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Breaking Down the Race in the Area’s Most Competitive Region

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Remedee Leaphart – Ridge Spring-Monetta

If you, like I, come from the Georgia side of the huge Central Savannah River Area, you might have not yet discovered the treasure that is the South Carolina High School League’s class 1A, region 3 scene, which in the two seasons since I happened upon it has been headlined by four teams that seem to do almost weekly battle, while continuously populating the state’s top 10 rankings, and figuring into every round of the post season. These are the teams in focus, their current statewide ranking, their finish in the 2019 state playoffs and their school enrollment figures:

Blackville-Hilda

Current Ranking – #5

2019 season playoff finish – Class 1A quarter-finalist

School enrollment – 186

Wagener-Salley

Current Ranking – #8

2019 season playoff finish – Class 1A semi-finalist

School enrollment – 270

Ridge Spring-Monetta

Current Ranking – #9

2019 season playoff finish – Class 1A Runner-up

School enrollment – 249

Williston-Elko

Current Ranking – NR

2019 season playoff finish – Class 1A first round exit

School enrollment – 259

“The Toughest Region in Class A”

Brian Smith, the second year head coach for #9 Ridge Spring-Monetta, took the time during a busy week preparing for this Friday’s homecoming showdown against #5 Blackville-Hilda to describe what it’s like to play in such a competitive region, and what’s unique about small town football:

“We believe that our region is the toughest in 1A football in SC. Last year we finished third in our region but second in the state,” Smith explained. “We defeated the first and second place teams in the playoffs. There are no easy victories or cupcakes in our region. Yes, every week feels like a playoff game and has huge playoff implications. These small town environments are what make high school football great. Playing tough games each week in hostile environments adds to the excitement every time we take the field.”

October’s “Region Tournament”

Because of this season’s coronavirus induced 7 game SCHSL regular season schedule, and because only two teams (it’s usually four) from each region will qualify for the state playoffs, when this month is over every Friday night in October will have featured essentially a must-win game between two of the four teams mentioned above. That six game slate, which is currently half-completed, reminds me of the region tournaments that exist in the Georgia high school basketball scene. Here’s a run down of the league’s standings, a look at where things are headed, and a review of what has already transpired:

Class 1A, Region 4 Standings

Blackville-Hilda (3-0)

Wagener-Salley (2-1)

Williston-Elko (2-1)

Ridge Spring-Monetta (1-1)

Hunter-Kinard Tyler (1-2); Denmark-Olar (0-2); Calhoun County (0-2); North (0-0)

In addition to this Friday’s showdown between Blackville-Hilda and Ridge Spring Monetta, which will be played at RSM, we can look forward to RSM hosting Wagener-Salley (a rematch of last season’s state playoff semifinal game) on October 23rd, and a game between Blackville-Hilda and Williston-Elko, in Williston, on October 30.

Video: Ridge Spring Monetta’s dynamic junior quarterback Remedee Leaphart and receiver Bret Smith:

If the first three games in this “tournament” taught us anything, it should be that there is no way to predict how the next three will go. Here’s a review of what has happened so far, along with a sampling of the exciting players and action this region can be counted on to display:

From October 2nd –

#5 Blackville-Hilda 42, #8 Wagener-Salley 0

This result was a shocker when it was posted. Wagener-Salley dominated the regular season last year. The surprise was one of three unexpected results in the first half of the October round robin.

Also from October 2nd

Williston Elko 32, #9 Ridge Spring-Monetta 6

AJ Chandler – Williston-Elko

The Blue Devils, led by first year head coach Richard Bush, made their presence known with a beat down on the road of last season’s state playoff runner up. Williston-Elko was led in the statistical categories by a quartet of playmakers, three of whom excelled on both sides of the ball, which is the rule, not the exception, in class 1A ball:

AJ Chandler

(Senior) WR/DB – 4 receptions, 111 yards and 2 touchdowns; 1 interception

Javier Rudolph

(Sr) QB/FS – 10-11 passing for 164 yards and 2 touchdowns; 18 carries for 72 yards and 2 TDs; 1 pass break up

DeShawn Singleton

(Jr) RB – 20 carries for 106 yards; 3 receptions for 31 yards

Bryce Washington

(Jr) WR/CB – 2 interceptions; 3 receptions for 22 yards

Along with a pair of Wagener-Salley stalwarts whom I’ll detail further down, Chandler, who has committed to Howard University, would deserve to be featured on anybody’s “All CSRA Team.” Here he is skying high for a catch before pulling it down and sprinting to the end zone in Williston-Elko’s win at RSM:

From October 9th

Wagener-Salley 50, Williston-Elko 33

Wagener-Salley’s road win was only surprising because of the prior week’s region results. In an email interview Tuesday, fifth year head coach Willie Fox provided feedback for what led to the resurgence of the War Eagles in last week’s win:

“The biggest factor in us being able to get a win over Williston-Elko after getting beaten so badly against Blackville-Hilda was the resiliency of our kids,” Fox explained. “A lot of things went badly in the Blackville-Hilda game, and honestly, we did not respond well as a team. We talked all week at practice after the game about how we needed to be prepared for a dog fight against Williston-Elko and that is exactly what happened. Our kids responded well and were able to show the fight needed all night to get a victory over a good football team.”

