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DANIEL YOUNGBLOOD: Seniors’ response to COVID-19 shutdown one we all could learn from

The 2019-20 school year is officially over, and a new crop of seniors will soon be ushered into the “real world.”

In that way — and that way only — this year is like most before it. 

But anyone who’s been conscious the past three months knows this is not a normal year. The COVID-19 outbreak has made sure of that, impacting lives worldwide and, on a local level, stripping this graduation class of the pomp and circumstance typically reserved for graduating seniors.

While the virus itself has hit certain age groups harder than others, the effects of this global pandemic have spared no demographic. And among those most impacted in the Big Country have been the aforementioned seniors, who have not only lost their spring sport seasons (and had their athletic careers ended prematurely, in many cases) but have also lost many of the rights of passage and memories many associate with their final year of high school.

But if you think it’s all negative or just need some hope for the future, I would encourage you to check out our What Might Have Been feature series. Because revealed in these stories of the area players and teams most affected by the COVID-19 shutdown is a maturity that makes this group as well equipped as any I’ve seen to tackle whatever challenges lie ahead.

Continue reading “DANIEL YOUNGBLOOD: Seniors’ response to COVID-19 shutdown one we all could learn from”

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Merkel’s next track star lost a year of development

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at

—Photos by Brit Pursley

The COVID-19 “What Might Have Been” story of Alyssa O’Malley is not one of an athlete losing her senior year of spring sports. It’s a story of a promising sophomore losing a season of development as a budding track and field star.

Kaydi Pursley, who did lose her senior spring sports season, rightfully earned the badge as Merkel’s star athlete in basketball and track this year. She averaged 17 points for the Merkel girls’ basketball team, which finished 22-8 last season and advanced to the second round of the Class 3A playoffs. In track, the Abilene Christian University signee entered this year as a three-time state qualifier in the 300-meter hurdles and an 11-foot pole vaulter.

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BREAKING: UIL cancels the remainder of spring sports seasons

The official notice, released by the UIL on Friday: 

With the announcement from Governor Greg Abbott that all Texas schools are to remain closed to in-person learning for the remainder of this school year, and in an effort to help protect the health and safety of Texans, the University Interscholastic League (UIL) is canceling all remaining 2019-2020 spring activities and state championships.

“Our staff had been working hard on plans to resume activities this spring, but without schools in session, interscholastic activities cannot continue,” said UIL Executive Director Dr. Charles Breithaupt. “Our highest priority during this challenging time is ensuring the health and safety of our students and communities and making progress in the containment of COVID-19 in Texas. We are now turning our attention to the 2020-2021 school year.”

BIG COUNTRY PREPS Q&A: FCA Area Director Andy Penney provides updates on All-Star Festival

The Big Country Fellowship of Christian Athletes is like everyone else in the sports world these days.

With the Big Country All-Star Festival scheduled for early June, the FCA is not sure if, or when, it will be able to host the event due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has the entire country at a standstill.

The FCA is stuck in a holding pattern due to the uncertainty of what the University Interscholastic League is going to do. Currently the UIL has stopped all activity for athletics and fine arts through the first weekend of May.

Sunday afternoon, Andy Penney of the Big Country FCA chapter took some time to discuss the evolving situation with and talked about how the local group is proceeding during this unprecedented time.

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EVAN REN: Sometimes a tough experience can have some value

I’ve never been very good at appreciating the little things. You know, like being able to feed myself, shower, go to the bathroom or get out of bed without assistance.

They didn’t even register on my radar.

They were like “automatics” — things that were so routine and so mundane that they didn’t warrant any thought. 

That is, until I needed help doing them. 

In case you haven’t heard, I’m coming off a tough experience — one that saw me hospitalized for eight days with pneumonia (not coronavirus). 

A sniffle brought home from Lubbock on March 7 had become a full-blown cold by March 8. A day later, I awoke, convinced I was drowning. By that afternoon, I was checked in to Hendricks Medical Center in Abilene, where I would remain, largely bedridden, for more than a week. 

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DANIEL YOUNGBLOOD: Uncertainty hits home amid coronavirus response

A week ago Monday, my partner Evan Ren and I were sitting down to do interviews with Jayton’s Ryan Bleiker and San Saba’s Mark Kyle for our weekly podcast.

Evan was planning his trip to San Antonio to cover those men’s teams at the University Interscholastic League’s boys basketball state championships, and I was prepping for a baseball tournament that was scheduled to be held here in Abilene over the weekend.

As it turned out, neither of us would reach our destination.

Instead, Evan was hospitalized Tuesday for a case of pneumonia that would put him on the shelf for a week, and most of what I was planning to cover in his stead was canceled or postponed amid growing concern over the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

What a difference a week makes.

Continue reading “DANIEL YOUNGBLOOD: Uncertainty hits home amid coronavirus response”

FEATURE: Multi-sport experience, success at heart Jayton’s confidence, poise

Between the No. 1 ranking they held for most of the 2019 football season and the target that comes with being a defending state runner-up in basketball, the Jayton Jaybirds have played more pressure-packed games this school year than some programs do in a decade. 

But when you’ve been as successful as the JHS athletic program has been in recent years, you grow accustomed to the big stage.

So if coach Ryan Bleiker’s Jaybirds don’t seem as nervous as they should heading into their second consecutive appearance at the Class 1A boys basketball state tournament in San Antonio, you’ll have to excuse them. This group of Jayton athletes has been groomed for moments such as these.

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BCP Podcast No. 83: Brock coach Shawna Lavender joins the show to talk hoops with Evan and Dan

With the surviving area girls teams heading into their various regional tournaments and the boys moving into the area round, Evan and Daniel to take a look at the most recent area results and pairings.

