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Top High School Stories of 2011: 1-5

12/30/2011

All week long, ESPNHS.com counts down the stories, events and trends that shaped the 2011 year in high school sports. Today, we finish up with stories 1 through 5.

5. Richard Sanchez Makes U.S. Soccer History - - Playing for Mexico

Richard Sanchez is an American citizen through and through. He was born in California, plays professionally for FC Dallas of the MLS and is taking online classes to get his high school diploma. This past summer, Sanchez became the first American-born player to win a FIFA men's international competition. But he didn't do it for the U.S. Eligible for the Mexican National Team because his parents were born in Mexico, Sanchez chose El Tri over the Stars and Stripes and backstopped the squad to the U-17 World Cup title as the starting goalkeeper. "I always felt something different when I saw the Mexican flag," said Sanchez. "I know at heart I'm Mexican."

4. Safety in Sports

Due to safety concerns, in particular pitchers getting hit by line drives, the National Federation of State High School Associations passed a rule starting with the 2012 season that all high school baseball teams that play under NFHS guidelines have to use Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution (BBCOR) aluminum bats. Simply put, it means balls will fly off the new bats at lower speeds, allowing pitchers more time to react and avoid injury.

California teams started following the new rules during the 2011 season after Marin Catholic (Kentfield, Calif.) pitcher Gunnar Sandberg was hit in the head with a line drive during a game in March of 2010 and spent three weeks in a coma.

New York City's Public Schools Athletic League also took action in the name of pitcher safety this season by adopting a pitch-count rule. Under the new guidelines, varsity pitchers can only throw 105 pitches in a game, while JV hurlers are limited to 90. So even if a pitcher is in the midst of throwing a no-hitter, they have to come out as soon as they reach 105 pitches.

Meanwhile, the New York state safety committee voted against girls' lacrosse players wearing helmets, which would have began during the 2012 season, but instituted new rules for the 2012 season to try and cut down the physicality of the game.

And former Santa Fe Christian (Solana Beach, Calif.) lacrosse player Tommy Mallon, along with his mother, Beth, have also taken measures to ensure the safety of high school athletes. In 2009, Tommy fractured his cervical vertebrae during a game, but the quick action of his team's athletic trainer helped stabilize him and possibly even saved his life. Inspired by those who helped him, Tommy and his mother founded a nonprofit called Advocates for Injured Athletes to promote safety awareness. In January, the foundation launches a pilot program in San Diego area schools called Athletes Saving Athletes that teaches high school athletes important safety measures they can then teach to their teammates.

3. Girls' Basketball Star Tayshana Murphy Shot to Death in Harlem

Murphy, who everyone knew as "Chicken," was one of the top point guards in the nation. But she never got to play her senior season at Murry Bergtraum (New York) - - she was shot to death on Sept. 11 in Harlem.

Tyshawn Brockington, 21, and Robert Cartagena, 20, who allegedly shot her after chasing her up the stairs of her apartment building, have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial. As for her former teammates, they have added the word "Chicken" to the back of their practice jerseys and wear patches on their uniforms with her name and number. "It's not so much about the wins and losses anymore," said longtime Murry Begatraum coach Ed Grezinsky. "It's about human life, about kids moving on and being successful. In the big picture, basketball is such a small thing."

2. Marti Sementelli & Ghazaleh Sailors Make History

Marti Sementelli of Birmingham (Van Nuys, Calif.) and Ghazaleh Sailors of San Marcos (Santa Barbara, Calif.) made history in the spring when they became the first girls to pitch against each other in a high school baseball game. Sementelli helped Birmingham to a 6-1 win by tossing a complete game, while Sailors fanned two over 3.1 innings and added a single off Sementelli.

Sementelli and Sailors also made headlines after the season by receiving college baseball scholarships. Sementelli signed with Montreat College in North Carolina and Sailors signed with Presque Isle in Maine.

1. Wes Leonard

In March, Leonard capped off an undefeated regular season for Fennville (Mich.) by hitting the game-winning shot in overtime against Bridgman (Mich.). But shortly after his heroic moment, the 16-year-old junior collapsed on the court after suffering a heart attack and was rushed to the hospital, where he passed away.

The sudden shift from triumph to tragedy gripped an entire nation, as Leonard's teammates rallied in his honor to win three postseason games. The inspiring and courageous way Fennville persevered through unimaginable tragedy makes this our choice for No. 1 story of 2011.

Christopher Parish has more on Leonard here.