Elijah Davis (7) – Wagener-Salley

Three War Eagles posted eye popping statistics in the process:

Cameron Davis

(So) RB – 15 Carries for 220 Yards, 3 TDs and a 2 Point Conversion

AJ Swedenburg

(Sr) WR/CB – 3 receptions for 110 Yards and 2 touchdowns; 2 carries for 43 yards and a TD:

Because of plays like these, Swedenburg was probably the most exciting player I watched last season:

Elijah Davis

(Sr) LB/DE – 12 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, and 1 forced fumble; also played every play on offense to help pave the way for 427 yards rushing

Davis, listed by 247 Sports as a 6-4 and 259 pound defensive end, might be the CSRA’s most highly recruited player. That site reports he has received scholarship offers from 9 Division I schools, including South Carolina and West Virginia. Coach Fox confirmed to me that last Friday was Davis’s first game at the middle linebacker position. I was particularly impressed by his footwork in being able to keep smaller and faster rushers in front of him before moving in for a sure handed tackle:

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[Livestream] Grovetown vs Evans in Region Battle for Playoff Position

Evans hosts Grovetown and looks to avenge their buzzer beater loss to the Warriors on January 22nd.

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“Sophomore Malik Ferguson picked up a loose ball in the middle of the paint with one second remaining, and right before the fourth quarter buzzer sounded, he released a shot that found its mark to give Grovetown 61-60 win over Evans Friday, a result that threw the top spot in the class 6A, region 5 standings into a three way tie between Grovetown, Evans and Heritage to mark the beginning of the stretch run for the league’s regular season championship. Ferguson’s shot came at the end of a full court dash by Grovetown after head coach Darren Douglas was able to draw up a play during a timeout that was meant to result in a bucket in only six seconds. The play was designed for senior Zach Bell, who eventually fumbled the ball after spinning between defenders at the end of a drive that began near half court after he gathered the ball from freshman Derrion Reid.”

That was Chad Cook’s rundown of the instant classic that these two teams played two weeks ago. That win by Grovetown sets up a must-win scenario for Evans as they look to maintain their footing in the race for a region championship.

Be sure to get your ? ready early because if tonight’s game is as exciting as the last one, you just might forget those jokers altogether!

Streams will be posted here. Tip-off times are as follows:
Girls – 6:30 PM
Boys – 8:00 PM

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Former Basketball Stars Lead the Way in Business, Community Service, and Artistic Pursuits

Harold Doby, Reggie Middleton and Roman Hill have turned a brand into a business, a lifestyle and a mental framework for impacting their community.

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Reggie Middleton (left) and Harold Doby (right)

On January 4th, the day after Harold Doby’s “Books and Life Lessons” (B.A.L.L.) charitable organization conducted a coat drive to help keep warm some of the most vulnerable people in the downtown area, I spoke with Doby and Reggie Middleton, two lifelong friends and former college and high school basketball stars, at Middleton’s “Came From Nxthing Designer Apparel” shop at 120 James Brown Boulevard. Our interview (below) covered the coat drive, Reggie’s entrepreneurial journey, and the meaning behind the “Came From Nxthing” brand, which originated from the music of Roman Hill, our third interviewee. Hill’s friendship with Doby and Middleton helped sprout a “movement” that has provided a framework for the three former athletes to impact the world through acts of community service, business, art, entrepreneurship and charity.

The interview provided a great chance for me to get reacquainted with two men I’ve watched grow from being boys who excelled in a game, to leaders of their families and their community. I bet others who watched them star at Glenn Hills and Winthrop (Middleton), and at Laney and Augusta University (Doby), will also gain satisfaction from hearing about their continued personal development. For example, Reggie explained how he took advantage of his basketball talent to earn a job playing professional basketball in London. Then he used his experience there to hatch a business idea to bring high-quality fashion for an affordable price to people in his hometown.

Reggie Middleton scored 1,186 points for Winthrop.

Harold’s concern for people who are most in need, whether it be the men and women he personally distributed the coats to earlier this month, or the students in his school he recalled giving clothes and shoes to when he was in grade school, is the original reason for my getting back into contact with the two men I once coached and taught when they were middle schoolers.

Harold Doby distributing coats in downtown Augusta on January 4.

I’m grateful we reconnected because they are a shining example of what can be greatest about sports and the community that builds around such a life journey: strong, caring relationships developed through shared experiences, encounters with adversity, and moments of triumph, as well as failures and hardships. Reggie’s story about how he has been able to take the difficult circumstances of the pandemic and nonetheless thrive in business with his “back against the wall” by drawing on his experiences as a basketball player growing up reinforces something I’ve always believed, that youth sports is great practice for real life. 

Harold Doby and Reggie Middleton, as well as Roman Hill, whom Doby first met as his rapping Augusta University basketball teammate, are winning the game of real life every bit as much as they did when they mastered the game of basketball as younger men.

Look out for news of the next Drive from B.A.L.L. Visit the Came From Nxthing Designer Apparel Facebook page to see Reggie’s merchandise, shop with him online or find store information:

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