Growing up in West Virginia, Nick Saban would peek through the rails at the old WVU Fieldhouse as Jerry West played basketball far below. Watching West Virginia play football, meanwhile, "was like the highlight of my year," Saban said. When Saban leads No. 2 Alabama against the Mountaineers in Atlanta's Georgia Dome, his priority as always on fall Saturdays will be to win a football game — even against his home state program. He seemed to enjoy waxing nostalgic this week about his favorite boyhood team in memories that include the heartache of listening to his transistor radio when West and the Mountaineers fell 71-70 — yes, Saban remembers the score — to California in the 1959 national championship game. "You don't forget stuff like that," Saban said, "but now I'm Alabama's coach. I'm an Alabama fan. We don't really have to be concerned about any of that. We want to do what's best for our team and the relationships that we have here. "But we also respect their traditions and the relationships that we've developed through the years in West Virginia." Those ties will be evidenced by friends and family traveling to Atlanta for the game, people who say they saw Saban's potential way back when. That group includes U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a former West Virginia governor, who grew up less than 10 miles away from the Sabans and still calls him "one of my best friends in the whole world." Manchin played on youth sports teams coached by Saban's father, Nick Sr., who also operated a service station while running an ice cream shop/restaurant with his wife in front of their modest home just outside Monongah. Nick Sr., Manchin said, "was a builder of men" and his son was always there soaking it in when he wasn't helping out by washing cars or pumping gas. "He had all the genes for it and he had the tutelage of his father, who was very rigid and stoic about how he did things," Manchin recalled. "You just saw the success come. He saw it by hard work, sacrificing, planning. He knew what it took to succeed, and Nick took it to the next level. "I always thought he would be the greatest football coach, I believe, in the country today and will go down in history as one of the greatest. And it's all because of that coal-mining town." Nick Sr. died of a heart attack in 1973 when the undersized Saban, spurned by the Mountaineers, was playing baseball and football at Kent State. Both Manchin and Saban played quarterback in high school. Manchin graduated from Farmington High in 1965, Saban from Monongah High in 1969. "The biggest mistake WVU ever made was not offering young Nick Saban a scholarship," said Manchin, whose West Virginia career was ended early by a knee injury. "He was one of the best athletes to ever come out of the area. His size gave them pause to ever offer him a scholarship." Sharing childhood memories weren't the only time Saban showed a lighter side leading up to this game. He also challenged Manchin and others, including Florida coach Will Muschamp, to participate in the ice bucket challenge that's gone viral in efforts to raise funds to fight Lou Gehrig's disease. Manchin's wife, Gayle, dumped the senator with ice water. Manchin said this game is one instance where he'll be rooting against Saban. Not so for Saban's sister, Dianna Thompson, who lives in the Marion County community of Worthington and has had three kids graduate from West Virginia. "That's a no brainer: Roll Tide," Thompson said. She has to pull for the man she's always called "Brother." "When West Virginia's playing anybody else, we cheer for West Virginia," she said. "But we can't cheer against Brother." If Saban had his way as a teenager, Saturday's game wouldn't just be against his old favorite team. He'd be facing his alma mater. "He really wanted to go to WVU but they wouldn't give him a scholarship," Thompson said. "They told him he could walk on but he got a scholarship to Kent State, so he went to Kent State. He would have gone to WVU if he had been offered a scholarship there."
LaFayette and Gordon Lee Middle Schools opened up the North Georgia Athletic Conference fastpitch softball season on Tuesday by playing a game that looked like a throwback from the old slowpitch days.
Tori Elliott had 10 service points on the night and Katie McDaniel added nine as the Rossville Middle School volleyball team swept rival Chattanooga Valley, 25-12 and 25-16, in the opening North Georgia Athletic Conference match of the season for both teams.
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says the three players suspended for the 16th-ranked Tigers' opener at No. 12 Georgia, including returning starters defensive end Corey Crawford and offensive lineman David Beasley, won't get a reprieve from their one-game punishments.
Swinney suspended Crawford, Beasley, backup cornerback Garry Peters and reserve offensive lineman Shaq Anthony in March for undisclosed violation of team rules. Last week, Anthony announced his intentions to transfer.
Swinney says all had worked hard and shown good character since March. But the coach says there are consequences for their actions.
Crawford, a senior, would've started opposite All-American end Vic Beasley. David Beasley started seven games along the offensive line.
Swinney says the three will be allowed to travel with the team to Georgia if they want.
The Saddle Ridge Middle School junior varsity Mustangs lost a tough 5-3 decision to Dalton on Monday.
