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Most read sports stories of 2019

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Most read sports stories of 2019

Polk County sports fans found a wide range of coverage in the pages of the Bolivar Herald-Free Press and online at in 2019. 

Here are the year’s most read articles, ranked according to the most unique website views. 

1. Skalicky gives back to BHS

JAN. 2 — Bolivar’s Gail Skalicky has been a consistent voice at Liberator basketball home games for more than 15 years. 

According to previous coverage, Skalicky took over behind the PA microphone in 2000 for the Bolivar High School softball team. She started announcing basketball three years later after seniors who were in charge of the PA duties graduated. 

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The school, familiar with her softball announcing background, asked Skalicky if she wanted to take over at home basketball games.

“I don’t shy away from a mic,” Skalicky said. “I’ve always enjoyed being on the microphone. Since I was a coach, I knew the game. I knew what to do, so I kinda fell into it by accident almost. I’ve been doing ever since.”

The Richland native attended Drury University and graduated in 1979, when she moved to Bolivar. 

She started as a physical education teacher for seventh- through 12th-grade her first eight years at Bolivar. Skalicky also coached the volleyball, girls basketball and track and field teams, as well as the Elektra Blue dance team.

“Gail was a rock star when she lead our dance squad, Elektra Blue, for many years, and she has the same professionalism and quality of work announcing our basketball games,” said Bolivar activities director Todd Schrader.


2. Run honors former Humansville athlete

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Runners take off from the start of the fourth annual Jacob Brown Memorial 5K near Humansville High School Saturday, July 20. The run honors the memory of Jacob Weaks Brown, a Humansville graduate who died in a car wreck in 2016.

JULY 11 — Last year, runners hit the street in Humansville for the fourth annual Jacob Weaks Brown Memorial 5K, a timed event honoring the former Humansville athlete, who died in a car wreck in 2016.

The event was held Saturday, July 20. 

A three-time all-state runner, Weaks Brown graduated from Humansville High School in 2014 and attended Coffeyville Community College in Kansas on a running scholarship. 

“He was always one of the hardest workers,” former HHS coach Casey Verner Winckler recalled. “He never complained about being hot. He never complained about being tired. He was always smiling and laughing and trying to make it more enjoyable for everybody else.”

The run features a Weaks Brown favorite — fireworks — and benefits a memorial scholarship available to Humansville seniors who ran cross country or track, plan to continue their education after high school and also display Jacob’s impeccable work ethic, Winckler said. 

Three students have received the scholarship since 2016, including Weaks Brown’s younger brother, James. 

“The hardest thing we’ve ever had to do is lose a student, especially in a town like Humansville where everyone knows each other,” the coach recalled. “Everyone is related, so anytime that happens there’s a really big impact. So we try to turn it into something positive to make it easier for everybody, and that way his legacy can continue as far as what he enjoyed.”


3. Lightning strike hits tennis court

MAY 3 — In the aftermath of severe spring weather that spawned thunderstorms and tornadoes across the region, Mother Nature once more reiterated her power at Bolivar Middle School Friday, May 3.

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Damage is apparent following a lightning strike at Bolivar Middle School's tennis courts Friday, May 3. No injuries were reported.

According to Bolivar City Fire Department Chief Brent Watkins, lightning struck the tennis courts on the campus.

The strike is believed to have happened at around 4:50 p.m. Its boom rattled the ground and set off car alarms as far away as downtown. 

Some damage to the walkway at the court entry was visible.

Bolivar R-1 Superintendent Tony Berry confirmed no injuries were reported but declined to comment further.


4. Erwin named to MSHOF Filbert Five

DEC. 4 — Humansville R-4 superintendent Tammy Erwin, a former high school and college basketball standout, coach and administrator, was named to the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame’s class of 2019 Filbert Five. 

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Tammy Erwin, pictured in high school, attempts a layup. After a basketball career that stretched into college, Erwin went on to teach and coach before becoming an administrator. She is now superintendent at Humansville R-4 Public Schools. 

According to a MSHOF news release, the Filbert award is named for the late Gary Filbert, a legendary basketball coach who was known for assisting Missouri Tigers coach Norm Stewart and later directing the Show-Me State Games, an annual Olympic-style competition for amateur athletes held each year in Columbia.

Erwin told the BH-FP in December that, in high school, tragic news of her grandfather’s death had galvanized her into action.

“From that moment on, I realized that you never knew when you’d have your last chance to share a moment with the people that you love,” she said.

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Erwin scored a school record 2,513 points during her high school career at Walnut Grove. She earned all-state selection three times. 

She went on to play one season of basketball at Southwest Baptist University before starting at College of the Ozarks. 

There, she was a two-year letter winner and later served as a student assistant under 2008 MSHOF inductee George Wilson. 

During her high school and college careers, Erwin underwent four knee surgeries, the release stated. 

Looking back, Erwin said she can see how her time on the court shaped her into an educator and administrator. 

“I think I really learned how to come through adversity,” she said. “In basketball, some days you’re going to hit everything and some days you’re not going to hit anything. We’re going to have days like that, so you learn how to get up and pick people up when they might be struggling.”


5. MCE names gym for coach

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Former Marion C. Early coach Wayne Keltner stands at halfcourt during the gym dedication.

MARCH 27 — Marion C. Early R-5 School District renamed its gymnasium in 2019 after a well-loved former coach.

According to previous coverage, Coach Wayne Keltner, who turned 90 last year, led the Panthers’ on the track, basketball court and softball diamond starting in the late 1950s. 

A committee voted to name the gym after Keltner passed unanimously. 

“Everything we know about him is that he’s just a quiet, special man,” committee member Scott Martinson told the BH-FP. “I just thought he was a class act.”

Keltner, early in his career at MCE, had advocated for construction of a school gym. 

