The 2011-12 high school athletic year in the Arkansas River Valley has truly been a memorable one. Four Russellville teams earned Class 6A state championships and a multitude of teams reached the state championship game in their respective sports and classifications. Even more found themselves competing in the state playoffs.
With that much success comes many accolades for players and coaches alike. Recently, Pottsville head softball coach Greg Jones was named the Arkansas High School Coaches Association's (AHSCA) Outstanding Softball Coach of the Year.
The honors continued as Russellville Cyclones head baseball coach Matt Long was named the AHSCA Outstanding Baseball Coach of the Year by his fellow coaches across the state.
"My initial reaction was a huge feeling of pride," Long said. "A lot of times you try to see where you fit in with other coaches and how they feel about you. I was overwhelmed that my peers though that highly of me. It was a proud moment."
Long's Cyclones finished 23-8 and 11-3 in 7A/6A Central Conference play, and reached the Class 6A state semifinals before they fell 4-2 to eventual champion El Dorado. Despite all the success his Russellville team enjoyed, the coach said it was still a bit of a shock to learn he had been named.
"It brought a few tears when I found out," Long admitted. "You know, you doubt yourself a lot. Wondering, 'Am I doing what's right? Am I doing the best for my team?' When your peers have enough confidence in you to elect you to such a high honor, it's just overwhelming."
Russellville's success hinged on a strong senior class that included four college signees. Pitcher/outfielder Derek Birginske (Arkansas State), middle infielder/outfielder Frank Chiolino (Crowder College), pitcher/centerfielder Cody Jones (Crowder College) and pitcher/designated hitter Mike Cowles (Florence-Darlington Technical College) led the Cyclones in 2012. Fellow seniors included outfielder James Reasoner, infielder Cody Cooper and first baseman Eric Turner.
"You don't want to be too proud because you know you can be a good coach, but you have to have good players," Long said. "This kind of award goes for everybody on the Cyclones. You have to give the bulk of the credit to our players, our administration and our school. Above all else, you have to give most of the praise to our players. Without them I wouldn't be receiving anything."