THE UNIVERSIT Y OF WEST ALABAMA ATHLETICS
Behind the Scenes Editor-In-Chief
Weldon Fultz Photo Editing
Paige Ip Feature Editing
John McClung Page Design
Allie Tittle Promotion
Callie Murphy Story Writing
From the Editor
try to keep this brief, don’t worry. I’d just like to take a moment to express my gratitude for being able to work on ZONE, including leading a great team of seven students from the Integrated Marketing Communications program here at the University of West Alabama. Our charge was challenging; we strove to portray our athletes in a genuine way, offering insight into what it really means to be a student-athlete, juggling long study hours with countless practice hours, often while dealing with personal obstacles. This magazine serves as a testmant to our enduring school spirit. I’d like to thank my team that met every task that was put in front of them. I couldn’t have selected a better group to launch this inaugural issue. I’d also like to thank our advisor, Greg Jones, as well as our IMC director, Dr. Amy Jones. Without their help, guidance, and even some necessary pushes when needed, we wouldn’t have been able to complete such a stressful, yet fulfilling, project. We have gained valuable and humbling publishing experience that will stick with us forever. The concept of ZONE is to shed light on UWA athletes, both past and current, in a way that shows the fans exactly who they’re rooting for. Attending a school with renowned athletic programs rich with history and tradition, we wanted to capture every aspect our our athletes, giving them the recognition they deserve. We also wanted to bridge the gap between alumni and current students by highlighting former Tiger athletes who have already taken their places in our hearts, while showing current students who they sit with in class and cheer for at every event. We hope that you find every page of ZONE more interesting than the last, whether you’re a UWA alumni, student, staff, faculty, or part of our extended family.
Cameron Eggers Photography
Weldon Fultz Advisor
Greg Jones IMC Director
Dr. Amy Jones Photographer
ZONE is published annually by students in the University of West Alabama Integrated Marketing Communications program. Stories and photographs that appear in ZONE are produced by these students. Views expressed in the magazine do not necessarily express the views of the University of West Alabama. The University of West Alabama is an Equal Opportunity Institution and welcomes application for employment regardless of race, color, age, sex, disability or ethnic origin.
be that one fan who awkwardly says “watermelon” while everyone else sings along to the fight song. Take a minute to learn the lyrics, and shout them proudly at the next Tiger event.
We will fight, fight, fight for the Red and White For the glory of UWA We will lend our might for the Red and White For a cause we know is true We will fight for victory We will fight on endlessly We will ever stand, every heart, every hand For the glory of UWA
Thousands of Miles from Hom Story by Magdalena Galvan Photo by Joe Chance
game day. The bleachers are filled with fans. The faint chatter can be heard in the distance. She sees the smirk on her opponent’s face.
Breathe in and breathe out, she thinks to herself. She looks down at the way her hand grips the tennis racket. She looks up waiting for the right moment to strike the ball as it heads her way. Racket gripped tightly in hand, with one single hit, she wins the match. Sandra Paola Florez Parra is a senior from Bogota, Colombia, majoring in biology with a minor in chemistry. Florez has played tennis for the University of West Alabama for about two years now, since spring 2013. “I was always interested in studying in a different country because my field of study in Colombia is not the best,” said Florez. “So I started to look up universities in the U.S., even before I found out that I could get a scholarship to play tennis. When I found out that I had received a scholarship to play tennis and to be able to get a good education, I felt blessed to get this opportunity of a lifetime. I was very lucky to be able to come and play for such a great university.” Florez started playing tennis at the age of fifteen. Her family was quite involved with the sport. Growing up, Florez struggled with her weight. Due to the mental anguish and stress this caused, she decided to do something about it and used tennis as a way to become physically active. “I was extremely overweight as a kid. I was not happy about myself when I started to get older,” said Florez. “So when I turned fifteen, I decided that I needed to change my life, and the best way to do it was to start practicing a sport. I wanted to find a way to lose weight but also have fun while doing it. My best option was tennis because my siblings already played tennis, plus there was a country club called Val Maria with a few tennis courts that was just a few minutes down from my house.” Coming to the United States has always been a big dream of Florez’s. She said, “I felt blessed to get this opportunity of a lifetime. I am very lucky to be able to come and play for such a great university.” “I was blown away by the scenery shown in the movie ‘Forrest Gump,’” said Florez. “Alabama had the country style that I grew up with and love. So I applied to mainly universities in Ala-
bama. UWA was the one that offered me the best scholarship. Plus also seeing that there were other Colombian players on the team helped me make my decision.” Life in the United States for Florez has been all about getting used to living in a different country. Being hundreds and hundreds of miles away from home has had its ups and downs. From trying to get used to not being able to have a home cooked meal every day to her busy schedule, Florez manages to stay positive and count her many blessings. “I have met amazing people and also some not so amazing people. Since I have been in the states, I have realized just how much I have matured as a person,” said Florez. “I have had so much support from my friends and family. This experience has helped me to become a more secure woman who knows what she wants to do with her life. Being so far away from home has not gotten any easier. I don’t believe it will ever get easy. But it has made me realize one thing about just how lucky and blessed I am to be here.” On a day Florez has a match, she has to mentally and physically prepare herself in order to get all the jitters out before she steps onto the court. She believes it is not all about the score as long as she performs the very best she can. “Before a game, I always try to keep a positive attitude and prepare myself to step onto the court as a winner. It is hard to stay calm on the court, especially when I play universities that are even with UWA, so I always make sure that I visualize myself playing the best match of my life, just fighting every ball until the end to match.” After graduation, Florez would like to stay in the United States to attend graduate school, and she’s already started looking. A few in particular have caught her eye. Her short list includes Michigan State, Iowa State, or Purdue. “I would really like to stay in the United States in order to further my education. With my degree, I wouldn’t have as many job opportunities in Colombia as I would here. Plus, the pay and experience would be better here as well. I would like to work at a laboratory, while working on plant genetics.”
is the perfect example of an under-rated sport. Countless hours of tedious practice and hardwork on the course go unnoticed by many sport fans.
According to UWA Athletics, Savannah Payne recently recorded her second All-Tournament honors in two events after placing second overall in the Lee Ann Noble Memorial tournament at the Achasta Golf Club in October of this year. “Savannah has proven that she is a great athlete in her region and country, placing second in a playoff,” said former head golf coach, Adam Buie. Payne started her journey as a golfer at the age 13, in the seventh grade, at Leeds High School in Leeds, Ala. Her father, Greg Payne, has most inspired the golfer’s career. “He has played the game for many years and is still in an incredible player,” Payne said. “My dad encourages me to keep striving to be my best on and off the course.” “I had to play a lot against the guys in matches and in tournaments,” Payne said. “It made me a little nervous being one of the only girls out there, but in the end, it made me a better player having to play against people that hit it farther and were better players in general.” One of Payne’s favorite pro golfers, Lexi Thompson, recently told TMZ that she did not want to play with guys anymore because “the LPGA was hard enough to compete in.” “Lydia Ko and Lexi Thompson both started on the LPGA Tour at a very young age, and they are two of the top golf-
ers in the world,” Payne said. “They are both extremely hard-working and humble about their success, and that’s something that I look up to.” “Hitting a ball during competition can be very nerve-racking and difficult. There are so many things that you have to think about and concentrate on before, during, and even after you have hit. Most of the time, I get butterflies on the first tee, but it’s mainly out of excitement,” Payne said. That excitement at tee off led her to want to continue her golfing career in college. Payne says she knew wherever she played it needed to be in Alabama. “UWA sort of stuck out to me because it was similar to where I grew up and where I went to high school—small town and school. I reached out to the coach here about playing, and once I found out more about the school, it immediately clicked with me,” Payne said. “I really liked the student/ teacher ratio because you are able to establish one-on-one relationships with the teachers and advisors, and everyone knows you by name.” UWA’s Golf Team completed its first year in the 2013 to 2014 season. “That can be a little scary at first not knowing what you are getting yourself into, but I knew that being on an inaugural team would be really cool knowing that I can set the bar
high and will always be a part of UWA history,” Payne said. It did not take long for Payne to start setting school records. In her freshman season, Payne led the Tiger women’s golf team in three tournaments. She averaged 83 through 21 rounds and recorded UWA golf’s first ever hole-in-one in the practice round leading up to The Buccaneer. Payne’s biggest accomplish-
“I never really knew where I stood during the final round, and I played some of my best golf of the year that day. Finishing high against the best players in our conference was really good,” Payne said. Although Payne has had many successes since arriving at UWA, she says it take a lot of balance to maintain being a “student athlete.” Payne describes being a col-
Coming in second motivated me to work even harder. ment was getting offered a scholarship to a university to play golf. As a college golfer, she took most pride in her first win as an individual. The five-foot junior has grown a lot in her career since her freshman year on the golf course. “In my first year as a college golfer, I always got very nervous, but now I feel pretty confident during my swing, and I am calm on the golf course,” Payne said. “Being calm is one of the best things you can do because golf requires patience. Some rounds can take up to 6 hours and even more depending on the amount of holes you have to play. You are on the course for a long time and have to stay collected and focused.” Although she has earned AllGulf South Conference honors and the WGCA All-American Scholar award this season, Payne will not forget her finish in the Conference tournament this year.
lege athlete as one of the hardest but best things she has ever done. Student athletes struggle with an overwhelmingly busy schedule throughout every day of their collegiate career. Her typical day during season play starts with workouts at 6:30 am, breakfast, class for a few hours, lunch, sometimes another class, straight to practice (which is at least 30-minutes away from campus) until dark, dinner on campus, and then usually studying for the rest of the night. “Time management is the hardest part about it all,” Payne said. However, just like on the golf course when having to prepare to hit the ball, golfers like Payne have to remain focused whether playing in college or professionally. “There’s no perfect way to swing a golf club. There are basic elements, but everyone’s swing is unique, and that’s what makes golf special.”
