(Dec. 27, 2019) From records set to stellar season performances, here are some of the top sports stories for 2019:
• Swim team Bayside champs:
The Stephen Decatur girls’ swim team won the inaugural Bayside Conference championship meet in Cambridge in February.
“The girls did amazing. I am so proud of them,” Coach Mary Hathaway said. “It was a whole team effort with every single swimmer scoring points for us.”
Decatur scored 409 points in the victory. Easton was runner-up with 370 points.
“The competition was tight between us and Easton for most of the day, but our depth was the reason we pulled ahead,” Hathaway said.
The Decatur boys’ team came in second place in the first-ever conference championship.
Easton tallied 477 points to win the boys’ competition. Decatur scored 416.5 points.
“I thought the boys did very well. We had a ton of best times and swam faster than we have all year,” Coach Steve Deakyne said. “We lost to a strong Easton team that has a lot of talented swimmers this year … 13 [Decatur] boys participated in Baysides and everyone contributed to the overall outcome.”
Deakyne said the first Bayside championship was exciting for both the swimmers and the coaches.
“I am happy the girls were able to win the inaugural Bayside championship and that the boys were the runners up,” he said. “Also, since it is the first year, we have a number of girls and boys who are the current Bayside record holders for their events.”
The girls’ squad finished the season with a 6-2 record. The Lady Seahawks came in third in the 3A-2A-1A East Region meet and 14th overall at states.
The boys’ team went 5-3. The Seahawks placed second at regionals and seventh overall at states.
Deakyne is back to coach this year and is joined by Kristina Watts, who has taken over for Hathaway.
• Successful wrestling season:
The Stephen Decatur wrestling team had a stellar 2018-19 season.
The Seahawks went undefeated (13-0) during the regular season. They captured the 3A East Region dual meet championship – the team’s first since 2011.
Decatur also won the 3A state dual meet title. The last time Decatur had won a state dual championship title was in 2008.
In the past 50 years, Decatur sports teams have won five state championships. The wrestling team holds two of those titles.
The Berlin squad also won a Bayside Conference championship. Six Seahawks – a program record – won their divisions and individual Bayside championship awards.
Eight wrestlers qualified for the state tournament. Six were state place winners – a school record.
As a freshman, Noah Reho captured the 4A/3A state title in the 126-pound weight class in early March. He was the only Maryland grappler to win a state title as a freshman.
“I think it was probably the best wrestling I’ve had in my career, so far. Hands down,” Reho said. “The reason why I think I did my best was because I was mentally tuned in. Every match that I wrestled, I didn’t think anyone was going to beat me, nor score a point on me.”
Reho is the first Decatur wrestler to win a state championship since 2009. He is only the fourth wrestler in program history to earn a state title.
His goal is to beat Danny Miller’s record of three state titles. The Decatur alum won state titles in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
Reho finished the season with a 45-5 record. He also captured a regional championship title and took third in the Bayside Conference meet.
• Softball team Bayside champs:
The Stephen Decatur softball team won Bayside Conference championships in 1991, 1998 and 2000. The Lady Seahawks added another to its collection in May, with a 4-1 victory over the Colonel Richardson Colonels in Salisbury.
When the two teams met early in the season on April 1, in Federalsburg, Colonel Richardson won, 12-1.
“On any given day if we show up and play our best we can beat anyone,” Decatur Coach Scott Kurtz said. “The girls were so excited. These girls, they can hit. It’s really fun to watch.”
Decatur finished the season with a 15-5 record. In his first season leading the team, Kurtz was named Bayside South Coach of the Year.
“It is very humbling. The girls exceeded all expectations,” he said. “We set team goals and just kept checking them off. I learned a lot early on in the season and some bumps in the road helped me learn quickly what my players needed from me to succeed.”
One of the big accomplishments this season was winning the conference championship. It was only the fourth time in the program’s history the team captured the title. The last year the team won the championship was in 2000, which was before any of the current players were born.
• Coaches get 200 career wins:
The Worcester Prep girls’ (13-0) and boys’ (10-0) tennis teams finished the regular season with undefeated records after earning victories over the Saint Thomas More Ravens on May 6, but it was extra special for coaches Cyndee Hudson and Debbie Speier.
The win was their 200th overall since they started coaching the girls’ squad in 2002.
“We were afraid we were going to end up with 199, with all the rainouts and everything,” Assistant Coach Speier said. “Just thinking back on all the girls that have come through the program, when some of them started they hadn’t picked up a racket and [later] went on to play in college. It’s just so exciting for us.”
