By Russell Moore
The Cullman Times
Four state championships, two state runner-up finishes and multiple academic achievements were among the impressive highlights for Wallace State athletics in 2012.
Toss in former athletes making splashes on the national scene and a renovated Tom Drake Coliseum floor and the previous 12 months rival the finest years in the college’s athletic history.
“I think things are definitely at an all-time high. We have coaches that like to compete and want to be successful not only on the field or court, but also want to recruit and produce athletes who want to graduate and do the right thing,” said baseball coach Randy Putman, a NJCAA Hall of Fame member who has won 861 games during 23 seasons at Wallace State. “I’m as excited about things as I was 24 years ago. I truly believe that our coaches spend more time trying to be successful than most junior college coaching staffs do, and we want to see each other succeed.”
Wallace State softball reached the highest pinnacle for any squad in 2012, finishing third at the NJCAA national championship after Jayne Clem’s team won its fifth state title in six seasons.
Clem has won more than 650 games since inheriting the softball program in 1999, including guiding Wallace State to a national championship crown in 2008—the college’s sixth overall, joining the titles previously accrued by the tennis and track and field teams. Wallace State softball was also the 2009 and 2010 national runner-up.
Clem takes as much pride in her players’ academic achievements. The team recently had 12 players recognized as All-America Scholar athletes by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA), each woman finishing with a 3.50 grade point average or higher during the 2011-12 academic year.
“Each year, our team goals are to be the top team academically in the nation and to be one of two teams left playing for a national championship. We embrace those expectations each year,” Clem said.
Paul Bailey, Wallace State’s Athletic Director since February 2011, credits his coaches for implementing strong expectations on the field and in the classroom, preparing their athletes for future endeavors.
“We’ve been extremely successful on and off the field. For every Craig Kimbrel out there, we also have athletes who become successful nurses, teachers and engineers,” said Bailey. “It’s a thrill to know we’re competing for championships in each sport. I remember when I was a student at Jeff State many years ago and we couldn’t wait to play Wallace State because it was an instant win. Now, it’s totally different. People still want to beat us, but it’s because they want to beat the best.
“I credit (former college President) Dr. James C. Bailey for starting the strong tradition we have here and Dr. Vicki Hawsey for making sure it continues and not folding the tent when it could have been easy to do so. She’s a competitor like the rest of the coaches are.”
Wallace State’s men’s basketball team, coached by John Meeks, was the first team to earn an Alabama Community College Conference/Region 22 championship in 2012, winning four games in four days at the conference tournament. The Lions, who entered the tournament as the final seed, outlasted a pair of top seeds and strung together four solid victories to claim the program’s second state title in three years.
The women’s basketball team finished state runner-up with a 22-9 record, and coach Ron Burdette was named the ACCC Coach of the Year in his first season.
Wallace State’s softball team compiled a 60-12 record during its march to a third-place national finish. The program collected its seventh state championship, while Clem was the conference’s top coach for the 10th time.
Wallace State baseball, winners of seven state championships and six national tournament berths, returned to the upper echelon of the conference, finishing 41-17 and as state runner-up. Putman’s team improved its win total by 19 games from the previous year, winning a share of the ACCC Northern Division.
The golf team continued its ritual of advancing to the NJCAA national tournament, making its 17th appearance in 25 years under Hall of Fame coach Dan York.
The college’s fall sports, volleyball and soccer, capped off the year by each winning another state championship.
Wallace State volleyball, coached by Randy Daniel, won the program’s fifth consecutive regular-season ACCC championship and the fourth straight tournament title, making a state-best 13th appearance at the NJCAA national tournament and recording a 33-8 record.
The soccer team finished 13-1-3, collecting its seventh ACCC crown in a row and missing out on the national tournament by only one match. The Lions, coached by Barry Spitzer, posted eight shutouts in 17 matches and allowed only eight goals all season.
Wallace State’s cheerleading squad also earned a third-place finish at the National Cheerleaders Association (NCA) competition in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Five Wallace State athletes earned NJCAA All-American recognition in 2012: Heather Parker and Lauren Payne, 2nd team, softball; Jeremy McKay, 3rd-team, men’s basketball; TaCouya Allen, honorable mention, women’s basketball and Erica Baker, honorable mention, volleyball. Freshman baseball pitcher Bret Marks was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 22nd round, but chose to return to the Lions in 2013.
Four Wallace State teams achieved NJCAA All-Academic Team statuses in June. Volleyball earned the fourth-best mark in the nation with a 3.56 cumulative GPA, while the softball, golf and women’s basketball teams each led the state in GPA’s in their respective sports. The softball team’s GPA was third nationally in the NFCA’s rankings.Wallace State also had 10 athletes earn NJCAA Academic Student-Athlete Awards, including Callie Miller garnering a NJCAA Pinnacle Award for Academic Excellence for a 4.0 GPA.
Wallace State’s facilities received an upgrade in March when the Tom Drake Coliseum floor underwent a $14,000 renovation, giving the court a more contemporary appeal. One of the major additions was adding “Wallace State” to adorn the midcourt area, painted in navy blue with an orange outline.
Former Wallace State athletes continued to succeed at the professional level. Jake Elmore, a member of the 2006 and 2007 WSCC baseball teams, made his major league debut in August with the Arizona Diamondbacks, joining Derek Holland, Craig Kimbrel and Graham Godfrey as former Lions in the big leagues.
Kip Moore, a former Wallace State basketball player and golfer from 1998-2000, became one of Nashville’s most popular country music newcomers this year. His debut single “Somethin’ ‘Bout a Truck” was a No. 1 Billboard hit and his debut album “Up All Night” continues to be a strong seller.