December 31, 2019 at 5:21 a.m.

UFC ascension

Kenney’s climb tops 2019 list
UFC ascension
UFC ascension


Millions of little boys and girls dream about becoming professional athletes at the top level of their sport.

Few ever get the opportunity to make those dreams come true.

Casey Kenney did.

Kenney, a 2009 Jay County High School graduate, had already been a professional for five years when he got the call in March. He was offered a spot in the Universal Fighting Championship.

Never mind that he had just five days notice. Never mind that he had just fought three days earlier, winning the Legacy Fighting Alliance bantamweight title to become the promotion’s first “champ champ.” (He also held the LFA flyweight belt.) And never mind that the fight was against UFC’s third-ranked flyweight.

He took the fight. And he delivered his first UFC victory by unanimous decision.

Kenney’s ascension to the UFC and subsequent success was the easy call this year to lead our list of top 10 sports stories of the year.

The rest of the top 10 is as follows:

2. Jay County High School baseball coach Lea Selvey earns his 500th career win

3. Mason Winner becomes just the second JCHS wrestler to earn three career state medals

4. Fort Recovery High School track team success

5. FRHS runners earn individual state medals

6. Jay County’s Shelby Caldwell and Fort Recovery’s Payton Jutte hit 1,000-point mark

7. Nick Thwaits pitches in Northwest League championship series

8. South Adams graduate Bailey McIntire runs in NCAA Championships

9. FRHS athletics turnover in leadership

10. JCHS baseball team advances to regional final

1. In the UFC

Casey Kenney didn’t just make it into the top promotion in the mixed martial arts world, he hit the ground running.

After defeating Borg by a unanimous decision in March, he picked up another unanimous decision victory over previously undefeated Manny Bermudez in a catchweight bout on Aug. 17. He has won each of his last six fights and has a 13-1-1 pro record.

Currently ranked 15th in the bantamweight division, Kenney’s next fight is slated for Feb. 15 against Merab Dvalishvili as part of UFC Fight Night at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, New Mexico.

2. Selvey hits 500

The Jay County High School baseball team had more than the tournament title on the line May 24 when it took on Heritage in the semifinal round of the sectional tournament at Bellmont. The Patriots’ 2-1 victory also gave coach Lea Selvey his 500th career victory.

“It just means I've been here a long time,” said Selvey, who has led the program since 1989. “That's always been the goal … I'm happy we won because I want 501 and we can go from there.”

The Patriots presented him with a banner, a signed baseball and posters reading “Selvey 500.”

3. Triple Winner

The third step of his pre-high school plan is complete after junior Mason Winner of Jay County became the first wrestler in school history to earn medals in three consecutive years after taking fifth at 182 pounds in February. A week earlier Winner, who said before his freshman season he would win four state medals, became the program’s first three-time semi-state champion. Winner was seventh as a freshman at 140 pounds and eighth as a 160-pound sophomore.

4. Toward the top

The successes continued for the FRHS boys track team as it cracked the top 10 in the team standings of the OHSAA Division III state meet. The Indians scored 23 points to finish in a four-way tie for seventh place.

They were 77th overall in 2016, 45th in 2017 and 18th in 2018. Fort Recovery earned state medals in the 4x100 relay (third), 4x200 relay (third), 4x400 relay (fourth), 200 dash (Robby LeFevre – sixth) and 100 dash (LeFevre – sixth).

5. First for the Fort

The stars finally aligned for the Fort Recovery boys track team as it claimed the program’s first Midwest Athletic Conference championship in early May. 

Needing a win in the final race of the day, the Indians cruised to a nearly five-second victory in the 4x400-meter relay over Marion Local to edge the Flyers by one team point, 123-122. 

The Tribe had eight total championships, including four from Robby LeFevre.

6. Two hit 1,000

Just two weeks apart, Shelby Caldwell and Payton Jutte reached a career milestone.

Caldwell scored her 1,000th career point just 4:50 into the Jay County girls basketball team’s 57-26 victory Jan. 18 against. She went on to finish her career third on the program’s all-time scoring list with 1,071 points, trailing only Shannon Freeman (1,458) and Carissa Phillips (1,073).

Jutte’s accomplishment came 15 days later when he hit a 3-pointer in the first quarter of a 58-43 victory over Mississinawa Valley. He was the 17th player in FRHS history to reach the 1,000-point mark.

7. Pitching Padre

Nick Thwaits continued his professional pitching career as he was assigned to the Tri-City Dust Devils, the Class A short-season affiliate of the San Diego Padres. 

Thwaits, a 2018 Fort Recovery graduate, was the team’s starter on opening day, and he started Game 5 of the Northwest League Championship Series, a 3-1 Dust Devil loss. 

He started 13 games during the regular season, going 4-3 with a 4.66 ERA in 58 innings. Thwaits struck out 47 compared to 18 walks. He was 0-1 in two postseason appearances, allowing two earned runs on nine hits.

8. National presence

Former South Adams Starfire Bailey McIntire was one of the top runners in the country as he competed in the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships in November at Indiana State, a course on which he won three state medals for the Starfires. 

The Purdue sophomore had a time of 32 minutes, 9.5 seconds, for 125th in the 10K race. He was the No. 4 runner for the 11th-ranked Boilermakers, who matched their rankings in scoring 338 points. Top-ranked BYU won the team title with 109 points, and Edwin Kurgat of Iowa State was the individual champion in 30:32.7.

9. New leaders

The resignations of Kurt Rammel, Brian Patch and Michael Bashore left Fort Recovery with simultaneous vacancies at three of its most prominent athletics positions — athletics director, girls basketball coach and boys basketball coach.

An Indian mainstay filled the first of those roles, as longtime football coach Brent Niekamp was named athletics director April 18. (He continues to lead the Tribe on the gridiron.)

Holly (Stein) Gann, a 2007 FRHS graduate, was named girls basketball coach May 13, and former Arcanum coach Jim Melton was announced as boys basketball coach two days later.

10. Patriots return

The Jay County High School baseball team won its second straight sectional title with an 8-0 victory over Marion at Bellmont. It then returned to the regional championship game for the second straight season with a 5-2 victory over Angola in the semifinal round. It was Noah Arbuckle’s two-run home run that turned the game in the Patriots’ favor.

JCHS fell short of repeating as the regional champion, falling 7-6 to Yorktown in walk-off fashion in the title game at Garrett.



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