Beginning the year without a title sponsor in place beyond 2010 was cause for concern, and ending the year without a sponsor makes the future of Hilton Head Island's annual PGA Tour stop appear bleak, at best.
But it wasn't all bad news for the Heritage this year.
First of all, the tournament still has a place on the PGA Tour schedule for 2011 -- albeit a week later than usual -- and the Heritage Classic Foundation continues to work with the tour to secure a long-term title sponsor.
The sponsorship search spanned the entire year, and unlike 2010 -- when tournament officials began the year pledging the tournament would be back one way or another -- there is no indication the event will exist beyond 2011 without a new title sponsor. The Heritage Classic Foundation is using a combination of its reserve funds and contributions from the county and town to put on this year's event.
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The sponsorship situation has prompted Heritage organizers to find new ways to market the event, including the "Get Your Plaid On" advertising campaign that was honored as the year's best by the PGA Tour's Tournament Advisory Council, and the addition of daily ticket sales for the 2011 event.
The new year brings new hope that the Heritage will again be a top story in 2011, and one that is punctuated with good news.
"We promise we are going to do everything in our power to make sure that this event continues for many years to come," tournament director Steve Wilmot said at the tournament's sponsor day last month. "With that being said, we do need that title sponsor."
2. First-year coach Ken Cribb leads Bluffton High School football team to 12-2 record and Lower State championship game, wins Bridge Bowl over Hilton Head High for first time
Ken Cribb got crazy looks when he made it a goal to win the Region 7-AAA championship in his first year at Bluffton High School. And quite frankly, he probably should have.
The Bobcats had never completed a winning season prior to 2010, but this was a year of re-writing the record books. In the most memorable year in program history, the Bobcats finished 12-2 -- including a pair of wins against Hilton Head High for the first time ever -- captured that region title and reached the Class 3-A Lower State title game by winning the first three playoff games in school history. The Bobcats lost to Myrtle Beach in the Lower State championship, but it was how they got there that won't soon be forgotten.
Bluffton edged out Lakewood, A.C. Flora and Hartsville in the first three rounds of the postseason, and did so in dramatic fashion. C.J. Frazier found emerging star Eric Boyles for a touchdown with 12 seconds remaining to lift the Bobcats over Hartsville and into the Lower State title game.
"You may not ever experience another game like that," Cribb said. "That was just amazing."
Boyles finished with 21 touchdowns for the season, just one shy of the team's total in 2009. Cribb was named the Class 3-A Lower State Coach of the Year by his peers.
"It was a special, special year," Cribb said. "We had a lot of hungry kids ready for success, and we fed off that."
3. Jim Furyk wins first Verizon Heritage title after Brian Davis calls penalty on himself in playoff
After several near-misses, Jim Furyk finally slipped into a tartan jacket in 2010, winning his first Verizon Heritage title in a playoff en route to claiming PGA Tour Player of the Year honors.
But Furyk's breakthrough at Harbour Town Golf Links will be remembered as much for the runner-up as the champion. That's because Englishman Brian Davis called a two-stroke penalty on himself after he clipped a loose reed during his backswing while trying to hit his third shot from Calibogue Sound to the adjacent 18th green. Because the ball was in a hazard, hitting the loose impediment violated rule 13.4.
The penalty likely didn't affect the outcome -- Furyk made his short par putt on the first playoff hole, and even without the infraction, Davis would have faced a 30-footer to extend the playoff -- but Davis' decision to do the admirable thing dominated the post-tournament chatter.
"It's obviously a tough loss for him, and I respect and admire what he did," Furyk said. "To be there and be in the battle and have an opportunity to win the golf tournament, and then have to call a penalty on yourself had got to be extremely disappointing. I admire him for what he did. It's a testament to our game and the people that play on the tour."
4. Former Beaufort High star Devin Taylor helps South Carolina reach first SEC title game, named first-team All-SEC
Devin Taylor targeted improvement upon first arriving at South Carolina.
He learned the pace of college life as a redshirt freshman, learned how to handle the big stage his second year and this season, after packing on 20 pounds, claimed his best season to date. The 6-foot-7, 250-pound Taylor, a former Beaufort High defensive end, was named first-team All-SEC by the Associated Press and helped lead the Gamecocks to their first SEC Championship game.
Taylor emerged as a dominant pass-rusher, recording 7 1/2 sacks and often dropping off the line into pass coverage. Several of his teammates requested NFL draft evaluation after the season, but Taylor is set to return for his third season. Taylor said the trip to the Georgia Dome for the SEC title game made him itch to return and win a championship.
If the Gamecocks mimic Taylor's pattern of improvement, they might just pull it off.
5. Beaufort High football star Justin Parker signs with Clemson
Justin Parker's emerged as one of the top prospects in the country in 2010.
The Beaufort High linebacker earned more than a dozen scholarship offers and cracked Sporting News Today's list of top 100 football recruits for the 2010 class. Parker, who shared his thoughts with The Beaufort Gazette/The Island Packet throughout the recruiting process, ultimately chose Clemson.
"It's just something, when you go around there, you realize that there's no place better; it's just like home," Parker said. "I realized that it's all about where you feel most comfortable and where you'll get a great education along with the football side."