Ashton Stalling slapped a walk-off, bases-loaded single in the bottom of the seventh inning to score Erin Hughes and lift the LaFayette Middle School to a 10-9 non-league victory over visiting Calhoun in the Lady Ramblers' season-opening softball game on Monday.
Our ritual of having a beer a couple of times a week became a challenge because of travel. Sometimes, I just couldn’t keep from being out of town on Monday, the day Dan Magill preferred to enjoy a late afternoon libation at our favorite watering hole in Five Points.
The Saddle Ridge Middle School Lady Mustangs went unbeaten in Saturday’s softball Play Day, opening with a 3-1 win over Trion.
It was just three years ago that Carrie Powell took over the Georgia Northwestern volleyball program. The former GNTC player had a memorable first season on the bench, going to battle each night with just a determined group of just six players,
The results may not count in the regular season standings, but the LaFayette Middle School Lady Ramblers served notice during Saturday's Play Day games that they intent to have a say in who wins the North Georgia Athletic Conference softball title in 2014.
ATLANTA (AP) — From his vantage point in Chicago, Devin Hester saw the Atlanta Falcons as a consistent playoff contender.
As a free agent, Hester, 31, was looking for a new home that could give him a good chance to get back to the postseason. He said that was a big reason he signed with Atlanta — despite the Falcons' 4-12 finish last season.
Now Hester is anxious for the Falcons to play like a winner when Atlanta starters get an extended look in their third preseason game against Tennessee on Saturday night. The Falcons struggled in last week's ugly 32-7 preseason loss at the Texans.
"It's going to be very important," Hester said. "Coming off the game we played last week, we left a lot of plays out there. We know the fourth preseason game is pretty much for the rookies and the younger guys, so we know this is our last opportunity to really showcase what we're capable of."
Hester provided one of Atlanta's few highlights last week with his 12-yard touchdown catch.
Hester is best known as one of the top return specialists in NFL history. The opportunity to contribute on offense was another reason he signed a three-year, $9 million deal with Atlanta in March.
He didn't have a catch last year with the Bears for the first time since his rookie season. He has a chance to be a part of three- and four-receiver formations in Atlanta with Julio Jones, Roddy White and Harry Douglas.
"We were all on the same page with the situation on offense," Hester said of his talks with the Falcons. "Looking at it, we kind of discussed what my role would be on the offensive side of the ball, and we saw eye to eye on that. That was one of the main reasons why I chose Atlanta."
The timing could be perfect for Hester. There will be additional opportunities for receivers to help fill the void left by the retirement of tight end Tony Gonzalez.
"I think those are going to be more distributed to the third and fourth receiver now," Hester said. "They pretty much treated Tony like a No. 1or No. 2 receiver the last couple of years. With Tony gone, it's going to open up more options, I would say, for me and Harry in the slot position when we go three-wide."
Hester set career highs with 56 catches for 757 yards in 2009 with the Bears. Since then, his role on offense declined.
Tennessee's Nate Washington said Titans receiver Marc Mariani is another example of a player who has difficulty shedding the tag of a return specialist.
"It can be difficult because a lot of times you can just get labeled as a return man," Washington said. "A lot of guys like Marc want to be respected as a receiver also. He has the talent so I'm sure Devin is feeling a little bit similar. Going out there making plays on special teams is one thing, but you always want to be a part of that offense and make sure that team knows and the rest of your community and your fans know you're a vital part of that offense."
Hester's credentials as a return man are unquestioned. He shares the NFL record with Falcons Hall of Famer Deion Sanders with 19 return touchdowns, including a record 13 on punt returns.
He made first-team AP All-Pro honors as a return specialist in 2006, 2007 and 2010.
Hester had an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown last season. As a free agent, his three finalists were Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Arizona.
Hester said the Falcons are "a team that I knew had a good success in winning games and was always competing in the playoffs."
"The older you get the more you start looking for the team that's got a chance for the playoffs and for winning the Super Bowl," he said.
The Chattanooga Valley Middle School Eagles got off to a solid start in their 2014 softball season on Thursday night with a 7-4 home win over visiting Ringgold.
The Rossville Middle School junior varsity Lady Bulldogs collected a softball victory on Thursday afternoon with a 9-1 win over visiting Saddle Ridge.
The Rossville Middle School Lady Bulldogs watched as homestanding Trion scored the go-ahead run in the bottom of the sixth inning on Tuesday night, but Rossville answered with two runs in the top of the seventh to win their softball season opener, 5-4.
