This is an opinion article.

Sand Mountain is home to some of the best and most passionate basketball fans I know. Basketball season never stops for them, because they talk about it year round and count down the days until each season tips off.

Varsity and junior varsity teams in the AHSAA officially launch preseason practice Monday, with the opening games of the season scheduled for Nov. 7. Asbury will be the first team in The Reporter’s coverage area to play a game, as the Rams host Section on Nov. 8.

I don’t remember a season that’s featured this many new coaches at the same time. The list of new coaches for the 2019-20 campaign is:

Boaz — Cale Black, varsity boys

Crossville — Jesse Martin, varsity girls

Douglas — Skylar Baugh, varsity boys

Guntersville — Brett Self, varsity boys, and Heather Powell, varsity girls

Marshall Christian School — Rocky Peek, varsity boys

Sardis — Matt Lofthus, varsity girls

West End — Richard Hollingsworth, varsity boys, and Hunter Grant, varsity girls

Cale Black worked two tenures as Geraldine’s varsity boys coach from 2005-07 and 2008-17. He coached both Bulldog varsity teams in 2009-10. Last year, he served as an assistant coach for Plainview’s varsity boys, who won a second straight Class 3A State Tournament crown.

Jesse Martin was a varsity boys assistant at Crossville last season. His wife, Molly Williamson Martin, will be his varsity girls assistant coach.

Skylar Baugh is returning home to lead the DHS varsity boys. He played for the Eagles’ 2006-07 team, which finished as the Class 4A State Tournament runner-up.

Brett Self left Douglas to take over the tradition-rich Guntersville program, which boasts one state title, 13 state tournament appearances, 23 Marshall County Tournament titles and 27 area tournament championships.

Heather Powell is one of the elite girls basketball players in AHSAA history. She powered Fyffe to three state championships and scored 4,149 career points, which ranks sixth on the girls all-time scoring list. She won Miss Basketball in 1995.

Rocky Peek moved from junior high boys head coach to varsity boys head coach at Marshall Christian. He guided the MCS junior high boys to their second straight Alabama Christian Athletic Association State Tournament crown in 2018-19.

Matt Lofthus coached the Sardis JV girls to the 2019 Etowah County Tournament title. He moved up to take over the varsity program. He served four years as Sardis’ JV girls coach, so he’s familiar with all the girls on his inaugural varsity roster.

Richard Hollingsworth is a former varsity boys coach at Westbrook Christian and Coosa Christian. Hunter Grant is a former three-sport star for the Patriots who served as varsity boys assistant coach last season.

Albertville varsity boys coach Patrick Harding has the longest tenure in his current role of any coach in our coverage area. Patrick enters his 21st season in charge of the Aggies, having won more than 400 games on the Aggie bench.

Overall, Coach Harding is approaching his milestone 500th win. He’s compiled 480 victories at Douglas, DAR and Albertville.

Coach Harding’s youngest son, Dane, enters his fourth and final season playing for his father. Dane is committed to play for UAH, where he will join his brother, Dillon. Dane will sign with the Chargers in November.

This marks the 15th season for the Asbury varsity boys and girls programs. Johnny Pelham is the only varsity boys coach in Rams history.

The inaugural Asbury varsity boys squad reached the Class 1A Elite Eight in 2005-06. Some of the Rams’ key players were Caio Chedid, Malisa Vucinic, Kevin Terrell, Derick Riedlinger, Blake Shell, Andrej Nedovic and the late Luke Brown.

Coach Pelham is continuing his tradition of scheduling larger schools. In November, the Class 2A Rams face three 5A teams in Douglas, Boaz and Crossville, along with 3As Brindlee Mountain and Geraldine. They host Boaz on Nov. 14, Crossville on Nov. 18 and Geraldine on Nov. 22.

Shannon J. Allen is sports editor for The Reporter. He can be reached at shannon.allen@sandmountainreporter.com.

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