As 2013 comes to a close, Jacksonville sports fans can look back on a year full of accomplishments.
One of the biggest sports stories in the state came out of Jacksonville High School back in March, when the Red Devils and Lady Red Devils both won state championships on the same night.
The Red Devils defeated Alma 56-53 to earn their second state title under head coach Victor Joyner. Jacksonville had to hold off a furious charge by Alma after taking a 46-29 lead. Senior Justin McCleary was named Most Valuable Player for the finals. Aaron Smith led the Devils in scoring that night with 17 points, as Jacksonville finished the season 26-4.
"As a coach, you don’t really expect to be that good," said Joyner. "What you do is work toward being good. You know there’s a lot of hard work that goes into it."
"What we’ve tried to do is get the kids in the program who really want to be here, who are going to work and do the things they need to do. Kids who are going to make the right choices on the court, in the classroom, at home, wherever. You can’t just put everything into basketball or any other sport, you’ve got to be trying to win in life more than anything."
Shortly after the boys left the court, the Jacksonville girls came and started dominating Paragould on their way to the school’s first state championship in girls basketball.
The Lady Devils surged ahead early and withstood some adversity late to take the 54-43 win.
All-everything Jessica Jackson suffered a medical problem that forced her to miss the fourth quarter, but the rest of the girls picked up the slack and didn’t allow the Lady Rams to close the gap. Jackson finished with 22 points and nine rebounds even without playing in the fourth, and was named the finals MVP. Jackson turned down college offers from all over the country and stayed in state to be a Lady Razorback.
"I’m so proud of all that these girls have accomplished," said Lady Devil coach Katrina Mimms. "It was really kind of a dream come true. The expression on those faces when they got their rings and wore them to school. It was like those ‘priceless’ commercials. It was priceless. You can’t really describe it."
On the baseball diamond, the Red Devils earned a No. 4 seed in the conference and a place in the state tournament with a squad comprised mostly of sophomores.
Derek St. Claire, James Tucker, Courtland McDonald, Greg Jones, Kaleb Reeves, Blake Perry and others showed flashes of what the future holds for the Red Devils.
Jacksonville had a bad day against top-seeded Harrison in the first round, but showed throughout the season they could play ball. Jacksonville split games with Pulaski Academy and Little Rock Christian, the two teams who met in the 5A finals.
That same group of underclassmen helped lead the Gwatney Junior Legion team to the Area 3 championship and were the runner-ups to Bryant in the Legion state championship game. St. Claire provided one of the top highlights of the year when he struck out 21 Cabot batters in an extra-inning game during the tournament.
While Jacksonville football didn’t have a banner season at the high school, at least one former Red Devil continued to make a name for himself in 2013.
Clinton McDonald re-signed with the Seattle Seahawks during the offseason and has helped lead one of the NFL’s stingiest defenses from his tackle position.
McDonald just had the best season yet of his short career, with 5.5 sacks, almost 40 tackles and an interception from the interior line. The Seahawks are the top seed in the NFC and have a bye this week.
McDonald could frequently be seen at his younger brother’s baseball games in Jacksonville, and also put on a football clinic for area youth.
"I want these kids to know they can make it with hard work," McDonald said. "Maybe it won’t be football, but everything involves hard work. Next year we’ll reach more kids. I want to give back to the community and I’m going to keep doing this and make it grow."