Putting together the top stories of any one year is a challenge, and doing so for a decade is daunting. The only thing that makes it easier, is that unlike most of my peers who write about sports for local newspapers, I did so for the entire 10 years at the Newark Post.
Here are the top local sports stories of the 2010s:
1. UD football falls from glory
The Blue Hens’ previous decade included a national championship in 2003 and many victories in front of sold-out crowds leading up to a trip to the title game in the 2010 season. Since then, it’s mostly been all downhill, with the Hens making just one playoff appearance since then, with zero postseason wins. Just as it looked like they were turning the corner after last season’s playoff appearance, they turned in a 5-7 record to close out the decade. It was an unprecedented decade of failure in many ways – unprecedented losses, three different coaches and a major drop in attendance – for one of the most storied FCS football programs in the nation.
2. Butch Simpson retires
The story isn’t about his retirement necessarily. After all, he put in 39 years as the head coach, so it was inevitable. Rather, it was witnessing the end of an era of Newark High football and what has to be considered one of the most storied sports programs in Delaware history.
3. Elena Delle Donne makes history
The five-time Delaware state champion (four in basketball, one in volleyball), Olympic gold medalist and reigning WNBA Most Valuable Player might go down as the greatest Delaware athlete of all time. She left her mark here in Newark as the greatest female athlete in UD history. Some consider her the greatest Blue Hen ever.
4. Super Bowl champions
The Newark area enjoyed two NFL favorites winning it all when Blue Hen favorite Joe Flacco led the Ravens to victory in Super Bowl XLVII and a much more unheralded quarterback, Nick Foles, did the same for the Eagles in Super Bowl LII.
5. Decline in enrollment affects sports programs
This past fall, Newark High became the third and final Christina School District team to move from Division I to II in all sports. The move included the Yellowjackets joining Christiana and Glasgow in the Blue Hen Flight B Conference, something that a decade ago would have never been thought possible. And while school enrollment is re-evaluated every two years, it appears that all three schools will remain in Division II for the foreseeable future.
6. World Series bound
In the summer of 2013, Newark National Little League played in the most famous amateur sports championship in the world – the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. Only one other Delaware team (Naamans in 2003) had ever advanced past the regional level in the Majors division. Four summers later, a team of 11- and 12-year-old girls representing Canal Little League won the hearts of Delawareans as they competed in the Little League Majors Softball World Series in Portland, Ore.
7. Newark Charter rises to the top locally
What started out in 2001 as a small elementary school so local families had another nearby option for education has developed into the strongest high school sports program in the Newark area. The high school opened in 2013 and soon after fielded its first varsity sport. The Patriots currently compete in 24 varsity sports as a member of the Diamond State Conference. Their teams have reached postseason tournaments in all but one sport – the boys lacrosse teamed narrowly missed last year despite an 11-4 record – and are always competitive in the individual sports’ conference and state meets.
8. NCAA champions
The UD field hockey team did what no Blue Hens team has done since the 1983 – the 2003 football title was in I-AA – when it captured the 2016 NCAA Division I field hockey championship. Led by head coach Rolf van de Kerkhof and national player of the year Greta Nauck, the Hens won the school’s first-ever field hockey championship. UD won six conference crowns in the decade, including this past fall.
9. UD athletic facilities upgrades
In an effort to catch up to fellow conference rivals, UD put the pedal to the metal with several facility improvements and renovations. The largest makeover in UD athletics history is still in the works, but once complete, it will put the Hens on par with several of their peers.
10. Four-time champion
Newark High’s Alexis Bedford dominated the sport of diving for four consecutive years as the 1-meter diving state champion from 2014-17. A banner recognizing Bedford’s accomplishments hangs in the Newark gymnasium alongside the school’s other four-time diving champion, Amanda Klockars.