Memorable sports moments of 2003

Published 1:23 am Friday, January 2, 2004

By Staff
(Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series of columns looking back at 2003. The second part will run on Saturday.)
Being the sports editor of the Niles Daily Star means my life is pretty well saturated with the local sports happenings -- every day.
So it should be no surprise to all of you that many of my memories of the past year are sports-related.
Since we are finally in 2004, now is a good time to look back on 2003 and run through my Top 10 most memorable moments of that year.
Fortunately most of the memories from 2003 are positive ones such as teams winning championships, overcoming difficult situations or beating the odds. But, there are some that are memorable because of negative reasons too. I'll try to keep those to a minimum, but if it was a prominent memory in my mind it will be on my Top 10.
These 10 moments may be some of the same moments you can quickly recall from 2003. But, some of them may have slipped your mind. Some of them you may not have heard about until now.
As you read through these and wonder why I didn't include certain moments, remember that these are the 10 moments that came to my mind first.
Whether you agree with me or not, all of these moments were of significance to somebody and will be remembered by somebody for years to come.
I'll start with my 10th most memorable moment and work my way down to the No. 1 memory I have of 2003. The bottom five will be in today's paper with the top five running in Saturday's paper.
I hope you enjoy remembering these moments as much as I did. I hope they take you back to those moments just like they did me. And, I hope the new year will bring even more great moments for us to remember.
10. Brandywine volleyball
Unfortunately, this is one of the memories that is significant for a negative reason.
The Brandywine volleyball team's run to the 2003 Class C Semifinals started with the Class C District Tournament at River Valley High School.
After Brandywine and the host Mustangs split the first two games of the championship match, a scuffle broke out among parents and fans in the bleachers.
The conflict was quickly taken care of by tournament officials with those involved being escorted from the gymnasium.
The intensity of the match, however, never returned and the Bobcats cruised to an easy 15-4 win to capture their second straight district title and, eventually, win a regional crown and a quarterfinal match.
9. F.O.P. baseball
It was a banner year for the Niles F.O.P. Little League in terms of the success its All-Star teams had.
The F.O.P. 12-year-olds and 10-year-olds each brought home district championships and each made it to the respective State Tournament.
The 12-year-olds went to Mt. Pleasant where they finished 1-2 after losing their first game, winning their second and being eliminated in their third game.
The 10-year-olds traveled to Jackson and played very well, winning their first two games before losing two in a row, one on a controversial darkness ruling, and being eliminated from the tournament.
8. CMU basketball
This is the most recent of the Top 10 moments, but definitely deserved to be on the list.
Niles High School graduate Gerrit Brigitha and his Central Michigan University basketball team came to the Michiana area on Friday, Dec. 5, and upset Notre Dame, the No. 23 team in the nation, on Saturday, Dec. 6.
The game came down to the last second with Central Michigan's Joe Carr, a 5-6 guard, beating Notre Dame's Chris Thomas down the floor and making a 3-pointer at the buzzer to pull off the upset.
Brigitha scored nine points, all in the first 10 minutes of the game and grabbed eight rebounds.
For Central, it was one of just three wins so far this season.
7. Niles football
The Niles High School varsity football team made school history in early November with its first ever State Playoff victory.
The Vikings beat Sturgis 34-28 to advance to their first ever district championship game.
Niles lost to Lakeshore in the district finals, but just reaching that point was a step forward for the Vikings which had made the playoffs the two previous years only to lose in the first round.
The Vikings secured their third straight playoff appearance fairly early in the season when they knocked off Division 4 No. 10-ranked Marshall, 19-14, to improve their season record to 6-1.
Niles then took a nosedive and lost its last two games of the regular season, including a 31-28 double-overtime loss to arch rival Dowagiac in the 100th meeting between the two teams.
The playoff victory was highlighted by Niles senior running back Lonnie Jones' record-setting 377-yard performance. He scored all five of the Vikings' touchdowns.
The Niles football team was named Academic All-State for the third straight season.
6. Buchanan tennis
Bryce Coward, who is now a freshman at Denver University in Colorado, became Buchanan High School's first ever state champion in tennis with a victory over Muskegon Catholic Central's Paul Scholten.
In addition to Coward's individual title, the Bucks won their first ever team title, sharing the trophy with Ann Arbor Greenhills.
The individual title capped off a brilliant high school career for Coward.
He was a four-time state qualifier and led the Bucks to the state finals all four years he was in high school.
He won Lakeland Conference titles all four years and led the team to Lakeland team titles all four years.
He finished as the most successful high school tennis player in southwest Michigan history.
Dan Weiss is sports editor of the Niles Daily Star. Email him at