The Oakwood Christian Academy middle school volleyball squad opened the 2014 season on Monday night, but fell to two of the Chattanooga area's more experienced programs in Boyd-Buchanan and Silverdale Baptist.
BALTIMORE (AP) — Major League Baseball Chief Operating Officer Rob Manfred and Boston Red Sox Chairman Tom Werner were left as the remaining candidates to succeed Bud Selig as commissioner after MLB Executive Vice President Tim Brosnan withdrew before the start of voting Thursday.
Brosnan's withdrawal was disclosed to The Associated Press by a team official who spoke on condition of anonymity because no announcement had been made.
Owners estimated Manfred had the support of 20-21 teams headed into the meetings this week, Werner of about six and Brosnan one: the Cincinnati Reds.
A three-quarters majority, 23 of the 30 teams, is required to elect a commissioner. Selig, who has run baseball since September 1992, plans to retire in January.
Teams vote by secret written ballot in MLB's first contested election for a new commissioner in 46 years.
Each candidate spoke to all owners for about an hour Wednesday and met in sessions Thursday morning with groups of 10 teams.
"I wouldn't even guess," Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno said Wednesday when asked whether the election would produce a commissioner.
Werner is supported by Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf and Moreno. Other teams have said Reinsdorf wants a commissioner who will take a harsher stance in labor negotiations for the deal to replace the collective bargaining agreement that expires after the 2016 season.
"I haven't been counting votes," Reinsdorf said. "I don't know where anybody stands."
Selig, 80, has ruled baseball since September 1992, first as chairman of baseball's executive council and since July 1998 as commissioner. The second-longest-serving head of baseball behind Kenesaw Mountain Landis (1920-44), Selig announced last fall that he plans to retire in January 2015. The trio of candidates was picked by a seven-man succession committee chaired by St. Louis Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr.
Manfred, 55, has been involved in baseball since 1987, starting as a lawyer with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius who assisted in collective bargaining. He became MLB's executive vice president for labor relations and human resources in 1998, received an expanded role of executive vice president of economics and league affairs in 2012 and last September was promoted to chief operating officer. He helped lead negotiations for baseball's last three labor contracts with players and the joint drug agreement that was instituted in 2002 and has been repeatedly strengthened.
Werner, 64, was the controlling owner of the San Diego Padres from 1990-94, triggering fan criticism for the payroll-paring departures of Fred McGriff, Gary Sheffield, Tony Fernandez, Randy Myers and Benito Santiago. He has been part of the Red Sox ownership group since 2002, a period that included three World Series titles. While working at ABC, he helped develop Robin Williams' "Mork & Mindy" and later was executive producer of "The Cosby Show" and "Roseanne" at The Carsey-Werner Co.
MLB's last contested election for commissioner was after Spike Eckert was fired in December 1968. With the requirement then a three-quarters majority in both the American and National leagues, teams split between San Francisco Giants vice president Chub Feeney and Yankees president Michael Burke and failed to elect anyone during 19 ballots.
Bowie Kuhn, counsel to baseball's Player Relations Committee, was elected commissioner pro-tem on Feb. 4, 1969, with a one-year term. He was voted a seven-year term that August and remained in office until October 1984, when he was replaced by Los Angeles Olympics head Peter Ueberroth.
Former Yale President A. Bartlett Giamatti took over from Ueberroth in April 1989, died later that September and was replaced by his deputy commissioner, Fay Vincent. Selig, then the Milwaukee Brewers owner, teamed with Reinsdorf to head the group that pressured for Vincent's forced resignation in September 1992.
Selig led baseball as head of the executive council for nearly six years, including the 7 1/2-month strike in 1994-95 that canceled the World Series. He repeatedly said he wouldn't take the job fulltime before he formally was voted commissioner in July 1998.
Ueberroth, Giamatti, Vincent and Selig were elected unanimously.
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Georgia starting fullback Merritt Hall has been forced to give up football due to recurring concussions.
Georgia announced Thursday Hall, a junior, has been medically disqualified by the school's sports medicine staff.
Hall sustained a concussion last week during practice. According to Georgia, Hall had "multiple concussions" in high school and at Georgia before his latest injury.
Hall played in 25 games, including seven starts, in his first two seasons. Primarily a blocker, he had only three carries for nine yards in the two seasons.
ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Braves have recalled left-hander Luis Avilan from Triple-A Gwinnett.
Avilan, who began the season as one of Atlanta's top setup relievers, is with the team for Thursday's game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Avilan was 3-1 with a 4.85 ERA in 47 games when he was optioned to Gwinnett on July 19. He says he focused on his curveball and change-up at Gwinnett.