The coaches finished their careers with a 200-15 record. They helped lead the team to nine undefeated seasons.
Hudson enjoyed her time as head coach, but decided it was time to step down. Both Hudson and Speier officially retired from coaching at the end of the season.
“It’s bittersweet,” Hudson said. “It’s been fun. I’ll miss it for sure. There’s been a ton of great memories.”
“We created a culture. We’re very proud of the girls. We’re proud that, every match, they come out and give 100 percent, sometimes more than that,” Speier added. “They just work hard, they improve [and] they work in the offseason. I’m happy for them.”
About a week later, the Worcester Prep tennis teams swept the singles and doubles competition during the Eastern Shore Independent Athletic Conference championship at Salisbury University.
• Knappenberger does well on mat:
As an incoming Stephen Decatur High School junior, Anya Knappenberger accomplished her biggest feat to date – placing seventh in the United States Marine Corps/USA Wrestling National Championship, held in Fargo, North Dakota, in mid-July.
Knappenberger competed in the Women’s Freestyle 16U 117-pound division. She finished seventh overall in her division out of 34 competitors.
“I feel like I wrested well,” she said. “I wish I could have placed higher, but all you can do is go out there and wrestled your hardest.”
She and six other girls represented Team Maryland at the competition.
In the U16 division, girls from about 40 different states participated.
After the two-day championship, Knappenberger had one day to rest before competing in the Junior National division on July 16. She also participated in the 117-pound weight class.
While the U16 division is for girls 16 years of age and younger, the junior division consists of female wrestlers in grades nine through 12.
“There were 52 girls in my bracket. I just wanted another chance to wrestle some of the best girls in the country,” she said. “I think I wrestled really well. I was one win away from placing [top eight]. Toward the end I was getting tired.”
She finished in the top 12 in the juniors championship. Her overall record for the entire tournament was 8-4.
In February as a sophomore, Knappenberger took first place in the 112-pound division of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association Girls Invitational Wrestling Tournament at Northeast High School in Pasadena.
She wrestled three matches, earning a pin and two tech falls. She outscored her opponents a combined 45-0.
The year before, she placed first in the 108-pound division of the state competition, wrestling for Urbana High School.
• Berlin Little League success:
Berlin’s Little League All-Star teams were quite successful this season, with several winning district, state and/or regional titles.
The Junior Berlin Little League All Stars advanced to the World Series in Taylor, Michigan, in August.
Berlin – district, state and regional champions – lost its first game to the South East Regional championship team from Florida, 15-2.
The next game was against the South West Regional championship team from Oklahoma. Berlin won 19-3.
The Berlin team played a team from Michigan next, and lost, 5-1, ending its World Series tournament run.
The squad finished the season ranked fourth out of 1,500 U.S. Junior Little League squads and eighth internationally.
“What an amazing journey this has been … I loved coaching all these boys and would do it all over again if I was given the chance … but wouldn’t change a thing about this ride,” Coach Kris Mandley said.
The team returned home from the World Series on Aug. 19 in style with a police procession and escort by the Maryland Red Knights Motorcycle Club.
Several local officials including Berlin Mayor Gee Williams, Worcester County Commissioner Bud Church and Worcester County Sheriff Matt Crisafulli as well as the parents and family members of the Berlin Little League All Stars came out to the Worcester County Athletic Complex in Berlin to congratulate the team on its success.
The 8-10 League, Intermediate and Major Softball Berlin Little League All-Star squads all won district and state championship titles this year. Their seasons ended in their respective regional tournaments.
• White Marlin Open breaks records:
The 46th annual White Marlin Open, held Aug. 5-9, saw several records broken, including $6,186,870 million in prize money awarded and the number of billfish caught and released.
A record 1,459 white marlins were caught, and 1,429 of them were released (98 percent), to break the record of 1,358 landed in 2016.
The Big Deal crew broke a 39-year-old tournament record for most release points by a boat. The group released 27 white marlins, good for 1,960 points.
The previous record of 1,949 was set by the Escapade in 1980, with 24 white marlins released and two boated.
A total of 404 boats were registered this year.
Tommy Hinkle of West Ocean City won the coveted white marlin category with a 79.5-pound billfish he caught aboard Fish Whistle. The crew was awarded $1,504,720.
Hinkle landed the first-place white marlin in 2008 – and 81-pounder – also fishing aboard Fish Whistle. He is the first angler in tournament history to win the white marlin division twice.
While there is probably a mathematical formula and numbers to crunch, the Stephen Decatur High School math teacher summed it up by saying, “it’s pretty much a one-in-a-million chance.”
