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No. 11: Welcome to ‘Title Town' – again

Although the magnet for the township's growth is the excellent reputation of the schools, success can't be measured in test scores along.

To compliment the strong academic performance of local schools is the hardware earned by students and their faculty leaders in competition outside the classroom.

Early in 2009, a quartet of wrestlers, Fort Mill High School's Fantastic Four all won S.C. state titles. The total tied Dorchster for most individual champions from one team.

The Yellow Jackets who brought home the gold were Max Simons, who went 53-0 last year and has stretched his winning streak to 67-0 into this season; Jonathan Miskelly, also 53-0 in 2009; Brandon Feix, a two-time state champ; and Thomas Mockridge, who put the finishing touches on his senior season by winning a decision at State against a tough opponent from Greenwood who had defeated Mockridge a week earlier at Upper State.

Nation Ford High boasted a champion in swimmer Evan Ashcraft, a junior who captured the 200 individual medley at the AAAA State Swim Meet this past fall. The FMHS 200 medley relay team of Al Lim, Sam Van Buskirk, Alex Huffman and Kyle Patterson also earned an S.C. title.

The fall was a time for celebrating even more victories.

Fort Mill High's Mark Blackmon became a three-time state cross country champion and set the best time – 15:18 – in the nation among all male high school cross country runners in the Wendy's Invitational. Blackmon is also only the second runner in cross country history at the 4A level to win three consecutive individual state titles.

In another type of arena, one school came of age and another marked a return to glory. Marching bands from Fort Mill and Nation Ford high schools both took home first place honors in State Championship competitions. In Class AAA at Woodmont High School, Nation Ford brought home its first State band win in the school's three-year history. The band also won prizes for Best Music and Best Visual Performance, scoring a 91.65. Second place went to Blue Ridge High School with a score of 90.

“Every year is special for those kids involved. The faces change, but it's always the students' band,” Director Martin Dickey said. “That's my goal, to make sure every student that comes through the band has a good chance at success.”

Fort Mill's Marching Band competed in Class AAAA at Batesburg-Leesville High School, taking home its fourth state championship in Class AAAA and its 22nd State Championship overall. Most notably, Fort Mill's margin of victory (3.15 points) is the largest at AAAA state finals since 1978, when Spring Valley won by almost five points over Summerville.

Fort Mill's victory kept alive a streak that was in jeopardy. Since 1976, every class of seniors at FMHS has won at least one state band title by the time they graduated.

“They were excited; they've just been working very hard this whole year and had a stellar year all the way through,” Director John Pruitt said.

Indian Land High School also competed in the State Championships, taking home sixth place in Class A. Director Matthew Willis said he was pleased with the students' performance at the competition and throughout the marching band season this year, he said.

Honorable mentions

Nation Ford High School's volleyball team dominated the regular season and most of the playoffs, before losing the Upper State title match to top-ranked Dorman.

At Gold Hill Middle School, history was made. In the 10-year history of the school, there has never been an undefeated sports team. That is, not until the girls soccer team defeated Springfield Middle 6-0, boosting its overall record to 11-0 and becoming the first Bulldogs team in any sport, boys or girls, to finish the season without a loss.

"It's amazing. It feels great to accomplish everything we wanted to do," said Megan Polito, Gold Hill's offensive MVP for the season. "We improved all season long and we had fun every game."

Polito knocked in the first four goals in the season finale at Springfield and, late in the second half, defender Jenna Koster and sweeper Libby Dewey, the team's defensive MVP, played up front and each scored one goal.

Polito, who will be playing for Fort Mill High School next season, said she could not have scored all the goals without good passes from her teammates.

"It was a complete team effort. I just got my foot on it," she said.

Gold Hill's goalkeeper, seventh-grader Gabbie Dorneden, posted a shutout, which had become a fairly common occurrence during the season. Dorneden allowed only two goals all year.

“I just keep focused and hope for the best," said Dorneden, who began playing in the goal six years ago. "I don't play by myself; I play with my defense and they do a great job."

Head Coach Bill Johnson said the team has been eyeing a perfect season all year long and said he believed his team could do it.

"We had confidence in all the talent we have on this team. We just had to keep our heads on straight," Johnson said.