Howe, OK 74940
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| Ben Johnson
Fort Coffee is headed for the big stage.
Wait, Fort Coffee? Where is that? Is it in Oklahoma?
It’s a town that might go unrecognized, outside of severe weather coverage in Oklahoma, but Fort Coffee sits in the Arkansas River bend near Skullyville and northeast of Spiro. Just find LeFlore County in far eastern Oklahoma, and it sits at the very northern tip of the county.
It’s where McKinley Whitfield has called home all his life.
Now Whitfield will fly the Fort Coffee flag proudly when he attends New York Giants mini camp.
“It means everything in the world to me to represent Spiro and Fort Coffee,” said Whitfield, a former standout at Spiro High School before playing college football at the University of Tulsa.
“I grew up there my whole life, and I just try my best to be a inspiration to all the younger kids there.”
Whitfield, measuring at 6 feet, 3 inches and 217 pounds, knows professional athletic endeavors don’t come along often for those growing up in Fort Coffee.
“Not many people from the area get changes like these,” he said, “so it’s a blessing.”
Whitfield, a safety by trade, recently watched the NFL Draft intently, hoping for his name to appear in the later rounds. But all seven rounds breezed by, despite a few draft boards mentioning Whitfield as a possible late-round candidate.
“It was very frustrating,” said Whitfield, who logged 264 tackles and 19 pass breakups during his collegiate career. “Everybody was thinking that I was going to get drafted, so I didn’t want to let anybody down. I just tried to keep myself busy during the whole process and be around my family.”
It didn’t take long for Whitefield to draw an invitation to New York’s minicamp, which begins this weekend.
“It feels good getting a chance to go play at the next level,” said Whitfield, who nabbed four interceptions while at Tulsa. “Of course I would rather have gotten drafted or a free agent deal, but it’s just more motivation for me.
Whitfield joins four other TU players as mini camp invitees. Justin Hobbs and Willie Wright will work out for the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns, respectively, and two other in-state talents, Tyler Bowling (Yukon) and Chandler Miller (Bixby), will try to earn a spot with the Atlanta Falcons.
Leading up to the draft, Whitfield never had much interaction with the Giants, chatting with the organization once while at a senior event in Texas. But now he gets a chance to prove Fort Coffee belongs in the NFL.
“I’ve always been a hard worker since I was a kid,” Whitfield said. “That definitely isn’t going to stop now.”
*Photo credit: University of Tulsa
| Ben Johnson
Bixby has been stingy when it comes to hoarding football championships. The Spartans have won four of the past five Class 6AII championships, and don’t expect them to slow down anytime soon.
What Bixby hasn’t claimed often since the turn of the century has been wrestling titles. Nic Roller’s individual championship at 220 pounds in 2016 has been the Spartans’ only crown since 1998.
But freshman Zach Blankenship is out to change all of that.
At 120 pounds, Bixby’s wrestling phenom is 24-0, and that includes four tournament championships to his credit so far.
“I didn’t really think I’d be having the season I am now,” Blankenship said. “I’m just thankful that I’ve been having this much success.”
Bixby came up short in its pursuit of the District 6A-7 crown on Tuesday night with a loss to Jenks, but Blankenship posted two victories and collected another one by forfeit. Those came only days after winning the Jerry Billings Invitational at Sapulpa, where he won by fall at 1:43 in the 120 finals against Collinsville’s Rocky Stephens, a 5A state champion at 113 last season.
“Zach has risen to the occasion and made a name for himself in the high school realm,” Bixby coach Brock Moore said. “He goes hard every second of every match and makes good things happen. He wants to wrestle the best guys he can. He’s fun to watch and coach.”
To reach the finals in Sapulpa, Blankenship won by fall against Sand Springs’ Riley Weir, who won last year’s 113 championship in 6A.
“His most impressive win so far might’ve been at Sapulpa, where he beat two-time state champion Riley Weir,” Moore said. “And that’s saying a lot for someone who has 21 wins by fall this season.”
Blankenship started the 2019 calendar year by winning the Larry Wilkey Invitational at Jenks. He knocked off Stillwater’s Cade Nicholas 4-2 in the finals.
“As a freshman, he has won four tournaments and has also been named the most outstanding wrestler at each of those tournaments, too,” Moore said. “I haven’t ever seen or known of another freshman to do that.”
