The River Ridge girls basketball team got its revenge on the ultimate stage, winning the Class AAAAAA state championship 68-50 over Lovejoy on Friday night at the Macon Coliseum.
It is the first team state championship for River Ridge in any sport, and the Knights are the first girls basketball champion from Cherokee County since Etowah in 2005. River Ridge played with a chip on its shoulders, going up against a Lovejoy team that knocked the Knights out in the quarterfinals last year. This was the matchup the Knights wanted, and they pulled away late for the history-making 18-point win. Mataya Gayle took over in her final opportunity at River Ridge, scoring a game-high 25 points, surpassing 2,000 points for her career, while picking up nine rebounds and five assists. Behind Gayle, two sophomores had major contributions. Kayla Cleaveland scored 15 points despite fouling out in the fourth quarter, while Sophia Pearl finished with 11 points and five steals.
River Ridge limited Lovejoy's talented guard duo of Bryanna Preston and La’nya Foster to 29 combined points. Foster’s 16 points led the way, while Preston was forced to the bench after picking up her fourth foul with 2:30 left in the first half.
Cherokee’s run came to an end Saturday night, with the Warriors falling 78-58 to Wheeler in the Class AAAAAAA state championship game in Macon.
It was nothing like the last time these two teams met. Cherokee was within striking distance for much of the game and trailed by just nine points in the third quarter. Wheeler’s size and athleticism ultimately helped it pull away late, but the Warriors were anything but an easy out. Saturday marked the Warriors’ first trip to the state title game since 1982, behind the late Tony Ingle, the future coach at Kennesaw State and a Cherokee County Sports Hall of Fame honoree.
Wheeler’s win gave the program its ninth state championship all-time and third in the last four seasons.
It was the fourth time Cherokee had seen Wheeler during the 2022-23 season, and after falling 94-41 in the Region 5AAAAAAA championship, the Warriors played like they had something to prove.
Saturday marked the end of just Coach Joe Veihman’s second season at Cherokee since taking over for longtime coach Roger Kvam. He led the Warriors to a 41-17 record, and now, a Class AAAAAAA runner-up trophy.
A former Holly Springs educator has been sentenced to eight years in prison after pleading guilty to child sexual abuse during his time as a teacher at a private school.
Robert Vandel, 65, of Canton was sentenced Thursday to eight years in prison followed by 12 years on probation after pleading guilty to child sexual abuse crimes while he was teaching science at Lyndon Academy in Holly Springs.
This sentence will run concurrently with a 10-year prison sentence Vandel is serving in Fulton County.
Vandel pled guilty to his Fulton County charges in May 2022, admitting to rape, aggravated child molestation, false imprisonment, and child molestation while he was a science teacher at Fulton Academy of Science and Technology Charter School in Roswell. He was sentenced to 10 years to serve in prison followed by life on probation with sex offender special conditions.
In September 2021, Vandel was arrested at Lyndon Academy by Roswell Police on charges that he sexually assaulted one of his students at Fulton Academy of Science and Technology Charter School. He was charged in Roswell with rape, aggravated assault with intent to rape a child under 14, aggravated child molestation, sexual assault by persons in supervisory authority, enticing a child for indecent purposes, and false imprisonment of a child under 14.
After his arrest, Vandel was terminated from his teaching position.
Since he was teaching in Holly Springs, Holly Springs Police Department initiated a separate investigation. A forensic interview showed that Vandel had been showing the child favoritism and giving her answers to test questions, before engaging in criminal acts, prosecutors said.
In a negotiated guilty plea, Vandel admitted to intentionally making physical contact with intimate parts of the child’s body, including pressing the front of his body against the child and smacking her buttocks with a ruler, prosecutors reported.
In an impact statement, the victim said she has had sleepless nights, and they have felt betrayed and afraid, waiting for justice, prosecutors said. Lyndon Academy Headmaster Linda Murdock declined to comment on the civil case Friday due to the case being open.
Records on the Georgia Professional Standards Commission website show that Vandel’s teaching certification was revoked in October 2020. The commission had suspended his license in 2006.
Last year, Murdock told WSB-TV that when Lyndon Academy hired Vandel two years earlier, the alleged sexual assault in Roswell had not yet been reported to authorities, and he passed a background check that included the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, social media checks, references, and recommendations.
A 37-year-old woman from Woodstock has been arrested after authorities say she had a sexual relationship with a minor starting when he was 15 years old.
Brittany Stetson is charged with child molestation, aggravated child molestion, sexual assault by teacher, according to her arrest warrant filed by Holly Springs Police Department.
In the warrant, police say that in February 2021 Stetson initiated a sexual relationship with a boy who was 15 at the time, which continued for over a year.
The woman is a former substitute teacher at Cherokee County schools, including the high school the teen attended.
A representative of the Cherokee County School District said that the alleged sexual misconduct was not connected to Stetson’s work as a substitute teacher, and she is no longer employed by the district. Stetson was arrested March 7 and booked into the Cherokee County jail. As of March 10, she remained there without bond, according to the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office.
A team of students from Etowah High School recently won first place in a statewide career skills competition for their public service announcement on mental health awareness.
Juniors Samantha Durst, Temilola Oloruntoba, Katie Shay and Hannah Stack won the state HOSA Future Health Professionals competition for their video, the Cherokee County School District announced.
They are part of their school’s HOSA chapter, advised by Career Pathway healthcare science teachers Megan King and Amber Thayer. The PSA is currently available on You Tube. The team will compete nationally this summer at the HOSA International Leadership Conference in Dallas, Texas. The Cherokee County school board and superintendent will recognize the team at an upcoming school board meeting.
Cherokee County Fire and Emergency Services brought home four awards from the 2023 Northwest Georgia - Region 1 EMS Awards Banquet in Rome Thursday night.
CCFES was recognized as the EMS Service of the Year. This award is presented to an agency that has not only maintained a high-performance level and spotless record but has also made improvements or contributions which benefit the citizens it serves and has contributed significantly to emergency services at the community, regional and state level.
Fire Apparatus Operator and Paramedic Connor Bourn received the Tommy Gayler Medical Call of the Year Award. He was recognized for the outstanding work he and his crew performed on a cardiac arrest patient that resulted in the patient being discharged to home after receiving care in the ICU. Capt. Krisi Wigington received the Mike Miller EMS Educator of the Year Award. She was recognized for her prestigious career in fire and emergency services which has resulted in her serving as the driving force in the accredited Cherokee Fire Paramedic Program.
Dr. Jill Mabley, retired medical director for Cherokee County Fire and Emergency Services, received the Dr. Paul Nassour Lifetime Achievement Award. She was recognized for her lifetime of exemplary dedication to fire and emergency services at the local, state and national level.
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