“The thought [of winning a second time] never crossed my mind,” he said. “It’s kind of unbelievable.”
Hinkle fought the fish for about 90 minutes.
“It was a pretty intense battle. So many things can go wrong in such a long fight,” he said. “There was a lot of things that could go wrong, but they didn’t. I did everything I could as an angler to land that fish.”
After a group effort, the fish was finally on the boat.
“It was the whole crew … it’s a team effort,” he said.
The group has been fishing together in the tournament since 2001. Hinkle has been participating in the Open since the late 1990s.
• Another record-breaking Poor Girls Open:
Records continue to be broken annually during the Capt. Steve Harman’s Poor Girls Open, and this year was no different.
“It went fantastic,” said Earl Conley, co-director of the Open. “There were no complaints, everything went smoothly and fishing was pretty good.”
A record 925 female anglers fished on 184 boats during the 26th annual tournament, held Aug. 15-17. A total of $269,940 – a new tournament record – was presented to the winners.
That’s about a $40,000 increase from 2018, when $229,565 was paid out with 149 boats registered.
To top it all off, Poor Girls Open organizers presented a check for $140,000 to American Cancer Society representatives during the tournament awards.
Since 2005, the total donated to the American Cancer Society by the Harman family through the tournament and other events is over $1.1 million.
Women enjoy fishing in the tournament because it benefits a worthy cause — breast cancer research. Many cancer survivors participate in the event.
Proceeds are donated to the American Cancer Society and earmarked for breast cancer research and program development as part of the “Pink Ribbon Classic at the Beach Series” – an assortment of local activities to raise breast cancer awareness while garnering money for the organization.
Perhaps the most talked about accomplishment of the tournament was Kristy Frashure reeling in a 74.5-pound dolphin aboard Haulin N’ Ballin. The catch was a new Maryland state record.
Frashure’s state-record dolphin took top honors in the division. She and her Haulin N’ Ballin teammates received $13,447.50.
Frashure battled the dolphin for what felt like an eternity, she said.
“As soon as it jumped the mates and the captain, they knew. They said, ‘that’s a monster. That’s amazing. That’s a winner,” she said.
Frashure fought the fish for about 23 minutes.
Her catch topped Jeff Wright’s Atlantic Division record for common dolphinfish of 72.8 pounds, which was set just three weeks earlier on July 28. The previous record had been held since 1985.
To now have a state record, Frashure said is “very exciting.”
•Longtime football coach retires:
Bob Knox, longtime Stephen Decatur football coach, announced his retirement during a small, low-key press conference on Dec. 10, at the high school.
“It’s been an honor and a pleasure to be the head football coach here,” he said. “I’ve seen many changes from when we first started – all positive – and it’s just been an honor to be able to do this for as long as I have.”
When asked how he would sum up three decades of running the Decatur program, Knox became a bit emotional as he said, “It’s been a great ride.”
Knox was hired in 1974 as a social studies teacher and as an assistant football coach. He was the head basketball coach from 1980-82 and has been at the helm of the Decatur football program since 1983.
Knox decided to step down for the 2016 season when his then 2-year-old grandson, Eli Knox-Tadli, was diagnosed with an aggressive brain cancer. With his grandson responding well to treatment, Knox returned to lead the Seahawks for the 2017 season.
He still plans on attending games, which is what he will miss most – the Friday nights on the sidelines, he said.
“I’m gonna miss it, sure I am,” he said. “I’m looking forward to spending time with my family.”
In April 2018, Knox was inducted into the Maryland Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
While at the helm, Decatur won nine conference championships, made 10 state playoff appearances, competed in four regional championship games and in two semifinal matches. He was named Bayside Conference Coach of the Year seven times.
With an overall record of 232-141 at the time of the induction ceremony, Knox was ranked 13th on the All-Time Winningest Coaches in Maryland list, and No. 2 behind Chuck Markiewicz of Arundel (243-96) for Active Winningest Maryland Coaches.
He finished his career with 238 wins and 154 losses.
In his final game as coach, Decatur wrapped up the 2019 season in early November with a 63-0 victory over the Snow Hill Eagles.
The team also had the opportunity to play on the school’s new turf field this season. Decatur’s new athletic complex was dedicated during halftime of the Sept. 20 game against Easton in Berlin.
The Stephen Decatur High School Athletic Complex is named the “Robert G. Knox Field and Louis H. Taylor Stadium” in honor of the longtime football coach and teacher, and superintendent of schools.
“It’s the highest honor in my career as a football coach,” Knox said prior to the dedication ceremony.