Story by Tierra Robinson Photos by Joe Chance
Story by Allie Tittle Photos by Joe Chance
Bethany Harris and Libby Hankins cheering their last football season 8
The whole squad
The UWA Cheerleaders cheering on the Tigers
bacame all too familiar to the 20152016 cheerleading squad during their spring competition season. The passing of teammate Bethany Harris and progressive illness of captain Libby Hankins left the team in pieces.
Bethany Harris, freshman cheerleader at UWA, was in a fatal car accident on December 28, 2015. Police stated that she was not wearing a seatbelt and was ejected from the vehicle. “Bethany not being with us anymore was kind of surreal at first. It didn’t seem real, so coming back to that first practice after was totally a blow for everyone. We just decided that from that point on everything was going to be dedicated to her for the rest of the season, all of our performances, practices, games, everything like that,” said Libba McClendon, UWA’s head cheerleading coach. The passing of Harris came as a complete shock to the squad. They were devastated about the loss of their “baby.” “Bethany came in every day with the biggest smile on her face. She was so excited to be there; she wanted to fight and get better, and she knew how to be a natural leader, even though she was a freshman. I felt like she honestly was one of the leaders on the team. People relied on her for motivation,” said McClendon. According to McClendon, the squad dedicated their 2016 competition routine to Harris and her memory. She brightened everyone’s day, and that was a memory they never wanted to fade. Their choreographer reworked the entire routine and music. A few weeks after the team received the devastating news of the passing of freshman teammate, captain Libby Hankins broke the news of her departure from the squad. McClendon explained that Hankins has cystic fibrosis, which means she has mucus that builds up in her lungs. This makes it difficult to breathe and function on a day-to-day basis. Her lung function has significantly decreased during her time at UWA. Hankins quit the squad because she was unable to perform like she wanted. She began working to strengthen her body in hopes of being considered a viable candidate for a lung transplant.
“Libby always knew how to motivate her teammates, even if she couldn’t do something or had to sit out that day for whatever reason, she was pushing them to be better. They not only look to her on the mat, they look to her off the mat as well. She was like a mama to most people on the team.” Hankins currently resides near Duke University Hospital, where she successfully received a double lung transplant in April. According to UWA cheer teammate Elizabeth Waddell, the two tragedies significantly bonded the team together. They became even closer as a family and performed stronger than ever in Harris’ and Hankin’s honor. “I felt like people were naturally drawn to Bethany’s and Libby’s personalities. I felt really lucky to have both of them as leaders on the team. They were absolutely amazing,” said McClendon. The team doubled their amount of practices to prepare for competition in honor of their most special Tigers. Teammate BreAnna Johnson created the motto “Perform like Bethany, Fight like Libby” to encourage the team.
They worked tirelessly to ensure the perfect routine honoring two of their most special teammates. 9
Tailgating: An Honored Trad 10
dition Story by Cameron Eggers Photos by Paige Ip
To Live Like You Were Dying: Brock Ward fights for his life: the discovery, the aftermath, and the battle won
Story by Brianna Champion Photos by Joe Chance
room is cold. The smell of isopropyl alcohol fills the air. The doctor walks in, and everyone sits straight up to hear what he has to say. Then the doctor says the three words no one ever wants to hear. “You have cancer.” He couldn’t believe it. He was only 23 years old. He had just graduated college and helped his college baseball team win the Gulf South Conference Championship. He couldn’t hold back the tears filling his eyes. “I guess you could say it felt like my world had been turned upside down,” said Brock Ward, a recent graduate of the University of West Alabama with a Sports Management degree. Only four days after his May 9 graduation and in the middle of the Division II South Regional Tournament, Ward’s life changed forever. His plans to become a college-level pitching coach were set aside to undergo surgeries and chemotherapy treatments. Ward said he first started noticing his symptoms, which included sharp pains in his left side and back, along with night sweats, in March 2015. “Since I was a college baseball pitcher, my athletic
trainers treated me for a pulled muscle, which helped ease the pain, but it did not take the pain away completely,” Ward said. Joel Murphy, a junior physical education major from Madisonville, La., and Ward’s former teammate and roommate, said he never noticed anything unusual about his roommate. Murphy recalled Ward being sick a few times, but there was never anything
wall, so the doctor sent Ward to get a CAT scan the same day. The diagnosis came back as cancer, and the family was referred to an oncologist in Jackson, Miss., where the doctor ordered a biopsy of the mass. Ward received a call the day after the initial biopsy requesting a second biopsy. “We were scared about these tests, but soon learned they were nothing compared to the future tests and procedures
my world had been turned upside down
significant about those occasions. Ward was still playing baseball, so nothing seemed odd.” “He just said [the pain] felt like he had maybe a collapsed lung or something,” Murphy said. It was the night sweats, a cough and the persuasion from his mother that made Ward decide to get himself checked out by his family doctor who ordered an X-ray of Ward’s chest. The X-rays showed a mass in his chest
Brock would have to endure,” said Ward’s mother, Tabby Dempsey. Once results came from the second biopsy, they were given the official diagnosis: a childhood cancer known as Ewing sarcoma. “As soon as they found it, you could tell he was losing weight already,” Murphy said. “You could just tell. Which I’m not sure why that was. Maybe I was just in a large amount of shock.”
Ewing sarcoma is a rare type of childhood bone cancer. According to the St. Jude website, there are only about 200 cases of Ewing sarcoma each year in the United States. The family was originally referred to the Children’s Hospital in Jackson, Miss., but they received a phone call informing them that their original oncologist had referred them to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. The family packed up and checked in to St. Jude on May 21, where Ward was accepted into a research protocol for Ewing’s sarcoma. The protocol Ward had been accepted into allowed him to not only be treated at St. Jude, but it also meant that Ward would have experimental drugs used on him for a portion of his chemotherapy treatments. He agreed and started treatment. Ward, Dempsey, and the UWA baseball team have all received support following Ward’s diagnosis in May. A friend of Ward’s hosted a benefit baseball tournament, and all proceeds went to Ward’s family. The family has received phone calls, mail, texts, Facebook messages, money, and so much more to support them during this time. As for the baseball team, there have been multiple friends, families, and others offering up prayers for
Brock Ward pitches his last game during the Spring 2015.
the team as well as the men supporting each other. “Going through a life changing circumstance such as cancer reminds you that there are still good and caring people in this world,” Ward said. “I received support from my family, friends, church, community and hometown but also from people that have never met me.” Ward and his mother give all credit to God for their strength and motivation. “I believe God has a plan for Brock’s life, and he has carried us this far,” Dempsey said. “Giving up is not an option. Brock has
been stronger than I ever thought possible through this journey, and I want to see his dreams become a reality for him.” Ward’s chemotherapy treatments will take about a year to complete if his body responds to it the way the doctors are expecting him to. At this time, doctors have not given Ward or his family a prognosis. Ward continues to take it one day at a time. “Nothing about this journey has been easy,” Dempsey said. “We have had many obstacles, and our faith continues to grow daily as we see God at work.” Now it is a little under one year later, and
the cancer treatments still have not brought Ward down. His spirit is still high, and his eyes are still gleaming with hope. On Feb. 19, Ward was told the most fantastic news his family could expect: He was cancer free. Ward kept his treatments for a few weeks after his diagnosis but later completely eased off of them, and he is able to live a fairly normal lifestyle. Due to medical expenses, the UWA baseball team has offered “Tosses for Brock” in order to raise money to help with the extensive bills.
t raf f i c
extra mile: The emotional basketball journey of Matt Hancock Story by Callie Murphy Photos by Joe Chance 15
L to R: Simeon Dennis, senior; Jahmal Lane, junior; Marcel Morrer, junior; Jake Jobling, freshman; Matt Hanvovk, Senior. Hancock and fellow UWA basketball teammates celebrate a victorious play during Senior night againist the U of West Georgia on Feb. 20.
