FAIRFIELD — Like most years in area sports, 2012 was a roller coaster ride – but one that should’ve been equipped with warning signs.
In terms of highs, the city celebrated its first Olympic gold medal winner and state championships in track and American Legion baseball. The low side saw the Fairfield-Suisun School District come closer than ever to eliminating high school sports and the city endured its worst football season in three decades as a result.
Here’s a look at the area’s top 10 sports stories as voted on by the Daily Republic sports staff:
1. Keshia Baker wins Olympic gold medal: After finishing sixth in the 400-meter dash at the United States Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., the 2006 Fairfield High graduate landed a spot on the U.S. Olympic team as an alternate and punched her ticket to London. She earned her medal by running the leadoff leg in the semifinals.
“I was pretty excited,” Baker said of receiving her medal. “I was just telling everybody my coach (Quincy Watts) was, I think, more excited than me. I think I didn’t realize exactly what this means. He won a gold medal before and he only had the opportunity to do it one time, so he was telling me cherish this because you never know what could happen or anything like that, and be very proud of yourself. And I am.”
2. Daje Pugh wins state 300 hurdles championship: Capping a stellar high school career at Fairfield, Pugh blew away the field to win the 300 hurdles title at the CIF State Championships in Clovis.
Her time of 40.57 seconds was the fastest in the nation this season and eighth-fastest ever at the high school level, breaking her own Sac-Joaquin Section record.
“This is the greatest end to my senior year,” Pugh said after the race. “There’s one more week until graduation and this is the best present ever. I don’t even need a birthday present.”
3. Fairfield Expos win state crown, almost reach American Legion World Series: Riding a run of red-hot pitching, timely hitting and precise execution, the Fairfield Expos rolled to the state title at Cleve Borman Field in Yountville and later fell one victory shy of making the Legion World Series.
“This team is probably my favorite team of all time,” Expos manager Brad Hanson said after the season-ending loss to Lakewood. “It’s an unbelievable group of battlers. It’s certainly my favorite group of 19-year-olds. I feel bad for them, they worked so hard.”
4 (tie). District football teams hire coaches late, have worst combined season since early ’80s: While other area high schools had coaches in place and players involved in offseason training, Rodriguez, Armijo and Fairfield were left in limbo with no coaches until March, June and July, respectively while the Fairfield-Suisun School District put off a decision on whether to cancel sports.
Sports, in the end, were saved, but the damage was done as the three district schools combined to go 5-24 in 2012.
“We are way behind,” Fairfield coach Eric Barber said shortly after being hired for the second time to lead the Falcons just weeks before the start of fall workouts. “If it’s the mile run, they’re on the third lap and we’re just starting. We are way behind and there’s only so much you can get done (by the first game).”
4 (tie). Aaron Beverly wins Northern California golf title: Pulling a mild upset of sorts, the Armijo senior won a three-way playoff on the second extra hole after finishing with a four-under-par 68 at Chico’s Butte Creek Country Club to capture the CIF Northern California championship.
“It’s rewarding and amazing and highly unbelievable,” said Beverly, who now plays for Sacramento State University.
6. Darrell Jackson captures SJS 800 crown, finishes eighth in state: Often overshadowed by the accomplishments of teammate Pugh, Jackson won the section Division I and Masters championships before making the state finals, where he finished eighth.
“We’ve always had athletes in our family,” said Jackson, whose older sister, Dominique Jackson, won the girls state 800 title in 2007. “Track was kind of my thing at first, then everyone else followed. But that’s fine because I kind of followed in suit in basketball with everyone else. It’s nice that we have something to connect with as siblings and as a family. That’s nice.”
7. Budget cuts force Solano to drop football program: Even after winning back-to-back Bay Valley Conference titles, the Solano Community College football program was eliminated because of budget cuts at the school. The aquatics programs were also cut.
“They were all hurt, crying, not certain now of their future,” Falcons football coach Floyd Burnsed said of his players. “It’s rough, but they’re all great kids, they all will survive.”
8. School district puts off decision until June before opting not to drop prep sports: Players and coaches at Armijo, Fairfield and Rodriguez were sent through the wringer not knowing until June whether sports in the district would be saved. As a result, teams were forced to scramble for games after opponents canceled contracts for fear of being left with open dates. Coaches were also late in being hired – some not until after school started in August – and numerous students simply said, “Enough is enough” and transferred elsewhere.
9 (tie). Cheyenne Cordes helps Cal reach Women’s College World Series: Coming off her senior season at Rodriguez in which she was the Gatorade State Softball Player of the Year, Cordes earned the starting shortstop spot with the Golden Bears, who spent much of the season ranked No. 1 in the nation, and helped lead them to the Women’s College World Series.
“Well, (making the WCWS) is just one of those things you dream about,” Cordes said. “Being a softball player since I’ve been very young and to actually have it become a reality for my teammates and I, it was always something you dream about because you’re not sure it’s going to happen.”
9 (tie). Vanden girls basketball team wins its 12th straight league title, one shy of city record: Only the Fairfield softball team with 13 straight (1993-2005) has won more consecutive league titles in the city than the Vikings. Led by coach Allison Johnson, they use a suffocating full-court press and balanced offense to get it done.
They clinched last year’s crown with a 56-18 win over American Canyon with one Solano County Athletic Conference game to go on the schedule.
“It feels good,” Johnson said after nailing down the championship pennant. “Our work isn’t done yet, we still have work to do, to finish league playing strong.”
Others receiving votes:
Rodriguez baseball team wins section title
Rodriguez grad James-Michael Johnson gets drafted, starts for Browns
Armijo, Vanden girls tennis teams complete near-perfect seasons
Armijo girls basketball team wins back-to-back MEL titles for first time
Vanden volleyball team reaches SJS semis for first time since 1975.
Stevie Johnson’s comments draw national attention – on several occasions.
Armijo wins boys soccer title in rugged MEL
Desmond Bishop’s season ends early because of knee injury
Reach Paul Farmer at 425-4646, ext. 264, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pfarmerdr.