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Simmons Superlatives - Best Senior

As we officially close down the 2020-21 school year, WCSA editor-in-chief Jeffery Simmons wanted to go back and hand out his final awards for the year. Simmons has been picking the defining athletes, teams and moments in high school sports for years, but this will be the first on our new website.

Welcome to the Simmons Superlatives!

Last week, we have honored the best moments, best coaches, best under-the-radar athletes and best freshmen in Warren County. This week, we’ll bring the Simmons’ Superlatives a close. Yesterday was the best athletes and today is the top seniors. Just one more category to go after this – the best teams.

On to the list:

1. Terry Hines, Covenant basketball/soccer

When I was doing the list of the most under-the-radar athletes in Warren County, I mentioned Covenant seniors David Netherton and Elijah Smith. Specifically in the Smith portion, I referenced how he was the perfect Scottie Pippen – a second banana who was probably overqualified for his role but took a back seat to MJ. Well, now we’re to the Michael Jordan of the Covenant Lions.

There have been a lot of good athletes to come from Covenant over the last decade, but I don’t think any have won more or be honored as much as Terry Hines. He became the school’s first 1,000-point scorer on the hardwood this winter while leading the Lions to a TNCAA championship. Hines was instrumental in helping the soccer program win the TNCAA championship too, part of a school year where Covenant brought in five high school titles (girls volleyball, boys and girls tennis).

Oh yeah, Hines was the tournament MVP in both sports. He’s pretty good.

I’ve gotten to know Hines over the years, mostly through his extended family that I’ve been around since I was in high school. This year, I got a chance to talk to Terry more and gained an even bigger appreciation for him off the field of battle.

At times, I lean into the sensational – I love the big headlines and the major storylines that can come from a sporting event. I called Hines Warren County’s “Mr. Triple-Double,” after a particularly big game this year and always was talking him up as one of the best to ever play for Covenant. Terry would smile, express his appreciation and begin deferring to his teammates.

It was never about personal glory for Terry – he really just wanted people to know that Covenant had good programs and good players. He played hard for the name on the front of the jersey and not the one on the back, which is always a coach’s dream.

He had flair though. On the basketball court, his outfits matched his game – they were both loud. Armed with a headband and a flowing mullet, there was no way to miss Hines when he was coming onto the court.

It was a lot harder to keep up with him when the ball was tipped though. He could drain the long triples, go coast-to-coast and finish with style or whip a no-look pass to a teammate for an easy two. He was a one-man show, even if he made sure that everybody got the attention.

2. Dee Spates, WCHS basketball

One of coach Chris Sullens’ favorite stories to tell about Dee Spates was when he found out there was a new kid at the school. Apparently, Dee had showed up late in the spring during his sophomore year from Blackman and had already impressed some of the Pioneers while running some games around the school. While it’s fun to get your hopes up about that magical transfer who is going to come in and change the team in an instant, the truth is that it rarely happens in Warren County.

When Sullens finally got to see Spates, he realized it was happening. The Pioneers had been blessed with the point guard they needed to take the next step. Sullens didn’t waste time – he put the ball in Dee’s hands that summer and never took it out the rest of his time in Warren County.

CJ Taylor was probably the No. 1 option for the Pioneers the last two years and the player who drew the most attention from opposing fans, but every opposing coach I talked to in the postseason mentioned how stopping Spates was the key to slowing down the Pioneers.

Usually after a huge sigh, they would shake their heads and say, “we didn’t do a good job of it.” Stopping Spates isn’t a one-man job and sometimes two couldn’t do it either. During the District 6AAA tournament, you could see opposing players visibly frustrated while looking at their coach after Spates left them in the dust again. It was easy to know what they were thinking – “coach, what am I supposed to do?”

So many times, the answer was that there was nothing you could do. If Spates wanted to get in the paint, defenders were usually nothing more than a minor speed bump or a traffic cone to maneuver around. Even worse, big posts were also left in a no-win situation when Spates arrived in the lane.

Step up and challenge Spates and he’s going to whip a no-look pass to a Pioneer post for a layup. Hang back on your man and the speedy point will take the layup. Try to play the middle and Spates was going to unleash one of the most devastating floaters in the Midstate.