are 9,448 miles between Livingston and Melbourne, Australia. That’s 9,448 miles between UWA’s basketball senior Matt Hancock and his hometown, his friends, and his family. However, there is one thing that Hancock did not have to leave back home: his passion for basketball. “Basketball has always been an outlet for me,” Hancock said. “It was something that I looked forward to all the time, especially throughout high school.” Hancock has played basketball since the day he could walk, but it didn’t really become his “life” until he was a teen. “When I was about 13 years old, I started to get on some pretty good teams, and I started to progress in my skill,” said Hancock. “That was really the moment when my motivation grew, but it only grew into something more when I got to high school.” Once Hancock was in high school, he realized that there was more. “I knew there was one thing that I really wanted to do with basketball, which was to make the Australian National team,” Hancock said, “but I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.” It surely wasn’t an easy time for Hancock as he started to spend countless hours in the gym working on his skills, his mindset, and overall knowledge of the game. “Matt always spent any time he had in the gym,” said his father, Craig Hancock. “Once he had his mind set to something like the National team, there was no going back.” When the time came to tryout for the National team, M. Hancock felt he was ready. “I thought that this was my time to shine. I worked hard to get better
and better each day, so when tryouts came for the state level, a build up team to the national team, I would be ready.” But the coaches for the state team seemed to look the other way from M. Hancock. He progressed to the final round of the tryout and was extremely proud of himself, but when the final team was chosen, he did not make the cut. “Of course I was sad when I heard the results of my tryout. It really hit me hard,” said M. Hancock. “I was almost to the point like why, why would I even keep playing.” M. Hancock spent the next few days talking to his high school coaches and family about what the next step in his basketball career should be since he wasn’t ready to give it up. “My high school coaches started talking to me about playing college ball in America,” said Hancock. “I remember telling them that I used to watch it on TV all the time, and that I would love to play at a division one school. ‘Let’s do it,’” he said. Yet again, his dreams seemed to be at a halt. Multiple coaches and recruiting directors told him he was shooting too high trying to play division one in America. He said coaches would tell him, “You aren’t good enough,” “you are never going to make it overseas in D-1,” “you can’t do this.” Luckily for M. Hancock, this was only fueling his motivation to prove them all wrong. “The day I got my scholarship to play at Lamar University, which is a Division One school, had to have been one of the best days of my life,” said Hancock happily. “It was finally the moment that I could prove myself right. No matter what anyone said, I could do this.” M. Hancock spent the next three years of his collegiate career playing basketball for Lamar University, living out his dream and playing the sport he loves until another bump in the road occurred for him.
L to R: Matt’s mother, Susan Hancock; coach; ;Matt Hancock, father; Craig Hancock, and his grandparents stand in recognition on Feb. 25 for senior night againist West Georgia.
“Well, it was the spring of my junior year at Lamar, and I decided it his fellow Tigers in Pruitt Hall. Those men became his family away was time to make a change. I wanted another challenge and a fresh from home. start,” said M. Hancock. “That is when I first heard from UWA.” “Coach walked into the locker room and said ‘seniors are done and UWA’s basketball program knew it was going to be a tough grab to the rest of you need to be focused on next year,’ and I think that was get him to come from Australia to the little town of Livingston, but the moment I realized I was done,” said M. Hancock saddened. “I they believed it was worth a shot. was never going to play colliegate basketball again. I realized I would “I decided to transfer to UWA because the small town vibe caught never get to suit up again—it was a different feeling to say the least.” my attention, especially when I am in the gym on a game night,” said Most athletes in college believe that senior night is their final moM. Hancock. “It may not be exactly what I am used to, but the warm ment to play the sport they love. M. Hancock, on the other had, has and cozy feeling of a packed house is just an unreal and amazing ena goal that he believes he will accomplish within the next few years. vironment.” “Ultimately, I would love to end up in the NBA,” Hancock exAfter he relocated to Livingston, he noplained. “Realistically, I hope to end up ticed one thing different about this little playing for the professional team, Real town: the people. Madrid.” M. Hancock’s parents believe “The people,” said M. Hancock. “All the When the final buzzer sounded, that he can and will do anything he sets hospitality and how everyone knows evhis mind too. and the shot was missed, my team- “We don’t believe this is the end of his eryone. It’s just like home to me.” Now it is Feb. 25th. The crowd is cheermates and I realized it was all over. basketball career by any means,” said C. ing M. Hancock as he sprints up and down Hancock. “I know we will get to watch the court against the University of West him play again whether that be in a EuroGeorgia in his final game as a UWA Tiger. pean League or the NBA.” Sweat is dripping down his face as he remained determined to keep M. Hancock is continuing his future by going to college while this season alive with a victory over UWG. seeking professional basketball teams. He will work with scouts and “When the final buzzer sounded, and the shot was missed, my teamagents once the NCAA Division one basketball tournament is over mates and I realized it was all over.”said Hancock. “We walked into and legalities can begin. the locker room and it was a sense of silence. Really just a moment There are 4,541 miles between Livingston and his possible future of being overwhelmed from the seniors. None of us really knew how home in Madrid, Spain. to react.” Only 4,541 miles for M. Hancock to find another place he can call M. Hancock spent time in the locker room with his fellow seniors home. after the game wishing he could have one more moment playing with “I’m ready.”
From the Backyard to the Big Time Story by Callie Murphy Photos by Joe Chance
Trying to make the echoing of the screaming crowd dissolve in the background, he lets go of the game winning pitch that pops against the catcher’s glove for the last strike out at the plate. Tanner Rainey has pitched the game of a lifetime and has made his professional league debut. Folsom, La., is where Rainey fell in love with the game that changed his life. Rainey started playing T-ball when he was three years old and then realized that’s all he ever wanted to do: play the game of baseball. Even at a young age, Rainey was always the first one on the field and the last one off. Dedicated to the sport was an understatement for Rainey. Rainey started his high school career playing baseball at St. Patrick’s School, located in Covington, La. During his senior year, he received a Division One full-ride scholarship from the Southeastern Louisiana University Baseball Team. Two years later, Rainey received a full-ride scholarship to The University of West Alabama as a closing pitcher and a first baseman. During his time at UWA, Rainey lead the Tigers batting average of .386. He also contributed 19 home runs and batted in 65 runners during his senior year. “His leadership was tremendous,” said UWA Baseball teammate
Parker Madden. “He was always an inspiration on and off the field.” Rainey’s hardwork and skill did not just impress the West Alabama community, but the Major League Baseball scouts as well. With a 98 mph fast ball coming across the plate, MLB scouts from all over the nation were visiting Tartt Field just to catch a glimpse of Tanner Rainey. The scouts looked as if they worked in unison, holding the speedometer and writing on a notebook. “He was an All-American and probably one the top five players in the country,” said Clay Cox, graduate assistant for the University of West Alabama baseball team. “You don’t get to coach very many Tanner Rainey’s in your career.” Cox concluded that Rainey was an all around team player. He never came to the ballpark with a bad attitude. He always wanted to be there. He constantly would come to the field by himself just to work on things that would make him a better player. “I was drafted at the end of my senior year of college,” Rainey said. “I was 22-years-old.” Rainey was the 71st draft pick during the spring of 2015 to the Cincinnati Reds organization. He was put in their minor league affiliate team, the Billings Mustangs, in Billings, Montana. Rainey was drafted as a closing pitcher.
“The first day of practice in pro-ball was different just because I went in like most people do, not knowing anyone or no one knowing who I was,” Rainey said. “You just have to go in and make a name for yourself.” Rainey had a successful season with the Mustangs and felt he was ready to move up to the next level. Going up against every pitcher drafted into the
Cincinnati Reds organization in 2015, Rainey was named the third best leading pitcher. He hoped that this title could earn him a gateway to a higher up team in the organization. When he moves up to the National League, as in AAA or AA, like most pitchers he hopes to hit for himself. “I cannot wait to be able to pick up a bat again and swing for the fences,” said Rainey. “Being a
well-rounded player will help me move up in the League quicker than if I do not hit.” Rainey is eager to make the move out of rookie ball to either a high or low A-ball for the 2016 season. He continues to push himself each day to continue building his skill set and knowledge of the overall game. As of April 2016, Rainey will serve as a starting
pitcher for the Dayton Dragons after being selected in the second round of the 2015 draft. He is rated as the #17 overall prospect in the Cinncinati Reds organization by Baseball America. “All I have ever wanted to do was play baseball for a MLB team on TV,” said Rainey. “Getting drafted got me one step closer to making my dream a reality.”