Parker was an Associated Press all-state selection, 2009 Beaufort Gazette/Island Packet Defensive Player of the Year, a Shrine Bowl selection and three-time all-region pick. His final high school season, Parker recorded 133 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, five sacks, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one interception for the Eagles.
6. Whale Branch High School athletics era begins -- AD resigns, football program gets off to good start
Whale Branch High School athletics started its inaugural year strong with the hiring of an athletics director with an impressive resume and a young, up-and-comer anxious to make his mark as a head football coach.
The Warriors football team rocketed to a 3-0 start to the season. First-year coach Rob D'Amato and his team enjoyed a brief stay in the Class 1-A top 10.
D'Amato, a former assistant at Goose Creek, brought a focus on fundamentals and special teams. The Warriors were aided by several standouts who came over from Battery Creek. A difficult start to region play brought expectations back to earth. The Warriors were able to salvage two region wins and earn a playoff berth. They were bumped in the first round, a 33-12 defeat at Hardeeville.
Close to the season's close, Warriors athletics director Robert Luckadoo stepped down, choosing to sell insurance after a conflict with his administrative duties. The Warriors' story moves into the new year with the school still searching for Luckadoo's replacement.
7. Hilton Head High girls win fourth straight Class 3-A tennis title
Many coaches believe the only thing harder than winning a championship is winning another. That does not apply to the Hilton Head High girls tennis team.
The Seahawks won their fourth straight Class 3-A state title on Nov. 6, and they made it look even easier than the previous three. Hilton Head High did not drop a single set during its postseason run, winning 6-0 in each playoff match. The Seahawks defeated Greenville in the championship, officially giving top singles player Lindsey Burke, as well as teammate Holli Selman, four state championship rings in their careers. The team finished 15-2 in 2010.
Burke, Brooke Busby, Sabrina Drammis, Jasmyn Howell and Sydnee Wheeler made up the Seahawks' singles lineup. Selman and Megan Farrell played doubles in the Class 3-A final.
8. Jack Duane wins back-to-back wrestling titles at 189 pounds, and David Beck wins state at 215; duo helps Hilton Head High beat Bluffton in Lower State title match, but Seahawks lose state title bout for third straight year
The wrestling rivalry between Hilton Head High and Bluffton kicked up a notch in 2010 when the Bobcats defeated the Seahawks for the first time ever. The Seahawks, however, returned the favor with a one-point victory on an even bigger stage -- the Class 3-A Lower State championship. Hilton Head High fell short of the mark in the state championship for the third straight year, though, losing this time to Lugoff-Elgin.
Beaufort County also made its mark at the individual state championships. Bluffton, Beaufort High, Battery Creek and Hilton Head High combined to send 24 wrestlers to the state championships. Two from Hilton Head High -- Jack Duane and David Beck -- capped their distinguished careers with individual state championships. Duane defended his title at 189 pounds, and Beck became a first-time winner at 215.
9. USC Beaufort athletics gains national prominence -- baseball team makes NAIA World Series Opening Round, both golf teams finish in top seven in the nation, several individual athletes qualify for nationals
USCB's golf teams were successful right away, and they continued their climb to national title contender status in 2010, as the men finished fourth at the NAIA National Championships and the women took seventh. The baseball team joined in the success in its second season, going 39-15 and reaching the NAIA World Series Opening Round.
And 2011 is shaping up to be another great year for the Sand Sharks with three teams beginning the year ranked in the top 25. The men's golf team is No. 2 in the nation, the women's golf team is No. 14, and the baseball team is No. 18 in the preseason coaches poll.
10. Hilton Head Prep girls win SCISAA Class 3-A basketball title, the Dolphins' seventh title in 11 years
After a rare rebuilding year, the Dolphins reestablished themselves as a dominant force among the state's private schools, winning 19 consecutive games to close the season, including a 61-54 victory against Northwood Academy in the championship game. It was the fifth title in six years for Prep, and the seventh under coach Bob Sulek. Dolphins stars Jill Brunori, Kate Brunori and Becky DeRose are named to the all-tournament team.
BEST OF THE REST
Area track stars clean up -- Hilton Head High boys 4x800 team wins for fourth straight year, Ridgeland's Shaquilla Mitchell wins two events, Battery Creek boys finish second in Class 3-A
Beaufort County School District files grievance with SCISAA regarding illegal recruiting of athletes by Hilton Head Prep
Greg Cox fired midseason as Hardeeville girls basketball coach; Hurricanes still make second straight Class 1-A title game
HHCA wins baseball title, first SCISAA Class 3-A title in any sport
Hilton Head High boys cross country team wins second consecutive Class 3-A title, two-time defending champion girls finish second
Hilton Head High boys make state semifinals in first season lacrosse is sanctioned by SCHSL
Hilton Head High girls swimming team wins Class 3-A state title, as several area swimmers claim individual crowns
John Drafts steps down as Battery Creek boys basketball coach after 27 seasons
Kevin Tway, son of former Heritage champion Bob Tway, wins the Players Amateur
Mark Anderson plays first season on Nationwide Tour, finishes 60th on money list with $116,183