Announcing his presence at the varsity level, Blankenship won the 120-pound division at the Perry Tournament of Champions in December. He cruised through the entire field with all of his victories by fall, including pinning Edmond Memorial’s Garrett Johnson at 3:32 for the 120 crown.
Not bad for someone who was wrestling among the junior high ranks not too long ago.
“The biggest difference between varsity and junior high has been the kids I’ve had to wrestle,” Blankenship said. “In junior high, the kids I had to wrestle were usually my age and size. In varsity, I’ve had to wrestle a lot older and bigger kids, which has made it a lot tougher.
“I’m just fortunate to have great coaches and parents who help me get better every tournament.”
‘Wrestleback’ Wildcats win Carl Albert tourney
It was Skiatook, Duncan, Piedmont and Altus vying for the Malcolm Wade Invitational crown at Carl Albert on Saturday, and with a quick glance it doesn’t appear as though Piedmont fared well. But on the contrary, Piedmont managed to claim the team title with only one individual champion.
The Wildcats, led by Josh Heindselman’s triumph at 285, finished with 242.5 points and won the tournament title. Skiatook (226) and Duncan (219) rounded out the top three.
“We were excited to win it,” Piedmont coach Erik Ford said. “We knew we had a chance going into the tournament. On Saturday, it was really exciting to see our guys score a lot of bonus points and really wrestle well on the backside of the bracket to give us the push that we needed.”
In the final match of the tournament, Heindselman recorded a pin at 2:37 against Lawton MacArthur’s Montana Phillips, who won last year’s 5A championship at heavyweight.
“Josh has been really impressive,” Ford said of the University of Oklahoma signee. “He weighs about 225 right now, so he is really wrestling up a weight. He has found another level as far as his movement and attacks go. His pressure and constant attacking has been the most impressive part about his wrestling this year. It has really allowed him to negate some of the size that he is giving up against heavyweights.”
Piedmont finished the tournament with 10 wrestlers recording top-six finishes. Tabor McLure (138) and Landis Scoon (152) both came in second place, and Mitchell Lance (132), Braden Culp (170) and Austin Cooley all posted third-place finishes atop the consolation bracket.
“Our guys learned that they can wrestle with some of the top 5A teams in the state,” Ford said. “…Our guys understand that winning the Carl Albert tournament is huge for our program, but they also know that our end-of-season goals as individuals and as a team are what we have been working for all year. And we’ll continue to work on those going forward.”
Other wrestling notes
- Edmond North picked up 194.5 points and won the Central Oklahoma Athletic Conference (COAC) Tournament title on Saturday. Mustang was second at 191.
- Tuttle cruised to the Greg Henning Invitational crown on Saturday with 362 points.
Prep hoops notes
- There’s a new No. 1 in Class 6A boys after Edmond Memorial beat Edmond Santa Fe 56-42 in the championship game of the Bishop McGuinness Classic. Edmond Memorial was ranked fifth Saturday and moved up to 6A’s top spot, while Edmond Santa Fe dropped from No. 1 to third. Booker T. Washington is second in between the two.
- Crushing the field in the Putnam City West Invitational wasn’t enough to move Heritage Hall (14-0) to the top of the 4A coaches’ poll. The Chargers are still second behind top-ranked Kingfisher (11-1). Heritage Hall’s Trey Alexander scored 31 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in the Chargers’ win over PC West in the finals.
- It's a big week for the state's two smallest classes as playoff assignments will be released Friday by the OSSAA (as if 95 percent of the coaches don't already know, through the grapevine, where they're headed). We're told David Glover, who makes the assignments for 4A and below, was about 99 percent finished with the assignments early this week. A committee meeting was held Wednesday, which generally leads to a few tweaks. Most of those are host sites, although sometimes teams are moved to different regionals or areas as a result of those meetings. No doubt a lot of people will be up in arms once the assignments are released, but that happens every year. What it does signify is that the playoffs are near and we all love that part of the season.
- One of those small school teams got a big boost during the holiday break. The Duke boys, already undefeated and ranked second in Class B, added Jameson Richardson to the roster at the beginning of this semester. Richardson, a 6-foot-8 junior forward with a load of versatility, transferred from his hometown of Mangum. He averaged right around 20 points and was a solid rebounder and rim protector for Mangum in his eight games prior to the move. Duke was already manhandling most opponents before his arrival, but hasn't been played closer than 18 points (61-43 over Granite last week) since his arrival.