Face of victory
On campus at the University of West Alabama is volleyball player Callie Rochelle Murphy. A 20-year-old senior from Linden, Michigan, Murphy is the current starting setter for the UWA Volleyball team. In her freshman season, Murphy made 24 match appearances, tallied the second most assists with 409 (5.31 per set), eighth most in the Gulf South Conference. In her sophomore year, she played in 112 sets with 30 match appearances, was seventh in the Gulf South Conference with 5.95 assists per set, 10th in the league, averaging 0.32 service aces per set, and led the team with 666 total assists and 36 total service aces. Former head coach Jordan Lay said, “Callie is a gamer. When she hits the court, she becomes the competitor who will accept nothing less than her very best.” At 5’8”, Murphy is a few inches taller than your average female. She is, however, the shortest member of her family with her mother, father, sister and cousin all standing around or over six-feet tall. Because of their height, one can understand how this family would gravitate towards sports like basketball and volleyball. “In the beginning, I started playing volleyball because of my family. My father played basketball, my mother was a dancer, my cousin played volleyball for the University of Illinois, and my sister played volleyball for Concordia University in Ann Arbor,” Murphy said. “Whenever there was a family gathering, a sport of some sort was being played. And that is where I fell in love with volleyball.” Murphy started playing on various volleyball teams when she was only 11 years old. She remembers her time playing on multiple national club teams growing up, and those eventually led her to a scholarship opportunity with UWA. “Getting to sign my letter of intent with UWA was one of the best days of my life,” Murphy said. “It was one of those moments where
you can honestly say I made it.” Murphy is currently heading into her final season as a UWA Tiger, and she seems to have multiple emotions running through her head. “Volleyball has been my life since I was a little girl,” said Murphy. “Thinking that this is my last season of collegiate volleyball is upsetting because I know that there will always be that hole in my heart waiting to be filled by something else. It’s basically a lifestyle.” When asked how she plans to fill her hole in her heart, she had an interesting answer that many do not know. “After volleyball, I plan to finish my degree in Integrated Marketing Communications with a sports track,” Murphy said. “With this major, I would love to eventually be a sideline reporter for Fox Sports Detroit and report on my dream team, the Detroit Tigers.” Baseball has also been a large interest in Murphy’s life as she spent most of her childhood attending Detroit Tigers games with her family or watching them on the television with her grandparents. Murphy, incidently, is currently the President of the UWA Baseball Diamond Dolls. When asked about how sports have affected her lifestyle and skills, Murphy believes she has learned multiple lessons. “It has taught me a lot about time management. I have learned to respect people. Looking up to people is as important in sports as it is in life. I’ve also learned team-building skills, such as working together and multitasking. Really, overall just putting my mind to something, and accomplishing my goal. Without volleyball, or sports in general, I wouldn’t have the mind-set to accomplish the goals I have and plan to do.” Some of Murphy’s other future goals include winning a GSC ring, graduating in May of 2017, and becoming a head volleyball coach at Michigan State University.
Not your Typical College Student Story by Kelly Koontz Photos by Joe Chance
Superheros Among Us Story by Kelly Koontz Photos by Kelly Koontz/Betsy Ames
Ames is a 20-year-old University of West Alabama junior studying Integrated Marketing Communications with a focus in Sports Journalism. She hails from London, Ohio. Like most kids from the Midwest, she grew up enjoying activities like riding horses, cheerleading, playing basketball, and volleyball. However, unlike most other kids, she was born with only one leg. During her mother’s pregnancy, Brooke’s mother and father were expecting twins. Due to complications, the twin fetus did not survive and got wrapped around her leg, causing Brooke to be born with only one leg. Brooke’s family never treated her as “handicapped” or as a child with special needs. Instead, they treated her the same as they did her other siblings, encouraging independence, courage and strength. As you can imagine, she was picked on and bullied for being different from the other kids. When asked about that, she said, “I didn’t really let it get to me. I had really great friends and support. ‘You do you Brooke,’” they would say. I think most of the time people were just jealous that I could do things better than they could.” Brooke got her first prosthetic leg when she was 10 months old, and she was walking by 11 months (Superhero Stuff, no doubt). Inasmuch as children grow at a rapid rate, she would need a prosthetic every six months or so, at a cost of between $60,000 and $70,000 each. Eventually, her family’s insurance would be depleted, but luckily, Ohio Willow Wood offered to use her as a test subject for experimental leg designs. To this day, she gets a new leg at no charge every year and a half to 2 years in exchange for her feedback. Brooke has been playing basketball, volleyball and cheerleading since she was four.
Brooke comes from a sports-oriented family. Her mother played volleyball when she was in high school, and her older sister Abby is a current member of the volleyball team. Brooke is the former team manager for the UWA Volleyball team, and she has hopes and expectations of eventually making the team. In the mean time, her positive and bubbly demeanor, accompanied by her warm attitude and infectious smile, can be seen bouncing around campus, as well as at most sporting events. For Brooke, the sky is the limit. Superhero Stuff indeed. Posing by the new UWA Tigers Logo
2015-16 Volleyball Team and Staff
Linebackers Quentin Harton ( 34 ) and Brandon Keel ( 33 ) celebrate with cornerback Izauea Lanier ( 1 ) after forcing a turnover en route to a 52-27 victory against Shorter University in Homecoming 2015.
Trailing by 38 points to Gulf South Conference-archrival North Alabama, UWA picked up just four yards after a holding penalty and two incomplete passes forced the Tigers into a fourth-andforever situation. On a play that would have been enough in any other situation, Thompson hit running back Davonta Parker-Johnson for 11 yards – five yards shy of the first down marker. After blasting off to its first 4-0 start since 1982, UWA scattered wins and losses over the next eight weeks, finishing out the season with a 7-4 overall record (3-4 GSC).
The Tigers rang in the new year ranked fourth in GSC standings, coming in on the heels of three American Football Coaches Association top-ranked teams in No. 3 West Georgia (12-2, 6-1), No. 15 North Alabama (9-3, 6-1) and No. 14 Valdosta State (9-3, 5-2). UWA went undefeated against non-conference opponents in 2015 with wins over Stillman College, Cumberland University, Miles College and Texas A&M Kingsville. The Tigers picked up their three GSC victories with wins over Shorter and Mississippi College, along with an emo-
Nose Tackle Jherron Jones (94) celebrates a forced turnover against Shorter
tional, fourth-quarter comeback at Delta State. Despite finishing just under .500 in GSC action, the Tigers boasted top honors in several statistical categories across the board. West Alabama’s defense led the conference in opponent third down conversions, holding offenses to just 48 conversions in 154 attempts (31.2%). The Tigers’ defense also ranked second in the GSC in the opponent first-down category, giving up just 195 on the season. UWA’s front seven ranked third in league play, picking up 24 sacks for 158 yards.
UWA’s veteran-led offensive line unit led the league in the sacks against column, surrendering only 11 sacks – six sacks less than second-ranked Delta State (17) – for a total of 67 yards. The Tigers ranked second in the GSC in rushing defense, allowing just 144.2 yards per game. West Alabama’s special teams unit placed second in punt return yards as well, averaging 12.2 yards per return in 2015. Although four coaches parted ways with Tiger football at the end of the 2015 season, the off-season coaching carousel has slowed down, and three of
Offensive Linemen take a break from the action during the 2016 spring game
FILLING IN THE BLANKS the four empty slots have been filled. After working with the defensive backs the last two seasons, current defensive coordinator Nathan Burton will take over the vacancies left by former linebacker coaches Thurmond and Walker. As for the program’s two new hires, here’s what Gilliland had to say about his new offensive and special teams coordinators: “They bring an immense wealth of knowledge. They fit in really well with the staff, and the players have responded to them well,” Gilliland said. “That can make you really nervous at first, especially with three new guys. You can handle one or two, but with three new coaches, you’re always wondering about the staff dynamic and chemistry, as well as how the players are going to react to them. We’ve picked up right where we left off, and we’re taking leaps forward.” “Don Bailey is a well respected name in college football and brings a wealth of offensive knowledge to UWA,” Gilliland said. “The offensive production under his tutelage speaks for itself, but I am equally excited about the positive attitude he brings with him and the way he cares for the players he coaches.” Before coming to Livingston, Bailey spent the 2014 season at the Division I (FBS) level as a part of the University of Hawaii coaching staff, serving as the Rainbow Warriors’ offensive coordinator, quarterback coach, and running back coach. Prior to Hawaii, Bailey served as the associate head coach and offensive coordinator at Idaho State from 2011-14. In three seasons, he resurrected
ISU’s offense, taking them from 114th (of 117) to placing second in total offense (562 yards per game) and sixth in points per game (40.3). A dedicated student of offensive production, Bailey brings an invaluable skill-set developed over a 24-year career in coaching. He has served as the passing game coordinator at South Dakota State, assistant wide receiver coach at Weber State and assistant offensive coordinator at Montana State, Cal-Poly, and Cheyney (Pa.). Other coaching stops include quarterbacks and wide receivers coach at Shepherd College (W.V.) and wide receivers coach at Boise State and alma-mater Portland State. Bailey played quarterback for Portland State from 1989-90. Bailey’s résumé comes complete with the numerous conference championship titles he has been a part of throughout his extensive career. He has trained three NFL draft picks, 11 free agents, A Canadian Football League MVP, 16 all-conference and eight All-American players. “Chad brings with him a great knowledge of GSC football on the defensive side of the ball, as well as in special teams. His work ethic and demeanor are going to be a great fit on our staff and with our players,” Gilliland said. “We are fortunate to bring him back to his home state and are excited to see his impact on our football team.” Prior to coaching at West Alabama, Williams served as the defensive coordinator at Valdosta State in 2015 where his Blazer defense led the league in turnover margin (+10) and opponent fourth down conversions, allowing just six first downs on 20 attempts (30%).
Don Bailey is a well respected name in college football and brings a wealth of knowledge to UWA Special teams coordinator and Chad Williams offers a piece of advice to a young defensive back Staying around the GSC, Williams spent the 2014 season at West Georgia as the special teams coordinator and linebacker coach. There, his special teams unit ranked first in kickoff returns, averaging 25.1 yards per return and two TDs. The Wolves topped the punting column with an average of 42.9 yards per punt and fell just behind UWA in punt return yards, scoring one TD and averaging 12.2 yards per return. He also spent part of
the 2014 season as a coaching intern with the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL. Williams has also coached at Jacksonville State where he managed defensive quality control, Morehouse College as a defensive assistant and Middle Tennessee State as a graduate assistant. Williams earned his Bachelor of Science from Southern Mississippi in 2009, where he earned All-Conference USA honors as a defensive back.
