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Sports Today for March 26, 2009

SoVaNow.com / March 25, 2009
From the storied years of the semi-pro Wrappers all the way to Jeremy Jeffress, baseball has always been a big deal in this community.

It was appropriate, then, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the most successful high school varsity baseball team in Comet history last Friday before the start of the HCHS-Loyalsock game.

Most of the team returned to Comet field Friday night, including two distinguished graduates of the 1984 Group AAA state title team who have given much back to the game, Halifax County head coach Kelvin Davis and Loyalsock head coach Casey Waller.

The 1984 team remains the lone Comet baseball squad to collect a state title, although the Comets might have accomplished the feat again in Jeffress’ senior season if somehow the program could have found another very good pitcher to pair with the Milwaukee Brewers’ prospect. Jeffress was that intimidating, and would have given Halifax a tremendous advantage in any state final.

HCHS has only two state titles to its credit - the 1991 ‘Wrecking Crew’ in football is the other state winner - and it’s harder than ever now for programs like the Comets to compete with Northern Virginia, the Virginia Beach area, and the Richmond-area programs.

The 1984 state title run - HCHS defeated J.R. Tucker in its own backyard at Highland Springs Field - will also be special as the first-ever Group AAA title since Halifax County High School was formed after consolidation of the old county high schools.

Leading the charge was Frosty Owens, who was back Friday night, as he often is, to watch the latest Comet edition on the field.

“I have been asked on many occasion, how this team won the state?” said Owens. “I’ve never been argumentative about whether or not they were the most talented team that year, even in our district, let alone in the state of Virginia.

“And whether or not it was the most talented team that I ever coached is hard to say, but I will honestly say it was the most hard working, the most dedicated, the most committed to coming out day after day and improving themselves and learning the game of baseball.

“And they certainly were the most cohesive team, getting along with each other and being supportive of each other, on a daily basis at practice, and pushing each other and supporting each other in ballgames,” said Owens.

Owens recalled that this state title team got some breaks. The Comets did not have to play a pitching-rich Amherst team in the regionals, after the Lancers were sent packing by Potomac, sparked by an outstanding relief effort from Danny Raley. The Comets (18-4 that season) and Lancers split in the district regular season, and then Amherst defeated HCHS in the district tournament.

J.R. Tucker also had an impressive collection of talent, with five players from that team later drafted out of high school to play professional baseball.

But the Comets were the no. 1 team in Group AAA that season.

The players, slightly older now, lined up, getting special commemorative memorabilia items from Distinct Impressions Friday. The group that came back included Grayson Throckmorton, Curtis Duffer, Len Wentz, Tom Harris, Bobby Carmichael, Eddie Poole, David Ray, Keith Lee, Jackie Crockett, Matt Ramsey, Mike Guill, Kenneth ‘The Chick’ Chambers, Chris Cole, Greg Medley, Casey Waller, and Kelvin Davis.

Assistant coach Nathan Wiles was also introduced, and several missing players were recognized.

That group also included Jamie Albright, ‘Crook’ Robertson, Mike Overton and Daniel Peters, who did not attend the reunion. Assistant Donnie Reebals was also recognized, in his absence.

“Folks, thank you for all the memories that you gave us, as a coaching staff, as a community, and as a high school,” said Owens, who was pleased to see the families of the players there.

And he addressed the 1984 Comets: “Thank you for all your hard work, your dedication, the time and effort you put into it, to learn the game of baseball and certainly the hard work that you did.”

Carlyle Wimbish Jr. collected a check for the local sports Hall of Fame and the building fund for the planned sports museum from the 1984 team. This team will be remembered in the permanent sports Hall of Fame home at Edmunds Park.

Owens, of course, had a significant role in the state title run, but he also took time to remember former Comet athletics director Ron Ramsey and former assistant principal Larry Clark.

The Comets had a tremendous run under Owens, who has a son, Michael, playing his final prep season here.

Owens took the reins of the program in 1980, and had one of the most successful head coaching stints in the history of the school. Only golf, under Wayne Lloyd, had a similar run of success, although the Comets have never claimed a state title in that sport.

HCHS won five district championships and four regional titles under Owens, who produced a state runnerup team in 1981 and the Group AAA title in 1984.

Owens was presented a special plaque highlighting his success here.

“Your strong, humble leadership was the backbone of each of your teams. You were always calm, always poised, and always prepared. You pushed each player to reach his potential. You are a friend as well as a coach,” the plaque read in part.

Very appropriate.

Both Frosty and his dad, the late Bob Owens, a larger than life character and sports figure in his own right, are Hall of Fame members, and rightly so. The Owens family, which included Bobby Owens’ sparkling senior season in varsity football, have contributed much to local sports lore.

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Some of the team members shared their own memories for our readers.

Throckmorton said, “it means the world. It’s good to see a lot of people that I hadn’t seen in a long time. It’s very nice to be recognized by your hometown and accomplishments that you had as a young fellow.”

He treasured the camaraderie of this championship team.

“It was a good thing to experience and you hold it in your heart forever,” recalled Throckmorton, who has moved to a successful coaching career at Nottoway.

Greg Medley, who went on to standout football career at James Madison University, recalled, “It means everything to me.”

“To come back here and see the guys who played with years ago, and the fellowship we had, and things we did together, and just listen to Coach Owens talk about how hard we worked, sometimes you forget about those things.

“It just reminded me how much we did here,” recalled Medley.

Curtis Duffer remembered, “It was a very tight knit group. Everybody was pretty dedicated to doing what we needed to do to get better each day.

“There were some unique characters on the team that kept everybody loose. I think that was one of our strong points. Each time we took the field, we were never too tight. Everybody was pretty loose and took the games as it came.”

Duffer also had some memories of the championship game, when the Comets downed J.R. Tucker.

“That game, I can remember just like it was yesterday. We were out on the field two hours early. We went through all of our warmups and they pulled up on the bus with championship banners already hung besides the bus windows.

“We kind of took that as a challenge,” Duffer recalled.

Chris Cole, who later had an outstanding career at Elon University and then a respectable minor league professional baseball run before returning to his hometown, recalled the 1984 Comets as “a close knit bunch. If you saw one, you saw us all, pretty much together.”

Cole also remembered the 1984 championship game.

“We were definitely not expected to win it. We had just finished taking batting practice and J.R. Tucker came up on the vans, and we could hear them before we saw them, chanting and chanting and they were a very, very cocky group of guys,” Cole recalled.

Once game started, the results were different, as the Comets prevailed, motivated by the cockiness of the Tucker players.

“When somebody comes out there and taunts in front of your face, you want to go for the jugular,” said Cole.

After the remembrance for the 1984 team, Waller and Davis sent their current squads out for an entertaining prep baseball showdown.

Waller noted afterwards of the celebration, “It’s a great experience. It’s hard to keep in touch with everybody, but you still remember those good times and experiences. Coach Owens instilled in us, not only baseball (lessons), but how to be good individuals off the field. I try to do the same with our team up in Loyalsock.

“It was great coming back here,” said Waller.

Davis, who thanked Cole for his part in organizing the event, said the reunion “was great. It’s always great to see the guys.

“Seeing these guys come back, it was an atmosphere tonight I will never forget,” said Davis.



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