Tonight, they are joined by Brock coach Shawna Lavender, whose Lady Eagles will be facing Idalou in the Region I-3A tournament in Plainview on Friday.  


BREAKING: Hubble hired by Canton ISD

Breckenridge football coach Casey Hubble has been named as the new head football coach-athletic director by Canton ISD in a school board meeting held today.

Hubble, who coached the Buckaroos from 2014-2019, posted a 29-40 overall record through six seasons at BHS. 

His final Breckenridge team finished at 1-9, missing the playoffs for the first and only time during his tenure there. 

“I’m unbelievably grateful and fortunate to have spent the last six years in Breckenridge,” Hubble said. “I met some unbelievable people and I’m proud of what we were able to get accomplished there.

“I’m very grateful to the kids who I’ve had the opportunity to work with and some of the families I’ve gotten to know and become friends with.

“The opportunity at Canton popped up and it was something I couldn’t pass up. For the last six years, Breckenridge has been my main focus and it seemed like this was an opportunity I needed to take. So I’m going to take it. 

“Breckenridge will always be a special place to me and I’m just grateful to the people I’ve met there. I love the kids and I hope to continue the relationships I’ve been able to build there.

“My family and I will miss it greatly.”

FEATURE: Brownwood on verge of having three 1,000-point scorers

Prior to this season, Nadir Dalleh had never coached even one player who scored 1,000 points during his basketball career. He’s now on the verge of having three 1,000-point scorers on the same team as head coach of the Brownwood Lions.

Center Zach Strong and guard Adonis (A.J.) McCarty already have surpassed the 1,000-point mark for their Brownwood High School careers. Guard John Wilhelm needs 78 points to join them, and considering he averages 16 points per game and the Lions have four regular-season games plus the playoffs remaining, he seems a safe bet to make it a trio.

“I’ve never had one do it. To have two do it and one more close shows the success of these guys,” Dalleh, the Lions’ fourth-year head coach, said of his top three seniors. “They love the game and they’ve been willing to work to do what it takes to get better.”

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FEATURE: Sophomore McCambridge relishing leadership role for young Plowgirls squad

Shauna McCambridge hasn’t been at Roscoe long, but she’s already the Plowgirls’ leader.

A sophomore who transferred from Coleman before her freshman season, McCambridge is one of just two returning players for a remarkably young RHS squad.

But don’t think for a second that the Plowgirls 5-foot-11 post is their leader by default. She’s in that position because she’s earned it with both her play and the example she sets for her teammates.

In less than two full varsity seasons, McCambridge has already established herself as one of the top rebounders and post defenders in all of the Big Country. And to hear coach Shella Arnwine tell it, she’s only scratching the surface of her potential.

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GAME STORY: Archrivals Brownwood, Stephenville split intense doubleheader

STEPHENVILLE — Having already watched their classmates on the Brownwood girls basketball team lose a six-point second-half lead and the game (50-41) to open a District 7-4A doubleheader with archrival Stephenville, the BHS boys were under a bit of pressure during the nightcap on Tuesday before a raucous crowd at SHS. 

The Lions pulled through in overtime, dropping the Yellow Jackets 73-69 before their hometown fans. But not before both clubs provided onlookers with plenty of drama. 

Brandon Hamrick scored 24 points and Zach Strong added 17 more to lead Brownwood (20-5), which blew a 13-point second half lead only to recapture the winning edge in the extra period. An 8-2 run over the final 1:26 of overtime did the trick for the Lions, who found themselves trailing 67-63 with 2:15 left in OT before closing on the run. 

Stephenville (16-10, 1-1) was led by Skylar Stillwell with 24 points and James Traweek with 17. 

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BIG COUNTRY GIRLS STATISTICAL LEADERS (Scoring, rebounds, assists and steals through Jan. 16)

Each Thursday at 7 p.m., Big Country Preps will publish area girls basketball statistical leaders.

This database will be continually updated for our subscribers throughout the remainder of the season, using only those statistics submitted by area coaches.

Teams that do not submit their statistics in a given week will not be listed when our stats are posted, but will be added to the lists below as they are received in the coming days. 

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GAME STORY: De Leon gets much-needed win over Hico in overtime thriller

DE LEON — Two of the Big Country’s most-improved girls teams collided on Tuesday in a District 10-2A matchup that saw De Leon escape with a 34-32 win over Hico in overtime. 

Taylor Mahan scored eight points, Chloe Stovall, Kenadi McGrath and Coral Sparger had seven each and Baylee Burrow added six to provide a balanced scoring effort for De Leon (15-11, 1-1), which needed the win to avoid an 0-2 league start. 

Hico, which got a game-high 14 points from Lauryl Stegall and nine from Luna Wilson, dropped to 19-4 and 1-1.  The Lady Tigers missed multiple shots down the stretch that could have been difference makers, only to see De Leon execute when it needed to. 

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BREAKING: Big Country FCA All-Star Festival coaches announced

The coaches for the annual Big Country Fellowship of Christian Athletes were announced on Monday morning with the revelation that for the first time the event will include a three-day golf tournament in Eastland.

The inaugural golf tournament will run from Sunday, June 7, through Tuesday, June 9, on the Kingdom Course of the Solid Rock Camp near Lake Leon.

The seventh annual baseball and softball games will be played on June 12 at Angelo State University and then the festival winds up with a smorgasbord of events on June 13.

The eighth annual men’s and 12th annual women’s basketball games will be at the Brownwood Coliseum, the eighth annual volleyball game at Wylie High School’s Bulldog Gym and then the week-long event culminates for the 21st time at Shotwell Stadium with the Myrle Greathouse All-Star Football Classic. Continue reading “BREAKING: Big Country FCA All-Star Festival coaches announced”