E.A. Sports Today


Jacksonville, welcome to the very exclusive club of teams from Calhoun County to win back-to-back state basketball championships.

BIRMINGHAM — Calhoun County has a newly minted repeat state champion in basketball, only the county’s third in Alabama High School Athletic Association records.

The Golden Eagles beat Westminster Christian 51-37 in Birmingham’s Legacy Arena on Friday, completing a two-year journey from no state championships to two. They joined the few and the proud from the county to go back-to-back.

There was Alexandria, 1992-93.

There was Sacred Heart, 2015-18.

There’s Jacksonville, 2022-23.

Joe Medley, editor

Let the debate begin.

Who was the best? Is it possible to determine a best?

Let’s talk eras, and stuff, but let’s not brush past the present. Jacksonville accomplished something special.

Yes, the team had talent. What state champion doesn’t?

John Broom belongs in the discussion of the best players to come through Calhoun County. Twins Caden and Cam Johnson made it a trio to remember,

They won their second state title under their third head coach in three years.

They did it without Cade Phillips, the 6-foot-9 phenom who transferred in from Westbrook Christian and made his mark, helping Jacksonville win its first-ever state title before committing to Tennessee and moving on to Link Academy.

As much as his shot blocks, rebounds and dunks, Jacksonville fans have the postgame news conference following a semifinal rout of St. James.

It became all about Phillips, as statewide recruiting media showed up in Birmingham to fill a game-centered news conference with recruiting questions for Phillips, looking for any clues to his intent.

Not nearly as many showed up for his commitment at Jacksonville High School, but then his preference for Tennessee was more known by then.

As Phillips sat there fielding questions, Broom sat at the other end of the table. Also a Division I prospect, he had to wonder if his mic was on.

He’s since signed with South Alabama. He’ll go Division I, just like the Sacred Heart trio of Diante Wood, D.J. Heath and Kevion Nolan.

Before getting into what has to be considered the best of Calhoun County’s repeat state basketball champions, let’s not brush past those early-1990s Alexandria teams.

It was early Bill Clinton administration, but the first two of Larry Ginn’s three state-title teams were stout in the collective sense. 

Records reflect that senior Brian McGuire made first-team all-state in 1992. Senior Dexter Mallory made second-team all-state in 1993.

The common threat was Ginn, the Class 4A coach of the year both years, and the common cause.

“As a competitor, we always believe that our teams could have played with anyone, in any era,” said Jimmy Dodd, who played for those teams and whose son Dalton played his way to Alabama-Huntsville from Alexandria.  “We had unbelievably skilled players both in ’92 and ’93, guys that could really score it, and some that could just shoot it, and some that were just there to rebound and play defense.  

“The key to our teams was that they were all unselfish guys. We all just wanted to win, and everyone knew their roles and embraced it.  It helps when you have a Hall of Fame coach calling the shots, as well. He kept us all humble and hungry.”

All right, now to what has to be considered the best of the best.

Sacred Heart’s triumphant trio won three state titles together. Wood led another state-championship team as a senior.

They won four years in a row in Class 1A, and that trio went on to have well-traveled Division I college careers. All three started at one school and finished at another one.

How many small-town talents get to play for one Division I school, let alone two.

The fact that Sacred Heart made six Final Fours and nearly won a 2A state title without the Big 3, falling 54-52 to Central-Coosa, speaks to the coaching of Ralpheal Graves and his staff.

Yes, they had talent.

Yes, some questioned how they gathered such talent, and this isn’t the time for that debate.

The fact is they coached that talent well enough for results and talent to match. They won more state championships consecutively than each of the other multi-time champions from Calhoun won overall. 

Take out the back-to-back factor, and the score is Sacred Heart 4, Alexandria 3, Anniston 3 and Jacksonville 2, but each one deserves celebration.

Jacksonville, welcome to the very exclusive club.

Cover photo: Jacksonville players celebrated after beating Westminster Christian in Friday’s Class 4A state final in Birmingham. (Photo by Joe Medley)

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