24 games. That’s just four short of the DODDS-Europe record 28 the Cougars won consecutively from 2002-2005.
3. Shahan returns to Lions in triumphHeidelberg football and basketball coach Brad Shahan, a year’s suspension from coaching behind him for assigning punishment push-ups to his 2006 football team, marked his return to the sidelines by leading the Lions to 2008 European Division I basketball and football titles. In basketball, the Lions — with Shahan watching from the stands — defended the ’07 crown they won under volunteer coach Claude Wesley by edging Ramstein 49-45 in the ’08 title game on Feb. 22. Just over eight months later, on Nov. 1, Shahan’s football team defeated Ramstein 9-6 in the European Division I championship football game.
4. Hanau exits on topThe Panthers, heirs to a storied sports tradition but reduced to seven players in ’08 by transformation, claimed the European Division IV boys basketball crown in February under coach Tim Smith. Hanau was shuttered forever in June, but not before the final-edition Panthers defeated Rota 62-48 in the title game.
5. Mannheim girls blossomSpring semester belonged to the Lady Bison. Under coach Adrian Crawford, Mannheim’s girls won their first European Division II basketball title since 2000 with a 41-33 victory over Aviano on Feb. 22. And beginning the following month and ending in May, the Lady Bison soccer team coached by John Crockett ran unbeaten through the season to a 2-0 victory over SHAPE to win the European D-II title in that sport, too.
6. Blankenship comes up trumpsAFNORTH wrestling, soccer and football coach Greg Blankenship guided his football Lions to an unbeaten season and a 60-14 victory over defending champion Baumholder in the European Division III championship game to complete an unprecedented ’08 coaching trifecta. AFNORTH won the European D-III wrestling championship in February, the European D-III soccer championship in May and the football crown Nov. 1.
7. Aviano passes century markThe Aviano girls volleyball team, led by the husband-wife coaching tandem of Hans and Pam Hillestad, won its 105th straight match against American Schools in Italy League opponents Oct. 5 when they defeated visiting Naples. The victory was another dose of vengeance for Aviano’s last previous ASIL loss to Naples, which occurred in October 2000. Milan, however, scissored the youthful Saints’ streak the following Friday 25-17, 25-23, 22-25, 15-25, 15-8 at Aviano.
8. Don’t hold your breath, RotaBaseball, the longtime stepchild of high school-age sports in Europe, took another called strike in June when officials at Youth Services, which runs the sport for high school players in the absence of an official DODDS-Europe program, declined to invite Rota to defend its 2007 crown in this year’s tournament at Ramstein. YS officials explained that the field of teams, including two from Ramstein, which played a regular-season schedule in Central Europe, was too large to allow remote teams such as Rota and Naples to enter. The Ramstein Rockets topped the 12 teams YS did invite to the tournament.
9. Black Forest Academy lives its valuesBFA, a private boarding school for the children of Christian and medical missionaries in remote areas of Europe, Africa and Central Asia, won the boys European Division II soccer championship in May with a 3-2 victory over SHAPE. A month later, school officials discovered that two of their players, neither of whom they said started, had violated the school system’s substance-use rules. BFA voluntarily reported the violation to the school system, and the players then voted unanimously to relinquish their title.
10. New-look Schweitzer team misses tourney finalsThe U.S. Albert Schweitzer Tournament basketball team, in an effort to return to prominence in the Mannheim-based biennial tournament of international junior national teams, appointed former NBA star Lionel Hollins to coach the team. Hollins replaced Dick McCann, a retired Air Force officer who coached the team from 1971-2006 and to all 10 of its titles, and guided the Americans to fourth place, their best finish since 2002. Jeff Shelton of Rota and Brent Schuck of Ramstein represented DODDS-Europe on the 12-player U.S. team, which brought 10 U.S.-based college signees over for the event. The Americans’ last gold medal was won in 1996.