Offensive coordinator Don Bailey huddles up with his lineman during the 2016 Spring Game 29
2016 SPRING GAME RECAP Despite
t h e game clock constantly running for the final two quarters, the White team, comprised of the first-string offense, recorded 476 yards of total offense in a 45-10 route of the Red team on April 16 at Tiger Stadium. “The White team offensive came out and got on a pretty good roll, scoring six touchdowns in a row and then a field goal on the seventh drive,” Gilliland said. “Rashad Lee, Lakendric Thomas and DaVonta Parker-Johnson ran the ball
hard. I thought Austin [Grammer] handled everything really well and had a heck of day. He played like a poised quarterback who was comfortable with the system.” Grammer, a transfer student and former Middle Tennessee State University quarterback, stole the show at West Alabama Football’s 2016 Spring Game, completing 20-of-21 passes for 307 yards and connected for three scoring passes. “We had several big plays out of our wide receivers. Tray Fletcher looks like a good ad-
dition to our wide receiver group,” Gilliland said. Wide receiver transfer Tray Fletcher caught four passes for 137 yards and three TDs. Grammer and Fletcher hooked up on an 89-yard scoring pass with 1:46 left in the second quarter to culminate Fletcher’s performance on the gridiron. Rashaad Lee was the game’s leading rusher with 108 yards on nine carries, including a 66-yard dash for six. His other TD came on a bruising 2-yard crawl at the goal line. Lakendric Thomas carried the ball eight
times for a total of 56 yards. The lone touchdown for the Red Team came on a 25-yard pass from Gabe Tiller to Haywood Spencer. Tiller completed the day 8-of-17 passing while picking up 97 yards through the air. Davonta Parker-Johnson was the leading rusher for the Red team, picking up 58 yards on eight carries, and senior running back Robert Myers ran 12 times for 44 yards. Taderion Myhand picked off a Harry Satterwhite pass off a tipped ball.
EARLY STANDOUTS AUSTIN GRAMMER Quarterback (SR)
Grammer’s performance at the annual Red-White Spring Game should all but cement the senior quarterback’s position at the top of the depth chart for the Sept. 1 season opener. Returning quarterbacks Trent Thompson, Gabe Tiller and Harry Satterwhite will have a real challenge on their hands at the start of fall practice. “I was talking to some guys before hand, and with this being my fourth spring game, I kind of feel like the old guy out here,” Grammer said. “However, it was good to get out here and finish up the spring this way. I thought the offense did well all day. Obviously, Rashad and LT had some big runs. Fletch had a good day. I thought everyone up front did excellent. It was probably the best performance we’ve had all spring.” Born and raised in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and a graduate of American Christian Academy (Ala.), Grammer started all 12 games of the 2014 season for MTSU. Through the air, Grammer completed 221 of 338 passes and
connected for 17 touchdowns, ranking him 17th nationally in completion percentage at 65.4. On the ground, he rushed for 442 yards and picked up an additional six TDs Grammer played in 10 games for the Blue Raiders in 2013, completing 21 of 46 passes for 190 yards and one touchdown. The redshirt-freshman rushed for 169 yards and two scores. This season, he played both receiver and quarterback, completing 6 of 9 passes for 45 yards and a touchdown, rushing for 70 yards and a TD while catching nine passes for 111 yards. He had a 15-yard touchdown pass against Alabama on Sept. 12, 2015.
TRAY FLETCHER Wide Receiver (JR)
Fletcher tallied four receptions for 137 yards and three scoring catches in a dominant performance by the White team in the 2016 Spring Game. “I had a pretty efficient and consistent day,” Fletcher said. “My spring started slow because I had to fight through some injuries, but I am back now.” Hailing from Hiram, Ga.,
Fletcher came to UWA after transferring from Dean Junior College in Franklin, Mass. The 5-foot-9, 190-pound wide receiver led the Bulldogs with 19 receptions for 295 yards and four touchdowns in eight appearances. He totaled 98 yards and two TDs on 38 carries and returned eight punts for a 22.5-yard average and another score. His 573 all-purpose yards and 42 points scored was also tops for Dean. Fletcher ended his McEachern (Ga.) High School career as the 19th best prospect in the state of Georgia. He began his collegiate career at Arkansas State, making the move to the junior college level after his freshman season.
RASHAAD LEE Running Back (JR)
Lee led the West Alabama rushing attack in 2015, picking up 455 yards rushing on 109 carries. The Tiger’s powerful back, out of Pensacola, Fla., led the team in touchdowns with seven. If Lee is eyeing the No. 1 spot on the depth-chart, he certainly made a powerful case for himself in the 2016 Red-White
Game, picking up 108 yards and two TDs on just nine rushing attempts.
TADERION MYHAND Free Safety (JR)
Myhand played in 11 games for the Tigers in 2015, recording 35 tackles (15 solo tackles), 2.0 TFLs and 0ne interception with a 46-yard return. A junior out of Troy, Ala., Myhand had the only interception in the 2016 Red-White Game, picking off a pass from Harry Satterwhite in the fourth quarter. “My defensive line gave me a good rush, and the pass got deflected by one of the linebackers, so all I had to do was play the tipped ball,” Myhand said after making the interception. “We had some guys out today that really affected the Red team’s performance on defense,” Gilliland said. “We laid out some big hits and brought the same physicality they’ve shown all spring. Seeing that excites us more than anything. We’re out here and we’re hitting hard; we’re not just going through the motions. Our guys are here to practice and get something out of it.”
LOCKED & LOADED
AUSTIN GRAMMER 31
FINAL THOUGHTS ON SPRING BRETT GILLILAND What are some of your final thoughts on the team at the end of spring practice? “We’re excited to get into the off-season work out program and continue to let the guys work with Coach Boyd to get stronger and faster. We have several months before the season gets here, but today offered just a little taste of what’s to come. I’m ready to watch these guys put in the work to get there.”
AUSTIN GRAMMER What is it like to be a transfer student, and how have you adapted? “Coming in as a transfer, you never really know how the guys are going to react to you. It was really humbling to me to see them accept me like they did. They talk about brotherhood all the time here, and that’s what it feels like: a brotherhood. I think we have a lot of great players out here who are capable of making big plays. The offensive line is outstanding, we have a lot of running backs who are really good, and our receiving corps is deep as well. I think this team has a lot of ability.”
TRAY FLETCHER What has it been like transitioning to a new offensive system? “We have put in a lot of work and study time so far this offseason. Everything is new, including the coaching staff. That means we have new routes, new route combinations and new blocking schemes to master. We have a good quarterback and good offensive line that gives him a lot of time in the pocket.”
2016 SEASON SCHEDULE at NORTH GREENVILLE Thursday, Sept. 1 6 p.m.
vs DELTA STATE Saturday, Oct. 8 4 p.m. AT
at STEPHEN F. AUSTIN Saturday, Sept. 10 6 p.m.
at WEST GEORGIA Saturday, Oct. 15 1 p.m.
West Alabama opens up the 2016 season on the road against GSC newcomer, North Greenville University. NGU enters the conference as a football-only member, increasing the number of programs competing for the GSC Football Championship to 10 (West Florida Football kicks off its inaugural season in 2016 as well). The Crusaders will not have full schedule access of championship eligibility until 2018. Fielding their first team in 1994, NGU started as a member of the NAIA, but has spent the past 14 seasons as a Division II independent. The Crusaders have made four National Christian College Athletic Association Victory Bowl appearances, claiming three titles in 2006, 2010 and 2014. NGU has a 1-3 all-time record against GSC opponents and lost its only Division II playoff appearance to Delta State in 2011. AT STEPHEN
The schedule doesn’t get any easier with a week two trip to Division I FCS Southland Conference member Stephen F. Austin. The Lumberjacks, who face FCS powerhouses McNeese State and Sam Houston State on a yearly basis, sit in a three-way tie for fifth in conference standings.
at MISSISSIPPI COLLEGE Saturday, Sept. 17 7 p.m.
vs FLORIDA TECH Saturday, Oct. 22 6 p.m.
Coming off of a 4-7 rebuilding year, Stephen F. Austin is loaded with young talent that could spell trouble for the Tigers in Nacogdoches. VS
The Tigers look to avenge their season-ending, 52-14 loss at Braly Stadium in West Alabama’s first home game of the 2016 season. The Lions’ shared a GSC title with West Georgia in 2015; however, they have had a tough time finding a replacement for veteran-quarterback Luke Wingo during the offseason. UNA head coach Bobby Wallace said that he plans on using a tandem-QB system, splitting playing time between redshirt-freshman Blake Hawkins and fifth-year senior Tyler Grigsby, with Jacob Tucker working his way into the rotation. VS
vs NORTH ALABAMA Saturday, Sept. 24 6 p.m.
at WEST FLORIDA Saturday, Oct. 29 Noon
vs VALDOSTA STATE Saturday, Nov. 5 2 p.m.
but speedy receiving corps, the Statesmen’s offense could pose a threat. Look for junior safety Nick Houston and senior defensive lineman Sifa Finau to create a disruption on the defensive side of the ball. AT
vs SHORTER Thursday, September 29 6 p.m.