Avilan joins James Russell as left-handers in the Braves' bullpen.
The Braves relied on Avilan in 2013, when he was 5-0 with a strong 1.52 ERA in 75 games.
The Braves optioned right-hander Juan Jaime to Gwinnett following Wednesday night's win over the Dodgers.
HOUSTON (AP) — For Brian Cushing, there's no substitute to being on the field.
The Houston Texans linebacker returned to practice on Wednesday, "a very small step" as he comes back from offseason surgery on his left knee and leg.
Cushing wasn't the only Texans' star back in pads as the team went through a joint practice with the Atlanta Falcons. Andre Johnson and Arian Foster were also back after being held out for most of training camp with hamstring injuries.
Cushing had been on the physically unable to perform list since the start of training camp. He didn't participate in contact drills. Cushing says he needs more live repetitions to learn the new defense under coordinator Romeo Crennel.
Texans coach Bill O'Brien says he hasn't ruled out any of the three players for Saturday's game.
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Steve Ballmer officially became the new owner of the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday.
The team said the record $2 billion sale closed after a California court confirmed the authority of Shelly Sterling, on behalf of the Sterling Family Trust, to sell the franchise to the former Microsoft CEO. Her estranged husband, Donald Sterling, had unsuccessfully fought the sale of the team he owned since 1981 in court.
The NBA Board of Governors had previously approved the sale.
"I am humbled and honored to be the new owner of the Los Angeles Clippers," Ballmer said in a statement. "Clipper fans are so amazing. They have remained fiercely loyal to our franchise through some extraordinary times."
Ballmer was nearly an NBA owner last year before owners chose to keep the Kings in Sacramento, rather than allow them to be sold to a group that included Ballmer and moved to Seattle.
Adam Streisand, Ballmer's attorney, said Tuesday that Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas signed the order authorizing the sale even if Donald Sterling's attorneys filed an appeal.
"We were ready," Streisand said. "Within minutes, the deal was signed, sealed and delivered."
He said even if Donald Sterling seeks an emergency order directing the judge to vacate his order, the attorney is confident an appellate court would agree that Levanas made the correct decision.
Donald Sterling's attorneys weren't immediately available to comment.
The sale ends some troubling concerns that had surrounded the team in recent months.
Doc Rivers would possibly have quit as coach if Sterling remained the owner, interim CEO Richard Parsons had testified. All-Star point guard Chris Paul, who also is president of the Players Association, might have sat out and convinced other players to join him. Sponsors who already started to flee after a recording of Donald Sterling making racist comments was released might have stayed away for good.
None of that appears to be a problem with Ballmer taking over what could be a powerhouse team next season. By agreeing to the record purchase price, he's already proven he's willing to spend in contrast to the famously frugal Sterling.
The transaction ends Donald Sterling's run as the longest-tenured owner in the NBA after 33 years. After buying the Clippers in 1981, he moved the franchise from San Diego to Los Angeles three years later.
The 80-year-old real estate mogul has been in probate court fighting his wife's proposed deal to sell. At issue was whether Donald Sterling killed the deal by revoking the trust after his wife removed him as a trustee. Shelly Sterling acted after doctors found Donald had symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.
The drama began in April when the recording surfaced of Donald Sterling dressing down his girlfriend for bringing black men to Clippers games. The audio spurred the NBA to ban Sterling for life and fine him $2.5 million.
His wife of 58 years then took control of a family trust and negotiated the $2 billion sale of the team to Ballmer. Shelly Sterling said she was initially given her husband's blessing to sell the team and he praised the deal she reached.
When it came time to sign it at the end of May, however, Sterling said he would not sell and would sue the league.
Ballmer said he will be "hardcore" in giving the team, Rivers, the staff and players the support they need.
Rivers called it "an amazing new day in Clippers history," and said he's inspired by Ballmer's passion for the game.
Ballmer, Rivers and Clippers players will attend a new fan festival announced for next Monday at Staples Center.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive says college athletics are "going through a historic evolution."
Slive released a statement Monday after a judge's ruling that players in FBS football and Division I men's basketball are entitled to at least $5,000 a year for rights to their names, images and likenesses. He says the judge on Friday appropriately recognized "the importance of integrating academics and athletics in this decision."
The NCAA says it will appeal U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken's ruling against the NCAA's argument that its model of amateurism is the only way to operate college sports.
Slive says "the ultimate consequences" won't be known until legal questions are resolved. He says the judge's decision and recent changes in NCAA governances represent "a historic evolution of the landscape of college sports."