2006 Year in Review

Published 4:48 am Saturday, December 30, 2006

By By ERIKA PICKLES / Niles Daily Star
NILES – Another year has come and gone, which means it's time for another Year in Review.
There were a lot of memorable sports moments in 2006 and we've put together a list of the top 10, in no particular order.
Sit back, relax and enjoy taking a small trip back to this year's biggest stories.
Niles track teams have another successful season
10. The Niles High School boys track and field team left its mark again in 2006.
The Vikings picked up their third straight Big 16 West Division championship and, for the second straight year, the team came home the Division 2 regional champions.
The Vikings edged South Haven to win the regional championship 78.75-66.25. Niles won the title by winning the final event of the night – the 1,600-meter relay.
With the win, the Vikes were able to compete in the MHSAA State Finals, which were held in Grand Rapids.
Brandywine tennis team continued to dominate
9. The Brandywine varsity tennis team was once again the biggest threat in the Lakeland Conference this year.
The Lady Bobcats won their third straight Lakeland conference title and captured the regional championship.
Brandywine, along with Buchanan, advanced to the state finals.
Niles' streak broken
8. After nine straight district titles, Kalamazoo Loy Norrix put to rest any hope of Niles grabbing another chaampionship win in 2006, as the Lady Knights ended the Viking's season with a 58-36 win.
Niles, which has competed in the Class B district tournament in previous years, found out just what bumping up one class will do to a team.
This was the first time in at least 14 to 15 years the Vikings had fallen in the first game of the district tournament.
Niles ended 13-8 overall.
Babe Ruth baseball no more
7. The Babe Ruth baseball league has been a part of Niles for the past 30 years.
The league, which is played at Thomas Memorial Stadium, has built some of the best baseball players in the area and has hosted some of the most talented teams in the state of Michigan.
The 19 signs on the back of the enteranceway bleachers says it all. They are hung to acknowledge the past teams and players who have won the state title.
However, Babe Ruth baseball is now a thing of the past.
This year, the league made a change and was chartered through Little League International.
The league will be open to athletes 13-18 years old. With Little League, teams will now be able to face a lot more teams in the All-Star tournaments.
One of the biggest differences in the tourney trail will be the fact that Little League has a district, state and regional tournament with more participation from surrounding leagues.
This change turned out to be successful, as a few of the All-Star teams had the opportunity to travel to the state tournaments this year.
Great year for youth baseball
6. There's no doubt this area has some very talented youth baseball players. This year, a number of All-Star teams competed in some very big tournaments, which meant a lot of teams had the opportunity to travel far distances and play teams they normally wouldn't.
The Howard Township 10 year-old All-Star baseball team competed in its first ever Cal Ripken Regional tournament in 2006, which was held in Lexington, Ky.
The team qualified for regionals when they won the Cal Ripken State Championship at Fireman's Youth Park in July.
This was the first year for Howard Township baseball to participate as a member of the Cal Ripken Association and all would agree it was a positive change for the league and the players.
The Niles Senior Division (15-16 year-old) Little League All-Stars headed to the Upper Peninsula to compete in the State tournament, while the Junior All-Stars eyed a state title in Grandville.
The Junior Little League team went undefeated in District 15 tournament play to make it to the State Tournament.
What a year for area grapplers
5. The long wait was finally over in 2006.
After 15 years, the Buchanan varsity wrestling team raised a district championship trophy over its heads t in front of a boisterous home crowd.
The Bucks left no doubts as they destroyed Berrien Springs in the semifinals, 66-3, and thumped Dowagiac in the championship match, 56-11. The last time Buchanan won a district was 1991.
The Bucks also won the regional championship for the first time since 1972, blowing by No. 5 ranked South Haven, 43-27.
The Brandywine wrestling team also had a great season, ending with a record of 29-7.
The Bobcats fell to Constantine 38-36 in the regional semifinals.
The Bobcats were 5-1 in the conference and finished in second place.
The highlight of the Niles varsity wrestling team's season had to be its huge victory overBig 16 Conference West Division rival Lakeshore.
It had been more than 30 years since the Vikings had defeated Lakeshore on the mat.
The win gave the Vikings the inside track on winning its first West Division championship, which they accomplished by defeating Dowagiac in the final conference match of the season.
Thank you for your generosity
4. After years of playing baseball games at the city's Thomas Stadium, the Niles baseball team turned an old practice field into a 'field of dreams' thanks to the generous donations of a few individuals.
A dedication ceremony was held in the gymnasium at the high school, where players, coaches, school officials and guests took the time to recognize the people who made this project possible. Among them were Vice President of Park Operations for the Detroit Tigers Mike Healy and Muhammad and Lonnie Ali and a representative from Box Entertainment.
Bucks surprise everyone
3. At the beginning of the 2006 football season, the Buchanan Bucks looked to be in huge trouble.
Letting game slip away in the final minutes of a game seemed to be a routine for the fairly young Buck squad. However, a lot of people were scratching the heads during playoff time, when Buchanan shocked a lot of people by qualifying for the MHSAA football playoffs.
Though the Bucks fell to Allendale in the first game, it was a season to remember for the players, fans and coaches as a huge lesson was learned – never stop trying.
The playoff appearance marked only the second time in school history Buchanan made a post season appearance. In 2004, the Bucks advanced to the district finals, where they fell to Constantine.
The Bucks ended the season with a 28-3 record.
Finally numbers on the banner!
2. The Niles varsity soccer team had a season to remember in 2006 as the Vikings claimed the school's first ever District title, taking a 1-0 win over Lakeshore in the Division 2 District Tournament.
Although Niles fell to Holland Christian in the first round of the Division 2 regional tournament, there was nothing to be ashamed of as the Vikes achieved on of the biggest goals this season.
The highlight game of the year was when Niles face St. Joseph in the first round of the district tournament. Heading into the game ranked No. 9 in the state, the Bears had planned on doing what they had done for so many years – squash the Vikings.
However, when the final seconds expired, it was Niles who handed the Bears a 3-2 loss, sending St. Joseph packing.
Another highlight on the season was when Niles captured its fifth straight VanDenburg Tournament win.
Niles said farewell to 11 seniors and ended with a 13-8-2 record. One thing is for sure, The Vikes set the tone for the future of Niles soccer.
The community loses a great friend
1. The community lost a great friend in 2006 as Matthew "Matty" Kurtis, a huge influence and friend to many area athletes, passed away after a short battle with Lymphoma V cancer.
Matty was a huge part of Brandywine High School athletics for over 20 years. A 1978 Bobcat graduate, he not only knew the school like the back of his hand, but the people of the community as well.
Matty is most remembered for the unselfish volunteer work he has put in for so long with the school. Whether he was setting up equipment for football or basketball games, taking admissions at the door or sitting in the dugout sneaking candy to softball players, Matty made a huge impact to everyone he has ever met.
Matt was the longtime manager for Brandywine softball. However, Kurtis' love and support of the game was felt not only by Bobcat athletes, but Niles athletes as well. He was a frequent visitor and helped with a lot of the N.B.G.S.A. summer league softball games, where most of the high school players began their softball careers.
This year marked the first year for the Matt Kurtis Memorial softball game, where Niles and Brandywine met on the field to battle for a traveling trophy. This year's winner was Niles, however the two schools will continue with the Memorial in year's to come and we can be sure to see a lot of trophy bouncing.
The first Matt Kurtis Memorial would have been a game that Matty would have loved.