The Wolves are coming off of their third consecutive season in which they claimed some portion of the GSC regular season title. West Georgia lost just twice in 2015, dropping one regular season matchup to conference-opponent Florida Tech 28-26 before seeing their season end at the hands of Northwest Missouri State in the NCAA Division II Semifinals. VS VALDOSTA STATE
Valdosta State will have to replace 1,000-yard rusher Cedric O’Neal who accounted
vs MALONE Saturday, Nov. 12 2 p.m.
for 17 TDs and averaged 6.1 yards per carry. The Blazers will also have to find a standin for quarterback EJ Hilliard. The dual-threat field marshall passed for 2,425 total yards and 22 TDs while rushing for 569 yards on the season and an extra three scores. Defensively, however, the Blazers are sitting pretty as sophomore linebacker Malcolm McClenton returns after leading the team in TFLs (7.0) and tying for first in interceptions (3). Be sure to keep up with Tiger Football on the official website for The University of West Alabama Athletics at uwaathletics.com. Scheduling information, real-time statistics and live audio and video coverage are also available on the site.
UWA narrowly escaped Cleveland, Miss., with a 41-38 victory in 2015, capping off a fourth-quarter comeback with a 23-yard field goal by senior kicker Mark Grant with just 19 seconds left. Expect the Statesmen to come ready to play all 60 minutes at Tiger Stadium in the fall. Returning to DSU’s roster in 2016 are fifth-year senior quarterback Tyler Sullivan and senior running back D’Juan Bellaire. Combined with a young
Linebacker Jahmal Jones (51) and offensive tackle Dresden Williams (79) await West Gerogia’s call. 33
A Day in the Life
Story by Paige Ip Photos by Joe Chance Ashley Philips going in for a one-on-one against West Florida
It’s 8:30 a.m. and the alarm is blaring. Half awake, Ashley Phillips, senior captain of the Men’s Soccer team, rolls out of bed to prepare for his day. Stumbling into the kitchen, he prepares his morning porridge and changes just before heading out the door. The first two hours of his day are spent training to improve his work on the pitch. After a one-on-one session with his assistant coach doing different training drills on the field, Ashley heads to the gym for an hour long workout program he does five days a week. “As a graduate student, my classes are held at night which gives me all day to focus on being a better football player and completing all my assignments,” said Phillips. “I’m playing football over the summer in Pennsylvania, so I am focusing on getting ready for that at the moment.” The life of any graduate level
student usually consists of a very demanding schedule filled with lengthy papers, tedious assignments, and challenging tests. Add the obligations tied with being a college level athlete into the mix, and the workload nearly triples. “It is very difficult trying to balance both my schoolwork and my responsibilities as an athlete. The fact that I am enrolled in three graduate classes when most students usually only take one makes things a bit busier for me.” said Ashley. Ashley is a senior graduate student studying sports management here at the University of West Alabama. He completed his undergraduate Interdisciplinary studies degree here at the university in December. Ashley is originally from Milton Keynes, England. He has been in America for three years, during which he has played for the UWA Men’s Soccer team. Ashley has been playing soccer since he was four years old. After his sessions at the gym and training, Ashley says he
usually comes back to shower and start on his schoolwork. “I usually spend four hours a day doing assignments. It’s because I am taking so many hours that I have to do so much work. I knew that taking so many classes would be difficult, but I wanted to get my masters degree as soon as possible,” said Ashley.
heads straight for practice. He typically finishes training around 9:30 p.m. Sometimes ,he even has to finish his assignments after his long, strenuous practices. “It’s difficult to find time to do the things that I want to do with all of my responsibilities. Every now and then I’ll get to Skype home to speak
My main focus while in America is obviously my education, that is what is most important. After a strenuous day of completing his assignments, Ashley heads to class. “I have class three days a week. I know it doesn’t seem like much, but these classes are so hard it’s a joke. My main focus while in America is obviously my education, that is what is most important,” stated Phillips. Once he sits through a two and a half hour class, Ashley
to my family and mates, but I am usually always busy with school.” said Phillips. Once he finishes his long day of school and practice, and spends a bit of the occasional free time to do the things he likes, Ashley goes to bed, sets his alarm for 8:30 the next morning, and prepares to do it all again the next day.
Ashley Phillips handling the ball at Tiger Stadium
UWA baseball celebrating their GSC Championship win
SmallTown, B Story by Callie Murphy Photos by Joe Chance Sports fanatics of all ages will gather at Webb Hall on the University of West Alabama’s campus for the ribbon cutting ceremony for the traveling Smithsonian Institution exhibit, “Hometown Teams: How Sports Shape America, A Museum on Main Street” on Wednesday, Sept. 14. The exhibit is presented by the Center for the Study of the Black Belt Museum, with help from the Smithsonian and pays tribute to the last 100 years of American athletics. Sumter County and UWA sports will be a feature in the exhibit. “This is our county’s chance to show our sports success and history,” said Amy Christiansen, Director of the exhibit and Black Belt Archivist. The history of the community, along with the impacts that both Livingston and Sumer County have made in sports, is what the “Hometown Teams” exhibit is all about. “Think of all the people in Sumter County that have influenced sports in America,” said Tina Jones, member of the exhibit committee. “Tonya Butler was the first female to ever score a field goal in a NCAA relegated football game.” According to maxpreps.com, Butler accomplished this feat on Sept. 13, 2003, while playing for the University of West Alabama. This accomplishment opened a gateway for females to achieve equality in athletics all over the nation.
While browsing the 850-square-foot exhibit, visitors can hear stories from influential athletes from the community through the “Black Box,” part of the exhibit. “The black box is a video and photo booth that is placed at each Hometown Teams exhibit two weeks prior to opening,” said Christiansen. “Each hometown takes prominent past athletes, current athletes, and lovers of sports, to tell past sports stories.” For many visitors, this exhibit will bring back memories and their passion for specific sports. One individual who plans to make an
Tanner Rainey making a catch
Big Impact I love this town and all the ways that Livingston has shaped me... appearance is former UWA Baseball team member and current Minor League pitcher Tanner Rainey. “I think the exhibit is a great idea,” said Rainey. “I love this town and all of the ways that Livingston has shaped me and prepared me for my future in sports. The memories I made here, like winning the GSC Championship, will be something I tell the kids someday.” Athletes who have made a name for themselves and put Sumter County on the map like Rainey and Butler have, could be some of the athletes who are featured in the Black Box exhibit when it makes its journey to Livingston on Sept. 14. UWA football making a tackle
West Alabama and Beyond: Evan Beutler’s journey from Tiger Stadium to the professional league Story by Paige Ip Photos by Joe Chance
Evan Beutler, the starting attacking midfielder and captain for the UWA Men’s soccer team, recently said farewell to his southern roots in order to accomplish something every college athlete hopes for. Only a few months after he graduated, Beutler was offered the chance to play professional indoor soccer in Detroit, Mich. “I am completely honored to have been given this opportunity to carry on my love for soccer beyond my college career. My time on the men’s team at UWA was one that I will always remember because it helped shape me into the player I am today,” said Beutler. Beutler played a total of 52 games for the UWA Tigers. He scored a total of 13 goals with eight assists to complement. He was recognized for his amazing skill and team-oriented mindset on the field. “Evan was one of the transfers we brought in. He had experience, but it wasn’t just his talent on the field it was his attitude and effort. He was always giving 100 percent. That is how he became captain of the team. He was always so professional. He did everything perfect
on the field, off the field and in the classroom,” said Matthew Thorne, head coach for the UWA Men’s Soccer Team. Beutler was known by his teammates as the dedicated player who picked up everyone’s spirits. “It was a pleasure to play with Evan because he was always a team player and worked hard for
Lipscomb University where I played college soccer first,” Beutler said. “I was looking for a better fit with a more positive environment and coach. The University of West Alabama had everything I was looking for in a soccer program. I also knew UWA was going to be a first-year program, and I thought it would be exciting to start a soccer pro-
We had a quality team, quality traning sessions, and a quality program. the team regardless of the situation and will always give you a 100 percent,” said Alex Brown, central defender for the men’s soccer team. Beutler’s college career began long before his time here at UWA. He began playing when he was just three years old and played for a university that he attended prior to his transfer to West Alabama. “I was looking to transfer from
gram from scratch and set a high standard from the start.” Beutler always dreamed of going on to play professional soccer after college and says that his time at UWA helped take him to the next level. “I think the level of preparation at UWA and the intense training that we always had was on such a high level, even for a division two school. People look down upon division two
sometimes, and I think that the constant encouragement from Coach Thorne to be better really helped us to prove ourselves. We had a quality team, quality training sessions and a quality program that, I think, really helped prepare me for the next level,” stated Evan. Beutler is playing soccer for a team out of Detroit, Michigan. WAZA Flo is a pro indoor soccer team in the Major Arena Soccer League. “Evan is a class act, so I wasn’t surprised when he went on to play professional after UWA,” said Thorne. “I’m delighted for him. Like I said, he always had the talent, character and work ethic. He is the perfect professional and I was very proud to see him continue.” Beutler said he has no plan to end his soccer career anytime soon. His ultimate goal is to go on to play for Real Madrid. Beutler is one of the many Tigers who went on to play on a professional level after their time at UWA. His journey is proof that anything can be accomplished with hard work, talent and dedication.
completely honored to have been given this opportunity to carry on my love for soccer beyond my college career. My time on the menâ€™s team at UWA I will always remember because it helped shape me into the player I am today.