The former coach recalled being asked by the district’s superintendent at the time whether the school needed a gymnasium. Resourceful district staff had removed the center wall from a pair of classrooms and mounted basketball goals on the outside walls, creating a makeshift court, he said. 

“I told him, ‘We don’t have a place to play. I think we need one,’” he said.

Keltner’s teams were conditioned, well-disciplined and focused on the fundamentals, he said. 

“I wanted them to know that if you're down 10 points in the third quarter, you’re not out of it yet,” he said, recalling the 2019 naming ceremony. “The other night at the gym, so many of them told me how many times we won a game with those guts.”

Keltner’s athletes adored him, Morrisville graduate Bob Lowery recalled. 

“He really was more than just a basketball coach,” he said.  


6. SBU hosts MSHOF Classic

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Fair Play’s Chyler Welch drives hard to the basket for part of her 15-point night against Pierce City at SBU. The Lady Hornets won the game 42-40.

JAN. 9 — Southwest Baptist University played host in January 2019 to a set of high school games during the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame’s MSHOF Classic.

Eight of the state’s top-ranked high school basketball teams, and a rare boys hardwood matchup between football rivals Bolivar and Harrisonville, were set for the tournament. 

A game between the then-No. 1-ranked Strafford Lady Indians and Class 4’s No. 2-ranked Lincoln College Prep was also featured.

“The purpose of the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame Basketball Classics are to showcase the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame’s support for high school basketball in the state of Missouri, while also matching teams against opponents from out of the area that they would not ordinarily get to play during the season,” said Byron Shive, the tournaments’ executive director, in a release. 

The tournament returns this year, with SBU hosting eight games Saturday, Jan. 25. Halfway’s boys team faces Galena at 10 a.m. Bolivar’s boys play Center at 7 p.m., and its girls team plays Tipton at 8:30 p.m.


7. Bearcat basketball sets record in postseason

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SBU’s Godfrey Rolle looks to pass during the Bearcats’ game against Lindenwood University, Wednesday, March 6, in Kansas City.  

MARCH 9 — Southwest Baptist University men’s basketball set three records early in 2019.

The team’s March appearance in the MIAA marked the first time since 2012 it played in the tournament. 

The Bearcats’ 76-75 win over Lindenwood University in the first round marked the first time since 2006 it won at the tournament. The win also was the first time a No. 10 seed upset a No. 7 seed at the tournament.

SBU later fell 58-77 to Washburn University in the next game. 

The game was also the final time the Bearcats played in the MIAA tournament. The team left to join the Great Lakes Valley Conference at the start of the 2019-20 season. 


8. Bolivar Speedway announces schedule

JAN. 16 — The 2019 season at the Historic Bolivar Speedway kicked off Saturday, April 13, according to the speedway’s website, which released a schedule of 2019 events earlier in the year. 

The speedway reopened in 2018 under the management of Jim and Vicki Benner. 

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Driver Cole Mizio, 15, grips the wheel of a race car at the Historic Bolivar Speedway. Mizio earned the most improved driver award in the baby grands category in 2019.

According to previous coverage, Jim Benner told the BH-FP he and his wife hoped to restore the venue that has produced great racers like Larry Phillips, a NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee. 

"We're keeping the name of the track the same because of the history of the track," Vicki Benner said. "This track has been part of racing in Missouri, and we just want to keep it going."


9. Libs contend for district crown

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A handful of Liberators including Hayden Burks, No. 4; Andrew Bunn, No. 6; Drayton Huchteman, No. 76; and Payton Vahle, No. 21 try to stop a Webb City ball carrier during Bolivar’s loss to the 2019 state champion.

NOV. 13 — Liberator football hit a series of highs in 2019, including an undefeated regular season, two postseason wins and a district title match against eventual state champion Webb City after upsetting district No. 2 West Plains. 

Bolivar fell 37-14, ending the year the Class 4 District 6 runner up. 

The game saw the Liberators score the third-most points of any of Webb City’s postseason opponents. The Cardinals went on to blank defending state champion Ladou Horton Watkins 35-0, then beat Platte County 48-0 in the state title game. 

Bolivar’s 2019 success was made even more significant by the sharp contrast its 11-1 finish drew to its 4-6 2018 campaign.

Coach Glen Johnson credited the team’s seniors with its enduring success. 

“They have taken our program places we have not gone,” Johnson said.

Starting this fall, Bolivar football will again head to unfamiliar territory after the district’s emergency application to inherit Springfield Central’s football schedule was accepted in late 2019.

R-1 activities director Todd Schrader told the BH-FP the district would apply for full conference membership. 


10. Lady Pirates turn in dominant wins

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Pleasant Hope softball poses for a photo with the Class 1 District 8 championship plaque after downing Strafford Thursday, May 2.

April 17 — Pleasant Hope softball won its home tournament Friday, April 12, and Saturday, April 13, winning all five games and holding three opponents scoreless. 

Pleasant Hope beat Niangua 15-0, then won over Greenfield 10-0. The Lady Pirates beat Miller 12-5, then played the team again, winning 14-4. They won 15-0 over Sarcoxie to seal the tournament victory.

Pleasant Hope played Greenfield again Monday outside the tournament, winning 17-1.

The Lady Pirates’ 2019 campaign, however, was just getting started. 

Pleasant Hope upset two-time defending state champion Strafford to claim a district championship before ending their season 27-4 with a loss to Potosi. 

The home loss marked the final game for three seniors — Abby Henson, Courtney Jenkins and Katelyn Stewart. The three were big for the team, Lady Pirates coach Kevin McVey said. 

“We had a great season,” he said. “We fought. We never gave up. I told my underclassmen to remember this feeling of being unhappy and being sad, because we’re going to be back next year.”

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