Top sports stories of 2008

Richmond Braves move to Gwinnett

Gwinnett County has produced major league baseball players like Brian McCann, Jeff Francoeur and Jeff Keppinger over the years. Now the county will have a professional team to call its own.

The Atlanta Braves organization announced in January that it would move its minor league Class AAA affiliate, the Richmond Braves, to Gwinnett.

The Braves open their season April 9 in Charlotte and the home opener is April 17 against Norfolk. The Braves will play their home games in a newly constructed stadium off Ga. Highway 20 between Interstate 85 and Ga. Highway 316.

Shanteau qualifies for Olympics

Parkview grad Eric Shanteau fulfilled a lifelong dream of qualifying for the Olympics in July. Just days after qualifying in the 200-meter breaststroke for the Beijing Games, Shanteau revealed he had testicular cancer.

Shanteau put off cancer treatment to compete in the Olympics, prompting media attention from all over the world as he became an inspiration to people.

He nearly had a storybook finish at the games. Shanteau posted a personal-best time of 2 minutes, 10.10 seconds in the 200m final preliminary round, but missed the finals by .13 second.

The 23-year-old Shanteau had surgery at the end of August and competed in the U.S. Short Course Nationals in December.

McCann named to third all-star game

It's starting to become common place for Brian McCann to be selected to Major League Baseball's All-Star Game.

The Duluth grad was named to the all-star game for the third straight year, becoming the first Atlanta Brave to reach the feat in his first three full seasons in the majors.

He finished the season with a .301 average with 23 homers and 87 RBIs. McCann also won his second Silver Slugger award, which goes to the top hitter in each league at each position.

The honors continued to roll in last month when McCann was selected to play in the World Baseball Classic.

It wasn't such a good year for McCann's teammate, Jeff Francoeur. The Parkview grad struggled at the plate in 2008, prompting the Braves to send him down to the minors briefly. The right fielder finished the season batting .239 with 11 home runs and 71 RBIs.

Wesleyan athletics has banner year

It was a banner year for Wesleyan athletics. The Wolves' boys basketball, baseball and football teams all won the first state championships in their program's history, becoming the first school to win titles in the big three in the same calendar year.

Led by Miss Georgia Basketball Anne Marie Armstrong, the Wesleyan girls basketball team won the Class AA state title. It was the fifth title in seven years for the program. The boys and girls basketball teams became just the ninth to win titles in the same season in Georgia history.

Wesleyan's success was noticed nationally as the Norcross private school was named the No. 16 sports program in the country by Sports Illustrated.

Norcross hoops three-peat

The Norcross boys basketball program made its mark on Georgia history in 2008. The Blue Devils won their third consecutive Class AAAAA state championship, becoming the first boys basketball team in the largest classification to accomplish the feat since Lanier in 1940. The Blue Devils finished ranked No. 6 in the nation by USA Today with a 29-2 record. Both losses came to out-of-state opponents, including nationally ranked Oak Hill Academy (Va.).

Al-Farouq Aminu, who now stars at Wake Forest, was the catalyst for Norcross' three-peat. The McDonald's All-American led the Blue Devils with 22.5 points and 11.2 rebounds.

Eddie Martin, the head coach for Norcross' championships, resigned in June and accepted the head coaching job at Greater Atlanta Christian, a Norcross private school.

Mustangs snap streak, Wesleyan wins first title

The high school football season began with a rarity for Meadowcreek and it ended with a first for Wesleyan.

Gwinnett had a county-record seven first-year head coaches this season, including Meadowcreek's Terrone Owens, who took over the week before the season started. Owens led the Mustangs to their only win of the season in Week 2, snapping a 43-game losing streak.

Wesleyan ended the year by winning its first state championship after going 5-5 the previous year. Gwinnett had a county-first of three teams in the state finals.

In between, North Gwinnett's Mikey Tamburo finished his career with a county-record 6,496 yards passing. Grayson dethroned Region 8-AAAAA heavyweights Brookwood and Parkview for the first time in the same year to win the region title. In the playoffs, the Rams played in two of the most memorable games in county history. Grayson defeated defending state champ and nationally ranked Lowndes and the following week lost to Peachtree Ridge in a triple-overtime thriller.

Peachtree Ridge won its first region title on the way to its second state championship game in three years. Buford closed out the season like it has for most of the past decade by winning a state championship. It was the second straight title and fifth since 2001 for the Wolves, who have won 30 consecutive games.

Force wins division, '09 season canceled

It was short-lived success for the Arena Football team the Georgia Force.

The Force moved back to Gwinnett after spending the previous three years in Atlanta. The team captured the Southern division title after starting the season 0-4 and reached the playoffs. The Force lost in the second round of the playoffs but the future of the league is uncertain.

On Dec. 15, the Arena Football League announced its decision to suspend play for the 2009 season due to financial woes.

Central football coach dies

While his time in Gwinnett County was brief, Dennis Roland made a big impact on the lives he touched as a football coach.

Roland was the head coach at North Gwinnett in 2004, leading the team to a 9-3 record and to the playoffs for the third time in the school's long history.

He left to coach in college and came back to Gwinnett in 2007 where he coached at Central Gwinnett for one season.

Roland died on Jan. 1 after a long battle with cancer, but is remembered by the hundreds of lives he touched on the gridiron.

Elam returns home

Atlanta Falcons kicker Jason Elam returned to his home state after a successful NFL career with the Denver Broncos.

Elam spent 15 years with the Broncos, where he set several NFL marks, including a league record 63-yard field goal in 1998 and won two Super Bowls.

The Brookwood grad made his presence felt with the Falcons in Game 6, kicking a 48-yarder with one second remaining to give Atlanta a dramatic win.

Elam is 29 of 31 on field goals with a long of 50 yards this season for the Falcons, who will make their first playoff appearance since 2004 on Saturday.

Moore of Maya

The greatest girls basketball player in Gwinnett County and Georgia history continued her legacy at the college level. Collins Hill grad Maya Moore had one of the best freshman seasons in NCAA history for Connecticut.

Moore became the first freshman, man or woman, in Big East basketball history to be named Player of the Year. She also earned first team AP All-American honors, becoming just the second freshman ever to reach the feat.

Moore finished with 17.8 points per game and 7.6 rebounds to lead UConn to the Final Four.

AT&T Classic canceled

University of Georgia grad Ryuki Imada redeemed himself at the AT&T Classic, holding off Kenny Perry in a playoff round. Imada lost to Master's Champion Zach Johnson in 2007, but won't have a chance to defend his title in 2009.

Gwinnett County's only PGA Tour golf tournament was canceled a month after the AT&T Classic was held in May. The tournament could not find another title sponsorship after AT&T withdrew.

The tournament, which has been played since 1997 at TPC Sugarloaf in Duluth, has featured some of the top golfers in the world such as 1998 champion Tiger Woods and three-time champion Phil Mickelson.