The Sky’s the Limit
Story by John McClung Photos by Joe Chance
Libby Davis going in for a catch
From humble beginnings to the wild blue yonder, West Alabama softball’s Libby Davis will hang up her cleats for good at the end of the 2016 season for a career in the U.S. Air Force Reserves. “I am excited to move on to my next adventure,” Davis said, “It has been a great experience for me, but it is sad that my career at UWA is coming to a close.” Davis officially swore in to the Air Force Reserves on Jan. 9, 2016. Although the Military Enlistment Program caused her to miss several games during the season, she posted UWA’s second best batting average of .348 in addition to a .580 slugging percentage. Throughout her sophomore season, Davis posted the second most home runs (6), second most hits (39), second most runs (23) and third most RBI’s (25). Davis has garnered a 1.000 field percentage, including 42 putouts and three assists while playing leftfield, centerfield and a four-inning stent as the Tiger’s catcher. A 14-year veteran of the game, Davis’ athletic prowess is not merely contained to the softball diamond. Since age five, the Tigers’ slugger has also performed in volleyball, soccer, dance and majorettes. “I got into softball because my older sister played and I wanted to be just like her. Turns out, I was pretty good at it,” Davis said.
Showing a cool confidence at the plate, the path to West Alabama and the Air Force Reserves has not been easy for Davis. Growing up in Dothan, Ala., Davis and her family moved over to neighboring Florida and the town of Niceville. “My biggest challenge has always been just starting off at the bottom, especially in high school,” Davis said. “Nobody knew my name when I transferred and we did not come from money, so I had to work really hard to become somebody. It paid off because I ended up getting a college scholarship for softball.” To make matters worse, Davis’ parents separated when she was 10 years old, and the financial burden of raising not one but two daughters fell on Davis’ mother, Alicia Davis. However, the struggle her mother endured was not forgotten. “She raised my sister and me by herself,” Davis said. “She worked her butt off to take care of us, and she still somehow found a way to go back to college and pay for me to play travel softball and travel soccer. “I always call her Super Momma because of everything she was able to accomplish and still managed to raise my sister and me, and I know we were a handful.”
Graduating from Niceville High School in 2014, Davis packed her bags and left the Sunshine State for the wide-open landscape of Sumter County, Ala., where she began to flourish. “I think my breakthrough came when I graduated high school and came up here to UWA,” Davis said. “When I came up here I knew I could start with a clean slate and make a name for myself how I wanted it.” It didn’t take long for Davis to get her name out as she opened her first home collegiate game with two homeruns and a double in game one of a doubleheader against Miles College, accounting for three runs and six runs-batted-in in a 23-3 rout
named Gulf South Conference Softball Freshman of the Week in February 2015, becoming the first Tiger to earn the honor in program history. “I work hard on and off the field. I work out and practice on my own and I work very hard on my schoolwork. To me, grades are just as important as being successful on the field,” Davis said. Davis’ work in the field speaks for itself, but her academic accolades may speak even louder. During her freshman season in 2015, Davis earned NFCA All-American Scholar Athlete honors, along with being named to the GSC Academic Honor Roll.
My breakthrough came when I graduated from high school and came to UWA of the Golden Bears. Posting a .750 batting average at the plate in game one and hitting .571 in game two, Davis was
“I set goals that challenge me,” Davis said. “I don’t want to set a goal that I can accomplish in an hour I want to have to work
hard and make myself better in order to achieve it. My career in the Air Force will help that goal tremendously.” Davis enlisted in the Air Force Reserve as a Fusion Analyst in the Intelligence Unit stationed at Hurlburt Field Air Force Base in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. Fusion analysts determine the value and implications of intelligence gathered through target network communications. Analytics specialists then gauge the possible impact of the information where their findings are then distributed to high-level decision-makers so that the Air Force can protect not only it Airmen, but also American civilians. “I wasn’t ever interested in the military until this past summer,” Davis said. “I hated being away from home and not being able to help my family out when they needed it. I also missed my friends a lot.” We have neighbors that are in the AF Reserves and they convinced me to try it because it allows for me to come home and still have my school paid for and I also get to work in a field that is very similar to my dream job.”
Davis’ dream job in the Federal Bureau of Investigations isn’t all too different from her future career in the Air Force Reserve as a Fusion Analyst. “My mom used to always tell me to follow my dreams. I have always had big dreams for myself ever since I was a kid. It began with me wanting to be a singer, then a lawyer, and now a behavior analyst in the FBI. Davis will begin Basic Training over the summer before entering into a specialized, six-month training program in fusion analytics. “My high school coach was a retired airman and he was very hard on us and very strict,” Davis said. “Softball has given me discipline. More importantly, it has taught me it’s okay to fail, but I can’t give up.” Ever the dedicated student, Davis will continue her education at the University of West Florida, although she has stated that she will not join the Argonauts softball club. Davis said that she is considering becoming an officer in the Air Force reserve and plans on serving the full 20-year term of service.
I am excited to move on to my next adventure, but it is sad that my career at UWA is coming to a close. 41
Coming Full Circle Story by Weldon Fultz Photos by Weldon Fultz Speigal, Billy Fultz and Randy Smith at the award ceremony
Marengo County Sports Hall of Fame inducted Billy Fultz into its ranks on Feb. 8, 2016, as tribute to all of his accomplishments in the amateur and professional realms of sports.
The organization has inducted many significant athletes and coaches from the past decades and eras of Marengo County, recognizing their tremendous athletic feats and experiences. Being selected and inducted is considered a highly prestigious award. “It was an overwhelming experience to be in the same room and being mentioned in the same breath as many of my heroes and role models growing up and playing sports,” Fultz said. Fultz was introduced and presented with the award by his close friend and former competitor, Barry Lyons, who also went on to play professional baseball as a teammate alongside Fultz. “I remember going up against ole’ Fultz when he played for Hoss Bowlin and the first pitch he threw was a 90 mph fastball right under my chin,” Lyons said. Fultz was a standout athlete from Marengo Academy, graduating in 1975 as a Letterman in three sports. While in high
school, he was the quarterback of the football team, the leading scorer on the basketball team and one of the Longhorns’ most devastating pitchers. According to Fultz, his passion for sports grew from his father always pushing him to be the best, instilling work ethics that would continue to drive him through his athletic career. “I can still remember spending countless hours working with my dad, whether it was hitting baseballs and throwing hundreds of pitches off the mound, running through every play in the playbook or learning to how to perform a jump shot from anywhere on the court. I wanted to be the best,” Fultz recalled. After high school, he signed to the University of Montevallo’s baseball team as a third baseman and was given the first ever awarded full-ride scholarship by the university. After a year of playing for Montevallo, Fultz decided to transfer
Fultz’s team photo with the Mets
to Livingston University to be closer to his hometown of Linden. He played first and second base but primarily showed his skills as an overwhelming pitcher and designated hitter during his career at the university. He became known for pitching, reaching speeds as high as 94 mph with his fastball. While playing for Livingston, which is now known as the University of West Alabama, Fultz showed how much of an outstanding pitcher he was by setting records for the school. He held most strikeouts in a single season with 72 strikeouts in 1979 and 51 strikeouts in 1980. He also held the most consecutive strikeouts in a single game with six consecutive strikeouts in 1980. In addition to his pitching skills, Fultz also held the highest batting average on the team in 1979 with a batting average of .384. He was also
named to the All-Gulf South Conference team in his junior year as a designated hitter. After his college career, Fultz signed with the New York Mets as a free agent. He began his Minor League career at Class A Lynchburg
life. While in the Dominican Republic, Fultz married his then-fiancé, Paula McClinton. While playing during his last year with AAA Tidewater, Fultz threw out his back and was required to have surgery. He missed the remaining
Sports will always be my true passion, no matter what I’m doing in 1982 and ended in 1986 with AAA Tidewater. During this time, he also played for the Jackson Mets. Fultz also played a full season of Winter League Baseball in the Dominican Republic, which he says was one of the most humbling and exciting experiences of his
season and had to spend months in rehab to recovery from his injury. After his minor league career, Fultz was contacted by the Detroit Tigers to attend spring training, but elected to come back home to Marengo County to be a husband to his wife, Paula, and a father.
In 1994, while working in his professional career, Fultz received a call from the Cincinnati Reds during the infamous Major League Baseball Strike of ’94. He was asked to try out as a replacement pitcher for the Reds. Fultz made the team and moved up to the number two pitcher as the opening day neared, but with less than 24 hours before the season opener, the strike ended, officially ending his baseball career. “Sports will always be my true passion, no matter what I’m doing, and it’s been a blessing to pass my knowledge onto my children,” Fultz said. Even though his athletic career ended, Fultz remained involved with sports by coaching his three sons, Thomas, Weldon and Colston, teaching them the games in the same way his father taught him.
