A Long Sprint: Aided By Winning, Winning Aided By Experience

* This originally ran in the Wayne County Press a few weeks ago as one of my Ball Five columns. Finally getting around to including it here on the blog.

For most prep sports reporters with any experience, the school sports is a long grind of the calendar year. This year…not so much.

With most sports delayed until January, and then all shoveled into a six-month bag, it was more of a grueling sprint. Four seasons, mostly played in the span of 2 ½.

Fairfield Mule fans had one advantage, however, making this mad dash through the night after night of games—they were mostly watching their team win.

All said and done, the Fairfield Mules had a banner year, literally. Seven banners are going to need updated with new conference championships this year—a feat never accomplished at FCHS before. Let me repeat that—seven conference championships in one year.

The boys won football, cross country, baseball, basketball and wrestling Black Diamond championships. They nearly pulled off a sweep, missing just the golf title. The girls added a volleyball BDC championship. They finished second in basketball, with just three losses all year.

They have had a good run of classes that has made things easier for the coaches, but give the coaches their credit as well.

Level Heads

In a season of chaos, with will they or won’t they, with short prep, crossover weeks with multiple sports all going at once, with all of that, the Mules have a not-so-secret weapon at their disposal.

Experience, and plenty of it.

FCHS has had a run on coaching continuity not seen at most small schools, especially so in the revenue sports.

Elsewhere on this page is a picture of the six coaches who led their teams to seven BDC championships. They are mostly all familiar faces due to their longevity at the helms of their programs.

Justin Townsend completed his 20th year as head coach of football and 11th as boys track head coach.

Justin Sanders is in his seventh year leading the cross country teams.

Scott McElravy has been the head coach for Mules basketball for 16 years, after serving as an assistant for seven years prior to that.

Chris Fleener is just in his second year as head coach for Mules baseball, and the first season was cancelled, but that comes after he led the Effingham program for 20 years.

The relative newcomer to the ranks is Jordan Griffith, who wrapped up his second year as head coach of wrestling the BDC title. He was an assistant for a year before taking over.

Chet Snyder has led the volleyball program for 17 years, including back-to-back Super Sectional runs before there was no post-season this year.

In fact, that might have been the only downside to this incredible season. Most of the teams did not get a chance to compete for a postseason title. Those seven BDC championships came with no postseason trophies to accompany them.

Simply put, one would be extremely hard pressed to find another school with as much continuity as what FCHS has right now in their coaching ranks. That paid dividends this year.

With all that success comes recognition, for both the coaches and players. Postseason all-region, all-state, all-conference lists this year were littered with the names of Fairfield Mule athletes and coaches alike.

The Fairfield Mules racked up an unprecedented seven BDC championships this year. Standing with their trophies were, from left: Jordan Griffith, wrestling; Justin Sanders, boys cross country; Justin Townsend, football and boys track; Chet Snyder, volleyball; Scott McElravy, boys basketball; and Chris Fleener, baseball.

Another First

Fairfield also pulled off another first for them on the athlete side—four conference MVPs in one season.

Landon Zurliene and Leah Bowers were the first to earn the honor, claiming BDC-East MVP trophies in basketball. Chloe Britton followed with the MVP nod in volleyball. All three are seniors. The last to join the ranks was Junior McGwire Taylor in baseball.

So while this Covid-shortened sports season may have been a mad dash the likes not seen since Enos Slaughter in ‘46, at least the Mules got to play the role of Genghis Khan to the BDC’s Eurasia.

For the first time in school history, the Fairfield Mules had four conference MVPs in one school year. From left, McGwire Taylor, Chloe Britton, Leah Bowers and Landon Zurliene were all tabbed as the top player in the league for their sports.

Also, I am required to mention the one person who was involved in every one of these sports. She is kind of a badass.

Athletic Trainer, extraordinaire

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