There were many things that made 2017 special for southwest Oklahoma sports. From the swim teams doing well at the Class 5A State Swim Tournament to the Bulldog wrestling program finishing fourth at state and several athletes signing letters of intent to continue their athletic careers at the collegiate level, 2017 brought moments that many athletes and fans will remember forever.
This is a look at 10 of those top moments through 2017 beginning in January and ending in December.
Local athletes make national team
In January, two Altus Junior High football players made headlines when they were selected to compete for the U.S. National Football Team at the USA Football International Bowl VIII at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
For the opportunity to do so, lineman Solomon Arrington II and linebacker and running back Laethon Patterson were chosen from a field of more than 10,000 athletes from across the nation after participating in USA Football’s Regional Development Camp. The camp featured two days of competition and development training with current NCAA coaches and former NFL players and coaches.
Only 16 teams were invited to play in the International Bowl and of the 16, one was from Japan while four others were from Canada. The games were broadcast on ESPN3.
Hunter Cleveland bounces back from injury, earns All-State honors
In February, Altus Bulldog linebacker Hunter Cleveland learned of his selection to the All-State team. A great achievement under normal circumstances, Cleveland’s journey to the top was anything but normal. The senior linebacker had to battle through mental and physical stress after tearing his ACL in both his right and left knees.
Instead of having surgery on his right knee, Cleveland opted for a knee brace and went back to practice. But during the first game of the season against Vernon, Cleveland tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus in his left knee, ending his season for good. Cleveland had both knees surgically repaired and battled back to play the final six games of his senior season, finishing with 61 tackles in 10 games. His play earned him All-State honors as well as the Bob R. Williams award which is awarded to a player who overcomes obstacles to participate in high school athletics.
Former Bulldog wrestler battles at NCAA tournament
In March, former Altus High School and Oklahoma State University wrestler Keilan Torres became the first Altus graduate to make it to the NCAA Division I Wrestling National Championships after placing third at the Big 12 Championships — Torres finished 5-1 at the Big 12 tournament.
Torres transferred from OSU to the University of Northern Colorado where he compiled a 28-14 record with 13 pins and four major decisions. At that time, Torres was ranked 20th in the nation at 165 pounds. UNC competes in the Big 12 wrestling tournament.
AHS athletes sign letters of intent
In April, five Altus High School athletes signed letters of intent to continue their education while competing in their chosen sports at a collegiate level.
For wrestling, Gage Gomez and Keegan Pride both signed on to wrestle at Barton Community College in Great Bend, Kansas, while Itzel Flores, Jimmie Dollins and Grace Hernke all signed to wrestle at Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford.
Wrestling center dedicated
In May, Altus Public Schools surprised longtime Altus wrestling coach Nick Williams by dedicating the Bulldog wrestling room in Williams’ honor. During his tenure, Williams has coached 62 state qualifiers, 21 state placers, 15 state champions and eight All-Americans.
Before the dedication, Williams was diagnosed with ALS —a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. The gathering was a way for Altus residents and former and current wrestlers to show Williams that he would not have to battle the disease alone.
For people who couldn’t make the ceremony, their responses were recorded and shown at the event.
Gilbert selected to coach All-State game
In June, Navajo High School softball coach Terry Gilbert was selected to coach the Class 3A Slowpitch Softball All-State game after leading the Lady Indians to a 33-10 record and the team’s second consecutive state championship tournament appearance.
Along with Gilbert, senior Cambrie Thornton was also selected to play in the game that was held at Oklahoma Christian University in Edmond on June 17. Although Gilbert was proud of the achievement, he said the attention should be on the program that was built at Navajo instead of himself.
First annual Spirit Festival held
In July, an event was held over the 4th of July weekend to give Altus residents something fun to do before the holiday.
At the Spirit Festival, family events such as a football throw, a water balloon toss, a sack race, a hula-hoop contest and a triathlon were held as part of the City of Altus’ efforts to host a community-wide event to celebrate freedom.
A triathlon featured 53 runners with AHS cross country runner Cayden Beckner finishing first in the womens’ division with a time of 1:32.58.
Former WOSC basketball player tries out for OKC Blue
In August, former WOSC Pioneer standout Sterling Thomas received the opportunity of a lifetime when he was invited to try out for the Oklahoma City Thunder’s G League team, OKC Blue.
Thomas was an exceptional player at Western, averaging 20 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals per game during his two-year stint as a Pioneer. Of the experience, Thomas said he loved every moment of it and that he is beyond blessed for the opportunity.
Bulldogs snap losing streak to MacArthur
In October, the Altus Bulldogs football team snapped a 16-year losing streak to the Lawton MacArthur Highlanders with a 26-15 win.
The game saw the Bulldog defense step up in the second half of play to shut out the Highlanders. The game’s momentum shifted when Garrett Pride picked off a MacArthur pass and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown. Coach Todd Vargas said it was not only a big play but it was also the game-clinching play the Bulldogs needed to end the drought and take down the Highlanders.
Altus football has 11 players receive All-District honors
In December, after a successful 10-2 season, 11 Bulldog football players were selected to the Class 5A-1 All-District team with three Bulldogs receiving Player of the Year honors.
Quarterback Jake Vargas was selected as the Class 5A-1 Player of the Year, Keegan Shive was named the Class 5A-1 Offensive Lineman of the Year for the district and Kory Beach was named the Class 5A-1 Linebacker of the Year.
Also receiving recognition were Kade Wilson, Chris Heitert, Garrett Yeager, Gage Vernon, Kody Sullivan, Jazerick Pitts, Brenden Phillips and Ernesto Rosas.
It was a successful 2017 for athletics in southwest Oklahoma and 2018 is already shaping up to be even better!
Reach Ryan Lewis at 580-482-1221, ext. 2076.
Reach Ryan Lewis at 580-482-1221, ext. 2076.