All week long, ESPNHS.com counts down the stories, events and trends that shaped the 2011 year in high school sports. Today, we look at stories 6 through 10.
After beginning the 2010-11 school year with an unprecedented Nike Cross Nationals and Foot Locker XC double, Carl Sandburg (Orland Park, Ill.) senior Lukas Verzbicas achieved something even greater when he became the first to triple in the 5,000 meters, 2-mile and mile in an indoor or outdoor prep championship at the New Balance Indoor Nationals in New York.
Verzbicas set a prep record in the 5,000 meters (14:06.78) Thursday, then ran the second fastest 2-mile in history (8:40.70) and kicked to a 4:10.67 mile victory on Sunday. In outdoor track, he only competed twice but made history each time. He lowered the prep 2-mile record to 8:29.46 at the Prefontaine Classic, then ripped a 3:59.71 to win the Adidas Grand Prix Dream Mile in New York, becoming the fifth prep to break 4:00.
Verzbicas signed with Oregon, but he spent less than two months with the Ducks this fall, leaving to pursue his dream of making the Olympics in the triathlon.
In sports, the idea is to never back down from the opponent no matter how big or intimidating. Unfortunately for thousands in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Joplin, Mo., and Linwood, N.J., nobody told them their greatest opponents would come by way of natural disasters and tragedy. In April, a massive tornado tore through Tuscaloosa. A month later, another violent tornado demolished the town and school in Joplin. And in August, four Mainland Regional football players died in a car accident.
As the rebuilding continues in each town, sports, in particular football, have helped the communities unite as reminders that even these opponents can't destroy their wills.
It seemed as if no high school football record was safe this season.
Aledo (Texas) senior running back Johnathan Gray became the nation's all-time leader in career touchdowns (205), which he set in his final high school game, and finished second in career points (1,232).
Meanwhile, Hillcrest (Springfield, Mo.) senior wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham broke the career receiving yards (6,356) mark, and Kenton (Ohio) senior quarterback Maty Mauk capped his unbelievable career with national career records in passing yards (18,932), touchdown passes (219), completions (1,353), attempts (2,110) and total yards (22,681).
When we first featured Lexi Thompson two years ago, she was already a phenom -- the youngest golfer ever to qualify for U.S. Women's Open. In the past year, the 16-year-old has continued her historic ascent, becoming the youngest winner on both the LPGA and Ladies European tours. The Florida native captured the Navistar LPGA Classic in Alabama in September, earning LPGA membership as a result, and followed that up with a triumph at the Dubai Ladies Masters in December.
Two special needs athletes in two different states had equally unforgettable moments of glory on the playing field in 2011. In November, Hilton Head (S.C.) senior football player Chip Mullen took a pitch and ran it 75 yards to the house as time expired during his team's playoff loss to Myrtle Beach (S.C.). The coaches from both teams coordinated the triumph for Mullen, who has Down syndrome and a transplanted heart. When he reached the end zone, players from both teams ran to celebrate with him.
Earlier this year in Louisiana, Pineville (La.) soccer player Ross Barron, who also has Down's, was inserted into his team's last game with minutes remaining and Pineville down 8-0 to heavily favored Lafayette (La.). When Lafayette coach Jeremy Cart saw Barron check in, he proposed to Pineville coach Grant Eloi that they get the senior a goal. After a couple misses, Barron buried one in the net, bringing his coach and many in attendance to tears.