As 2008 began, Tyler Carlson was leading the Lady Wildcat basketball team to a string of victories. As the year closed, Carlson was doing the very same thing. In between, she tried her hand at cross country and topped off a string of first place finishes to become the Region 3-AAA cross country champion on both an individual and team basis.
The combination of these achievements and a superior display of good sportsmanship has earned Carlson the title of 2008 Bryan County Athlete of the Year. She was presented the award Jan. 14 at Beef ‘O’ Brady’s. The event was attended by several of Carlson’s past and present coaches, who told stories about her and spoke of the impact she has made on the Bryan County athletic scene.
Carlson broke her finger in November. Not even that seems to have slowed her down as she is averaging 16 points per game for the current Lady Wildcat basketball team.
RHHS Lady Wildcat assistant basketball coach and RHMS teacher Sean Strickland said Carlson showed signs of her ability even at the middle school level. He said RHMS coach Barbara Nettles told him she "whispered up to the heavens and said thank you God" when observing Carlson’s RHMS try-out.
"Anything she does, she excels at," Strickland said. "Great leader, great attitude – she totally deserves this award."
Wade Wright, who coached Carlson her freshman year at RHHS, said Carlson played a vital role when the Lady Wildcats made it to the state playoffs in 2007. He told a story about the final region game, which they had to win to stay alive. His key offensive player, Kayla Hires, got injured and Carlson was called into action.
"They gave the ball to Tyler four straight times and she made four straight threes," Wright said. "That’s someone rising to the occasion – and the mark of a good athlete. Another sign is knowing when not to step forward, and I’ve seen Tyler do that too. I’ve seen her be the passer, I’ve seen her be the rebounder, and I’ve seen her be the defender."
For the first time, Carlson decided to make a run at the cross country team in 2008. RHHS cross country coach Jimmy Hires said he knew she would do well, but even he was surprised by Carlson finishing first in virtually every meet she competed in. At state, she had the best finish of anyone in the Coastal Empire.
"The thing I’ve noticed about Tyler is that everything she does is at 110 percent," Hires said. "I found out that some days she’d work out with cross country, then work out with basketball, then do another workout … she’s the right person for this award."
Current Lady Wildcat basketball coach Elizabeth Bennett said Carlson’s achievements on the court are undeniable, achieving the titles of leading scorer, MVP and two-time captain.
"But I want to talk a little bit about what else she does for our program," Bennett said. "3.8 GPA, great student, leader, loves her teammates … There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think ‘wow, what an amazing woman, what an amazing student, captain’ – everyday she surprises me. And believe me - you are in the presence of greatness. She’s going to do much more things than just be a wonderful player at Richmond Hill."
In addition to the sporting world, Carlson also works in the kitchen at Beef ‘O’ Brady’s. Restaurant owner Doug Goolsby presented her with an additional achievement award and said she practices some of the same high standards in the work force as she does on the basketball court.
Carlson said this award wouldn’t be possible without all the help and motivation from her current and prior coaches and teammates. She also said she plans to play college basketball and may even compete in collegiate cross country as well.
Honorable mentions: John Phifer, Sam Vernon, Michael Zhu, Mitzi Cross, Tyler Steptoe, John Johnson, Stefanie Ortiz, Tiffany Howard, Zach Denney, Joe Jenkins, Chakiris Moss and Zach Sheffield.