- Next week is the biggest tournament week of the basketball season and it will be loaded with top matchups. However, a couple of No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdowns already took place during girls championship games during last week's slate. In Class 2A, top-ranked Dale held off No. 2 Howe 65-55 at the Kingston New Year's Classic. Howe's Jalei Oglesby was "held" to 31 points. "She missed a few shots and eventually fouled out or she would have had more," said first-year Dale coach Eric Smith, who led Alva to a pair of titles and got Frontier to last year's Class A title game. "She is unbelievable." Dale, led by Lacey Savage's 18 points, improved to 14-1 with the victory, which very well could have been a state championship preview. Down in Class B, No. 1 Hammon defended its Warrior Classic championship by earning a 50-44 come-from-behind win over No. 2 Lomega. Last year, Hammon was No. 2 when it beat No. 1 Lomega in the finals and it carried that momentum to a state championship. This time around, Hammon had to outscore its guests by seven in the second half to win. Five different Lady Warriors scored at least six points, led by 13 from Halee Morris. Kenedie Walker scored seven of her 10 in the fourth quarter. Lomega got 14 points each from Mady Meier and Courtney Fox.
| Michael Swisher
It was halftime of one of the most anticipated Class A matchups of this young football season.
Top-ranked Cashion and third-ranked Thomas featured some of the state’s best talent and physical specimens and were embroiled in a battle that saw them separated by just seven points at the game’s midway point.
The teams were exiting the field on the west end and headed for their respective locker rooms.
Cashion assistant Cale Cochran was in the throng of players and coaches marching up the incline when he heard someone shout out “Coach!”
“Coach!” the voice rang again. “Hold up!”
Cochran turned around and saw the Terriers’ big No. 71 running right toward him.
It was Aden Kelley.
“He was THE baddest dude on the field,” Cochran said of Kelley.
And the baddest dude on the field had Cochran in his sights and nobody was going to be able to stop him.
• • •
July 2 was supposed to be the greatest day of Cale Cochran’s life.
It was then that his wife, Jacie, gave birth to their firstborn, Jaxon Jay.
However, complications after the baby’s birth led to Jacie’s unexpected and tragic death at the age of 26.
It left Cochran without a wife and Jaxon without a mother.
The outpouring of support since that day has been tremendous.
Both Cashion and Washington – Jacie’s hometown – erected memorials in her honor.
There have been fundraisers and numerous other showings of comfort from both communities.
Cochran gets help with the baby from his family around Cashion as well as Jacie’s parents in Washington.
Still, times aren’t easy.
“One of the toughest things is being at home,” Cochran said. “That’s where we were all going to build our memories together.”
One of the best breaks from reality for Cochran is coaching football.
“Football is my smokescreen,” he said. “I can go out on the field and not think about things for a few hours.”
That’s what Cochran was doing last Friday night.
His Cashion Wildcats got on top of Thomas 14-0 early, but the Terriers had cut their deficit in half and had a modicum of momentum headed into halftime.
Cochran was contemplating the myriad of adjustments that could be made in preparation for the second half when he heard that voice behind him.
• • •
Aden Kelley is no ordinary 18-year-old kid.
He’s a 6-foot-3, 285- pound monster on the field.
Kelley plays right tackle and defensive end for Thomas and his rare combination of size, ability and athleticism garnered him 21 Division I football offers.
247 Sports has him rated as a four-star prospect and the fourth-best recruit in Oklahoma in the Class of 2021.
In July, Kelley committed to play at Oklahoma State University.
He’d just spent 24 football minutes in the trenches trying to clear paths for his running backs and quarterback on one side of the ball while being double- and triple-teamed on the defensive side.
With his entire face covered in eye black and sweat soaking his uniform, Kelley was also headed to his locker room.
However, he wasn’t thinking about adjustments.
When he realized Cale Cochran was in front of him, all he thought about was getting his arms wrapped around him.
Kelley was aware that Cochran’s world had been shattered nearly three months ago.
“I remember back when it happened,” Kelley said. “I was heartbroken about it.”
Thomas was off the week before when Cashion played at Minco, but Kelley was among the Terrier contingent who went to scout the Wildcats.
“I wasn’t real sure what he looked like, but he walked by us and someone said that was him,” Kelley recalled. “I didn’t say anything to him then and it frustrated me all week.”
So when Kelley looked ahead of him and saw Cochran pacing toward the locker room, he wasn’t going to let another opportunity pass.
