Retrospective: Jeremy’s favorite stories of 2014

Jey Uso (left) and Jimmy Uso played are the currenty WWE Tag Team Champions and each played linebacker at the University of West Alabama.

Jey Uso (left) and Jimmy Uso played are the former WWE Tag Team Champions and each played linebacker at the University of West Alabama.

When I came up with the idea of having each of us share our favorite stories of 2014, I had no idea exactly how hard it would be to narrow that list down. The design of this idea was to tell you about the things we enjoyed writing this year. The lists likely will not be news heavy, but each story will have its own special meaning to its writer.

So here they are in no particular order and with no particular limitations. These were my favorite stories of 2014.

• Big ol’ Christmas tree – Barbara Blevins and her team built a 30-foot tall Christmas tree downtown. I knew nothing of it but just happened by one day in hopes of snagging a Photo of the Day. Sometimes the most fun stories are the ones you didn’t know you were going to write. In this instance, I got to tell of the creative process from inspiration to fruition of how Blevins and her team were adding their own piece to the Demopolis Christmas landscape.

• DMS in the Top 10 percent – There are so many negative stories when it comes to the world of education. Every now and again, it is really good to get to sit down and tell a good one. In this case, Demopolis Middle School received a rating that placed it in the Top 10 percent of Alabama middle schools according to Niche. Getting to break down the how and why of the rankings as well as getting feedback from DMS principal Blaine Hathcock was an interesting process. The real reward came from seeing  just a little piece of payoff for the faculty that works so hard to educate students from sixth through eighth grades here in our city.

Sessions• Jeff Sessions visits the Farmhouse – In the interest of disclosure, I will readily admit that I was not initially looking forward to interviewing Senator Jeff Sessions when he visited Demopolis. I was not excited about the photo-op, the story or anything else that went along with it. What I got, however, was one of the more fun stories of my career. Sessions proved to be a terrific interview and easily one of the more interesting people I have had the opportunity to meet.

• Debbie Nichols leaves Demopolis High – I had no doubt when I sat down to interview Debbie Nichols that the long-time DHS counselor would shed a few tears. I did not understand at the time that I would want to do the same. Nichols truly loved the students of DHS and it was difficult to see the walls once coated so fully with pictures and newspaper clippings be stripped bare as she prepared to leave her post and head into the next phase of her life.

Prom_Oates Clements_IMG_6302• Tyler Oates is a dude – I always knew Tyler Oates was a tough kid. But to watch him go from a Dec. 2013 car accident that left him with a broken back to taking the field on Opening Day of baseball season some two months later was pretty remarkable. What’s more is that Oates hit .395 that season and earned First Team Class 5A All-State Honors at third base for the Alabama Sports Writers Association. And it couldn’t have happened for a more likeable kid. Tyler Oates is a dude.

Williams_Ray• Oh but Ray Williams… — Demopolis native Ray Williams broke multiple powerlifting world records this year. I got the pleasure of interviewing the ever-so-humble and ever-so-impressive Williams back in the summer. You talk about brushes with greatness…

• Taylor Polk, Devin Stroud sign – These were two very different stories with two very similar themes. In both cases, you had a former Demopolis High athlete who bet on himself and collected the payoff. Taylor Polk walked on at Troy University as a long snapper. After two years, he got his chance this year when he ascended to the top of the depth chart and the Trojans put him on scholarship. For Stroud, he had Tommy John surgery after playing injured for DHS during his senior year. He endured the rehab process, got himself on a mound and landed a scholarship from Lurleen B. Wallace Community College for his efforts. Rumble young man…

Chandler Stenz and Andrea Edmonds share a celebratory hug while Brooke Smyly shouts for joy as the Lady Longhorns finished off an overtime win to grab the AISA Class A state championship Friday.

• Lady Longhorns win it all – I’ve covered one basketball state championship to this point in my career. That came in February when Marengo Academy’s ladies polished off a 27-0 campaign with an overtime win against Patrician. The win was especially sweet since the core of that team had been together on the varsity squad all the way back into the seventh and eighth grades.

Ronda 1• Ronda Russell climbs into the cage – I’ve done several stories over the years on the martial arts acumen of Ronda Russell, her husband Jay, and their students at Ross Martial Arts in Demopolis. In 2014, I did a story about Ronda turning to mixed martial arts for the first time. In her 30s, a wife, a business owner, a mother of two children, Russell had every reason to think the ship had sailed on her dream. But that’s not her attitude. She climbed into the cage for the first time this summer and the safe money says she’ll do it again.

• From the gridiron to the squared circle – I’m not even going to pretend that this was anything but my favorite story of the year. In fact, it is one of my favorite stories to date in my career. I grew up a wrestling fan. It has been a source of entertainment for me since I was about five years old. As such, the chance to interview former UWA linebackers turned WWE Tag Team Champions was absolutely one of the highlights of my career.

Jimmy Uso connects with his signature top rope splash on WWE Superstar Seth Rollins at the company's Money in the Bank pay-per-view last year.

Jimmy Uso connects with his signature top rope splash on WWE Superstar Seth Rollins at the company’s Money in the Bank pay-per-view last year.