One of the most heartwarming fan moments this year came after the Pioneers won their second straight district title. All-tournament awards were being announced and fans started to realize Dee was about to take home the MVP. Chants came flowing down, all the way to the time where Spates was handed the hardware and lifted up by teammates.

He may not have grown up in Warren County, but I don’t know if there’s many more beloved Pioneers and teammates than Dee Spates.

3. Ryland Holder, WCHS football/baseball

When it comes to beating a rival, especially one that has your number over a long period of time, there usually is a breaking point – a moment where the light bulb goes off for fans and players to signal that it’s over. I saw it way back in 1998 when I was a kid and Tennessee beat Florida – it just so happened to be on a missed field goal by the Gators to end the game. I saw it again in 2016 when Jauan Jennings caught a bomb down the sidelines as the Vols completed a 21-0 comeback to take down Florida for the first time in 11 years.

I also remember the moment in Game 4 of the 2014 Finals when the Spurs were trying to complete their redemption tour against the Miami Heat. San Antonio was up 2-1, just like the year before, and were crushing the Heat in the first half of Game 4. Just before halftime, Patty Mills missed a 3-pointer, only to watch as Kawhi Leonard sprinted down the lane, rose up in traffic and hammered home a thunderous dunk off the rebound.

Right then and there, I knew there was no way the Spurs were going to lose again.

I had that same feeling this fall on the sidelines at Nunley Stadium when Ryland Holder unleashed the best run of the season for the Pioneers. It wasn’t one of CJ Taylor’s many long TD runs, where he broke into the clear and left everybody in the dust.

Ryland’s run was pure grit, showing the will to stay up when everybody else expected him to go down. Coming out of halftime, Ryland had already told coaches to give him the ball because the Cavaliers didn’t want to tackle him. He showed them he wasn’t messing around moments later.

Ryland’s TD run is going to be talked about for years to come. It was one of the highlights of the year in the state of Tennessee, even voted by Hudl as the top play all across the country.

When Ryland powered through the endzone, with help of the Syrup Squad pushing the pile, I knew there was no way Cookeville was going to come back. That run crushed their soul.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, Ryland never went down. He came out of the endzone, turned right toward the Cookeville bench and flexed his muscles.

He was ready for the next round, but the Cavaliers were already down for the count.


4. Jace Brantley, WCHS baseball

When it became clear Warren County had a path toward an outright District 6AAA regular season baseball title, I started thinking about who from the Pioneers could be named MVP. While it’s not set in stone, many times the MVP is going to go to one of the players on the league’s top team, even if this year’s Pioneers mostly got things done by committee.

Still, I thought somebody needed to be pushed for the award. After digging through the stats and thinking about all the innings I watched, I decided that Jace was my choice. I appreciated all the things he brought to the game, particularly his attitude.

My favorite thing about Jace this year was during our first interview when I asked him about making so many plays at third base in a thrilling victory. He just looked at me and said nonchalantly, “they call it the hot corner for a reason.”

He knew what it took to get the job done and – for the most part – he was up to the task. He had some swagger too – he hit bombs and pumped gas as a reliever down the stretch when Warren County was at its best.

He didn’t that MVP award, but he definitely earned my respect.

5. Aiden Cummings, WCHS football/basketball

It would be impossible not to like Aiden Cummings, either as a guy or an athlete. He’s just a good dude.

I realized it a lot more this year with how he handled himself during less-than-ideal times. There was no way Cummings wanted to spend his entire senior year – the eight months he could get on a ton of college radars – dealing with nagging injuries, but it happened. He went down in preseason football camp, gutted it out for a while and then dealt with another leg injury that basically plagued him until the last basketball game in March.

All the while, he just gritted his teeth, made the most of his opportunities and gave his teams chances to win. He didn’t have the explosion or lateral quickness that had taken many by surprise on the gridiron and hardwood during his junior year, but he still was able to get the job done, especially when the Pioneers needed him the most.

He always did it with a smile on his face too. As good as he is on the field, he’s even better off the field. He is always looking out for his friends, family and teammates. He’s a guy that everybody seemed to want to talk to, knowing he was going to hear them out and dish out good advice.

I’m glad he’s getting a chance to play at the next level. If he can get his injuries all healed up by this fall, I think Cumberland University is going to realize they got a steal.

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