The final out. A game winning goal. Sinking a putt on the 18th hole. Hitting the tape first at the finish line. Lifting the state championship trophy.
Those are memories that last a lifetime for a high school student-athlete.
Throughout the month of May, the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) is crowning state champions in tennis, golf, soccer, softball, baseball and track and field, from Gulf Shores to Huntsville.
But the winners are not just on the links, the diamond or track. The communities who host the coaches, student-athletes, families and fans and provide a championship experience are winners as well.
We went behind the scenes to talk to the people organizing this year’s spring championships. Here is what we discovered.
Championships Are About Pride
A former Huntsville City Councilman, Mark Russell heads up the city’s Sports Commission, the local agency that attracts tournaments and maintains the facilities.
Russell also has another title. He is a high school football referee – well respected and a veteran who has officiated state championship games himself. In 2020, he officiated the 7A Super 7 State Football Finals in Tuscaloosa at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
This Spring, the Rocket City is hosting the AHSAA boys’ and girls’ state golf championships at the Robert Trent Jones Hampton Cove course and the AHSAA boys’ and girls’ state soccer championships at John Hunt Park Sports Complex.
“Championships mean a lot to Huntsville, not only economically, but for the quality of life of our citizens,” Russell told Bham Now. “We take great pride in hosting these events. We have a stadium that we rarely use because we want it to be in pristine shape when the teams come from all over to play in the state soccer championships.”
Modeled after the very successful AHSAA Basketball Finals, the soccer championships feature two rounds — semi-finals and finals.
“Sports builds community,” explained Russell. “High school sports provide a lot of leadership opportunities for kids. It is important to the fabric of our community.”
Championship Atmosphere in Oxford
In 2021, the East Alabama town of Oxford in Calhoun County welcomed the AHSAA state softball championships for the first time. One of the state’s fastest-growing sports, the community made a great impression.
The 2022 AHSAA softball championships, which include eight teams in each of seven classes, a total of 56 schools, converge once again on Oxford’s magnificent Choccolocco Park this month.
“Last year, when we held our first state championship there in Oxford, we were actually able to provide what I would call that championship atmosphere. We had the National Anthem at the beginning of the game and we introduced each player and coach. The fans had stadium seating. It was a great opportunity for our girls to get that championship environment that our boys have had for years by playing in the larger stadiums in the baseball finals. “It was phenomenal,” exclaimed Kim Vickers, AHSAA Softball Director and AHSAA Associate Executive Director, who is a former high school softball coach herself.
Contributing to the “championship atmosphere” was the state-of-the-art facility at Choccolocco Park.
According to Don Hudson with the city of Oxford, the community-run park provides something for everyone. The park, which opened in 2016, includes signature softball and baseball fields for championships. The park is also family friendly. There is a lake with a walking trail around it, playgrounds and even some beautifully preserved historic Native American Mounds.
“With this being the celebration of the 50th year of Title IX, our girls’ softball program finally got an opportunity to play on a signature field — what they deserved for many years. We were tickled to be able to offer it to them.”
Building on last year’s success with softball, in addition to this year’s State Softball Tournament, the State Baseball Finals will be played at both Oxford and Jacksonville State University.
Check out the AHSAA Championship Lineup for May 2022
Support high school athletics and your community this month from Gulf Shores to Huntsville.
When: Gulf Shores – (Thursday-Saturday, May 5-7) | Cullman – (Friday-Saturday, May 6-7)
Where: Gulf Shores Sports Complex, 19025 Co Rd 6, Gulf Shores, AL 36542 | Cullman High School, 510 13th St NE, Cullman, AL 35055
When: Monday-Tuesday, May 9-10
Where: Huntsville, AL
When: Thursday-Saturday, May 12-14
Where: Huntsville Soccer Complex, 2151 Airport Rd. 35801
When: Monday-Saturday, May 16-21
Where: JSU Baseball Stadium, Merrill Hall, 700 Pelham Rd N, Jacksonville, AL 36265 | Choccolocco Park, 954 Leon Smith Pkwy, Oxford, AL 36203
When: Tuesday-Saturday, May 17-21
Where: Choccolocco Park, 954 Leon Smith Pkwy, Oxford, AL 36203
You can also check out the championship by tuning in to the NFHS Network live-stream broadcasts.
Are you planning to take in a game or watch a finals in your area? Tag @Bham Now or @TheBamabuzz on social media at one of the venues