Rodeo Recoveri Across
the street from the Julia Tutwiler Library, Dandy Don’s restaurant is a place for both college kids and elderly locals to grab a burger or chicken fingers and fries, and a large sugary sweet tea. The walls of Dandy Don’s are covered in pictures from all ages, including Christmas cards of families and various sports pictures from the University of West Alabama. Among one of the pictures on the wall, is a signed picture of a boy named Zach Wilson in a rodeo uniform. Wilson, who was recruited by rodeo coach Alex Caudle in 2013, is a wrangler and member of the University of West Alabama’s rodeo team. The University of West Alabama’s Rodeo Showdown is the only collegiate rodeo showdown in the state of Alabama. UWA is the only college in Alabama, Georgia or Florida that includes a rodeo program as a part of its athletic department. In the first week of June, and Wilson had just finished up the third year of his college rodeo career. As the 2013 National College Calf Roping Champion, the 2013 Ozark Region Tie Down Roping Champion, and had just finished sixth in the 2014 Ozark Region Tie Down Roping competition, Wilson began the first week of June at his home in Clanton with his horse Magic preparing and practicing for the next rodeo that came his way. June 5, began just like any other ordinary sunny summer day for Wilson, with a fringed rope in hand and his old dusty boots with spurs, he walked from his parent’s house to the horse’s pen and turn out for a daily routine practice. Suddenly though, Wilson’s every day routine practice halted to a stop when the horse he was practicing with fell onto him, crushing his foot. “Well I was warming a horse up at home when the horse fell on me.
My foot wouldn’t come out of the stirrup. The horse basically broke every bone in my foot,” Wilson said. After being referred to three different doctors, Wilson finally had surgery five days later. “I have 13 screws, two pins and a plate. I kept getting referred to other doctors because they all said it was out of their league,” Wilson said. With a blue and black bruised broken foot in five different places, Wilson had to take the year off from the University of West Alabama’s rodeo team and competing in rodeos. “I got red shirted, basically like a football player,” Wilson said. “But I’ll be back next year to compete. I have to graduate anyways.” Like college football, a member of the rodeo team can only participate for four years. Since Wilson would technically be a senior this year for the team, and this year would be his last year to participate, he was red shirted so he can compete in the rodeos next year. According to Wilson, he is taking most of his harder classes this year so he can focus more on rodeo skills next year. “I’ve missed four collegiate rodeos before I was cleared. So it didn’t make sense to try and play catch up when I have to come back a fifth year to graduate,” Wilson said. According to Daniel Poole, the assistant coach of the rodeo team, Wilson has been working extremely hard to get his foot back to where it was before the injury, and he spends a great amount of time in the athletic training room. Poole will even receive Snapchats of Wilson from Wilson and other rodeo members when Wilson is in the training room, showing Poole what new exercise the trainers have him doing that day. “Some guys will tell you they are doing whatever it takes to get healthy again. Zach doesn’t just say it, he means it,” Poole said. Wilson stayed in a cast through August 3, and then started therapy
Story by Emily Edwards Photo by Joe R Chance
Zach Wilson wrestling down a bull in a rodeo meet.
the next week. “I’m practicing twice a day now to get back stronger than I was,” Wilson said. According to Poole, Wilson was released earlier than expected to practice, and the day that Wilson found out that he could practice with “light activity,” head rodeo coach Alex Caudle stayed late after practice because Wilson wanted to keep practicing. “Light activity” for Wilson, according to Poole, is tying down calves over and over again in 100 degree weather until Wilson completely exhausts himself. “I tie and stuff with the guys still,” Wilson said. Although Wilson cannot compete this year, he still spends hours at the Don C. Hines rodeo arena on campus, tending to the stock and making sure his horse Magic stays fit and ready for competitions. Tie-down roping, or calf roping, is one of the most competitive events in a rodeo. Just like most other events, tie-down roping comes from the classic cowboy skills on a ranch. A cowboy must know how to rope and tie-down a calf on the ranch in order to brand the calf or give the calf medicine or to help a sick or injured calf. In the arena, a tie-down roper must tie the calf up within seconds in the quickest time possible. The cowboy is mounted on his horse while attempting to rope the calf. Once the calf is roped around its neck, the cowboy jumps of his horse, runs to the calf, and ties three of the calf’s legs together with a six foot pigging string making sure to turn, flip, and tie-down the calf the correct way without hurting the calf or getting disqualified. The cowboy’s horse must also be pulling the rope tight that is around the calf’s neck while during that time, so the cowboy’s horse must know when and what to do and must be highly trained for the event. The cowboy throws his hands in the air to show that he has completed the run, and then runs back to his horse and mounts it.
He then will move his horse forward to give the rope that is tied around the calf’s neck some slack. The cowboy must wait six seconds to see if the calf will remain tied-down. If the calf gets loose, the cowboy is disqualified. If the calf stays tied-down, the cowboy will receive his time, and the times event will be complete. The quickest cowboy to complete this event wins. This is why Wilson must keep his horse Magic in top shape and must continue to practice with her. “I keep my horse Magic right outside of town at a guy’s house named Mike Gould,” Wilson said. “He helps me with my roping. He helped me get to where I was the year I won the finals.” A broken foot for Wilson does not mean he will be any less of a competition in the rodeo arena next year. “I have been rodeoing with Zach since I was in the 10th grade, both in non-collegiate and collegiate competitions,” said Andy Phillips, former UWA rodeo member. “And as long as I’ve known Zach, he has always pushed himself for excellence. If I know Zach like I think I do, this injury is just a bump in the road to the National Finals Rodeo,” Phillips said. So when next year rolls around, Wilson will be ready and set to ride and rodeo. As the 2013 National College Calf Roping Champion, Wilson won in 9.9 seconds.All it took for him to tie-down a calf is 9.9 seconds, but it takes years and hours to make those 9.9 seconds count. Once you’ve made it to a national title, how much further up can one go? Wilson has already made it to the top. But there are many, many more shiny buckles, leather saddles, and national titles to win. In the end, it’s not all about the boots, buckles, saddles, or titles, it’s all about the rodeo. “I would be willing to bet that he will go this whole year without missing a practice and will be feared when he pulls up to that first rodeo in the fall of 2016,” Poole said.
Freshman Shoots Hoops, Ropes Cows Story by Cameron Eggers Photo by Joe Chance
Many would not even consider being able to play two sports in college. One girl who is breaking the mold as a dual-sport athlete is freshman Blair Bullock, a member of both the rodeo and basketball teams. Some consider these sports polar opposites, and even Bullock admitted, “They’re a little different, but I couldn’t decide between the two.” Bullock is a small town girl from McAlpin, Fla. “Livingston is so much bigger than I’m used to. My hometown only had one caution light,” she said. Bullock started playing youth basketball when she “started to admire basketball after watching Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls of the 90s. She started for her high school team as a point guard and played that position all four years. She recalled that her highest scoring total was 37 points in her sophomore year. She also said, “I remember in the fourth quarter I tried to make a three-pointer to get to 40.” Bullock said, “I’ve always been a shooter in basketball, I try to focus my attention on that when I’m training.”
She finished her high school career averaging over 15 points and 5 rebounds per game. She made top five in the State of Florida in her division, scoring 17 points per game and hooting at over 40 percent from the field as well as 40 percent behind the three point line. Bullock is known as a deadeye three point shooter and has already shown her talents in her first few games at UWA. The UWA Tigers women’s basketball has gotten off to a 3-0 start with the help of Bullock coming in at backup shooting guard. Bullock is an outgoing girl who wants to help her teammates in every game. She also said, “I always wanna be supporting my teammates in everything that I do, whether it’s cheering while on the sideline or in the game when I make a big shot.” Bullock said, “My teammates are always coming to my events and games, and it’s awesome to get the different crowds to mix together.” Rodeo is considered to be one of the most physical and demanding sports that are sponsored by college universities. The women’s rodeo team of
UWA is currently in first place in their region. Bullock was raised around horses and this is what got her interested into rodeo. She competed in breakaway competitions, roping, and team roping. She won a world championship in 2014 at a youth rodeo for breakaway calf roping. The requirements of rodeo have challenged Bullock since her beginnings at UWA. Bullock wakes up at 5:00 a.m., hours before regular people begin their morning routines. She has to be up before dawn to feed and care for her animals that she competes with every day of the year. These animals are her responsibility, and she has to do everything for them, including cleaning out their barn stalls. In preparation for her events she trains for hours on end to make sure she has the best skills to compete. Some may wonder what happens if there is a rodeo event and a basketball game at the same time. Bullock said, “It’s not easy to pick between the two, but basketball comes first as it is more of a team sport. I always want to be there to help my teammates in
everything I do.” Recently, Bullock had a rodeo event in Arkansas and a basketball game at Troy against Southern Miss. Bullock went to the rodeo event on Friday night, competed in her event, and then went on to drive for six hours to be at the basketball game with her team. Bullock chose UWA because it was the only college or university that would allow her to compete in both sports, even offering her a scholarship to do so. This was all it took as she had already toured and loved the campus. Some may wonder how training differs. Bullock said, “Roping requires a lot of hand eye coordination, just like basketball.” Consequently, Bullock is simultaneously trains for both sports whether on the court or in the arena. UWA has given her the opportunity to compete and continue her dream of competing in the national rodeo circuit after college, and she hopes to younger athletes who excel in two sports.
Blair Bullock cheers on her teamates as the score is made
“It’s not easy to pick between the two, but basketball comes first as it is more of a team sport. I always want to be there to help my teammates in everything I do.”