“I had no intentions on making it a point to find him,” Kelley said. “Of course, you want to say something, but you don’t know if it’s going to work out.”
Kelly shouted out: “Coach! Coach! Hold up!”
Cochran turned around and Kelley charged toward him.
“He ran up to me and gave me a huge hug,” Cochran said.
“He told me that I have a beautiful baby boy and prays for me everyday.”
Simply put, Cochran was blown away.
“It was surprising,” he said. “I didn’t know what he was going to say to me.”
To Kelley, it was just the right thing to do.
“There’s more to life than what I was going in to listen to at halftime,” Kelley said.
“The fact is, that man is hurting. He’s hurting bad and I wanted to do what I could to make him feel better.”
Initially, it had the reverse effect.
Football was supposed to be Cochran’s escape. Kelley’s gesture momentarily took him out of that.
“It was one of those things that reminded me again that she’s not here anymore,” Cochran said. “I went inside the locker room and couldn’t think about football anymore.
“It was hard to leave the locker room. It was probably the first time since I’ve been coaching football where football became very small to me.”
As halftime came to an end, Cashion head coach Lynn Shackelford and assistant D.L. Robertson told Cochran it was time to head back out.
“Something came over me and I got up and went out there and coached,” Cochran said. “It took a couple of minutes into the half for me to get back into football mode.”
Cashion eventually won the game 28-7 as the Wildcats pulled away in the fourth quarter.
“Man they’re a great team,” Kelley said. “That was such a great test for us and I just hope we get a chance to do it again in the playoffs.”
Cochran later had the time to truly let it soak in what Kelley had done in the heat of battle.
“There’s an 18-year-old kid going through a big game and he had the gumption to come up and say that to me.
“That shows the kind of kid he is.”
“Absolutely he is,” said Rob Friesen, the first-year Thomas superintendent who spent the previous seven years as superintendent at Okarche.
“He is as good as they get.”
Cochran chronicled the interaction the next day on social media.
“Although it hit me pretty hard where I was reminded yet again that I’ll never see her again…I was absolutely impressed with this young kid’s actions. I have always heard how great of a kid he is, but I sure am thankful he came up and said those nice words. He is an 18-year-old kid who was brought up to respect and support people going through a hard time,” Cochran wrote.
The Facebook and Twitter posts received tons of interactions.
“It’s cool to see how you reach and touch people like that,” Kelley said. “I didn’t want it to blow up. I was just trying to do the right thing.”
The right thing meant a lot to Cochran.
“It was a reminder that she’s not here, but also a nice reminder that people are thinking of me,” he said.
Life went on for Kelley this week and it’s a busy one.
On Thursday alone he had school, football practice, a team meal, an FFA meeting (he’s the chapter’s vice president) and then he helped his classmates work on their homecoming parade float.
Although his actions on Sept. 14 will stick with people for a long time, he didn’t feel it was out of the ordinary.
“There’s a bigger picture,” he said. “The good Lord has a plan for us all and I believe you have to stick to that.
“And I just wanted (Coach Cochran) to know he had my support.”
| Michael Swisher
By John Hardaway - Missing the State Fair
Someplace I like to eat - State Fair of Oklahoma
Sadly, there was no State Fair this year.
That means no annual food gorging pilgrimages for thousands of Oklahomans to indulge in all things deep fried, smoked, on a stick, and low carb/low calorie.
In honor of this sacred rite of passage for so many, here is the State Fair food blog from last year.
Enjoy and remember the good times!
And, like so many things, hopefully the State Fair is back in 2021.
Someplace to eat if going to Game of the Week…Flamingo
Check out the food blog post from last year that covered the Flamingo Lounge in Enid.
If you’re going to ANY game in Enid, that’s where you need to go…and there should be plenty of you in town.
We have our Game of the Week as undefeated Crescent is visiting Oklahoma Bible Academy.
However, Jenks will be in town to play Enid and Chisholm is hosting Oklahoma Christian School fans.
So all of you Crescent, Jenks and Edmond folks are strongly encouraged to stop by the Flamingo. You won’t be disappointed.
Something to make at home this Week - Camp Potatoes
This is one of the best potato casserole recipes of all time and, ironically, maybe the easiest to make.
Mrs. Debbie Weckstein, wife of Frontier boys basketball coach Bob Weckstein, gets the credit for this classic with what she calls “Sinful Potatoes.”