- Wednesday, 27 November 2019
- Written by Earl Vaughan Jr.
I’ve told this story before because it’s a Thanksgiving favorite of mine. Forgive me if you’ve heard it.
My interest in writing began to develop in high school. One of the things that fostered it was finding out you could actually win money and prizes doing it.
When I was a junior at West Rowan, I entered a statewide essay contest sponsored by the Rural Electrification Administration. First prize was a week-long visit to Washington, D.C., with high school students from across the state to visit the sights there.
Obviously, it included a trip to the White House with other essay winners from across the country. We were on the South Lawn listening to a short speech from Secretary of Agriculture Clifford Hardin when to our surprise President Richard Nixon appeared and spoke to us.
As I was trying to shake his hand, a man stepped from the crowd and asked me to join him. Frightened at first that I had done something wrong, I followed.
His name was John Nidecker, a deputy special assistant to the president. He escorted me and few other students from the group into the West Wing. We were taken on a short tour of the White House and went to the press room where we were interviewed by a reporter about our experience.
After it was over, Nidecker told us he had intended to take us to the Oval Office and meet with Nixon himself. Unfortunately, the president had an impromptu meeting with some top aides and we had to be bumped from the schedule.
About a year or so later, President Nixon had the experience of pardoning the annual Thanksgiving turkey. Of course, this was the time of Watergate, and when Nixon pardoned the turkey, he was subjected to some negative press on the subject.
Not wishing to have it happen again, he passed on the job of turkey pardoning to his wife, Pat.
As reported some years ago by television news commentator Keith Olbermann, Mrs. Nixon did it just once, and the job was passed on again, to none other than John Nidecker, the guy who greeted me during my White House visit.
So as I like to tell folks, I was the first turkey Nidecker officially greeted at the White House. Happy Thanksgiving to all, and let’s hope I don’t turn into a turkey again with this week’s predictions.
The record: 71-22
I had a miserable effort in the second round of the state playoffs last week, going 2-2 to push the season total to 71-22, 76.3 percent.
Things don’t get easier this week as we have only three games and tougher calls.
Gray’s Creek at New Hanover - The Bears are the surprise team of this year’s North Carolina High School Athletic Association football playoffs. At a No. 14 seed, they are the lowest-seeded team left in any classification as we head to the third round and one of only four double-digit seeds in all eight brackets.
They rallied from an early two-touchdown deficit last Friday night to take out last year’s Western 3-AA state champion Southeast Guilford on the road, coming from behind in the final two minutes.
Now they head to Wilmington Friday night to battle New Hanover at Legion Stadium.
There’s no magic to what the Bears are doing. Through 12 games, Jerry Garcia Jr. is Cumberland County’s No. 2 rusher with 2,001 yards and 23 rushing touchdowns.
But the key cog to the equation for the Bears may be veteran quarterback Ben Lovette, who is finally healthy after a bout with injury mid-season. He doesn’t have record offensive statistics, but he’s running the tricky Gray’s Creek Wing-T offense smoothly enough for them to have won five straight games, two of them road playoff nail-biters against teams with much better seeds.
It’s that Wing-T offense that is the real key for the Bears I think. I ran into another Cumberland County football coach this week and we talked about what Gray’s Creek is doing in the playoffs.
The coach made the observation that the Wing-T is tough enough to prepare for in a one-game situation like Friday when a school doesn’t see it that often. Add to that the fact that Bear Coach David Lovette isn’t staying vanilla with it and is adding a few tweaks and twists to further confuse the situation, and you can see why that makes it even more of a headache for the opposition.
One other thing. New Hanover only has one loss on its schedule this year, and that was to another Cumberland County team that came to Wilmington and beat them, Jack Britt.
Call me crazy, but I think Gray’s Creek has a chance to be the second one Friday night.
Gray’s Creek 28, New Hanover 27.
Scotland at South View - This is one of my favorite parts of the playoffs when two marquee programs from the Cape Fear region get a chance to collide and send one of them on to a deeper run in the state football playoffs.
Rodney Brewington has resurrected the once struggling Tiger program, trying to bring back memories of the Bobby Poss years when he was a member of the historic 1991 South View state championship football team.
For Scotland coach Richard Bailey, this is just more of the same. After surviving the annual meat grinder that is the Sandhills Athletic Conference, Bailey’s Scots are now lining up against schools closer to them in size and have a much better chance of showing their best.
I think those countless years of postseason experience going back to Bailey’s days at Jack Britt will serve him and the Scots well tonight. South View’s Matthew Pemberton is a versatile talent, and the Tiger defense has been tough all year, but if anyone can figure out where to put all the chess pieces to get a postseason win tonight, it’s Bailey.
Scotland 22, South View 21.
Terry Sanford at Southern Nash - I don’t think Terry Sanford coach Bruce McClelland has gotten enough credit for the outstanding job he’s done since taking over as head football coach at Terry Sanford. Despite a number of personnel changes, especially at the position of quarterback, McClelland has had Terry Sanford in contention for a conference title each of the last three years, consistently earning the Bulldogs either a title, a top seed in the postseason, or both.
After opening this year’s playoffs with two fairly comfortable home wins, the Bulldogs bite off a major challenge Friday night, hitting the road for the ride up Interstate 95 to take on unbeaten Southern Nash.
Defense and turnovers will be huge for Terry Sanford Friday night.
The Bulldogs will need one of their best defensive efforts of the year to at least slow the Southern Nash offense. Handing them turnovers that lead to any easy points will be fatal.
I’d like to take a chance on this one, but the only time Terry Sanford has lost this year was when it wasn’t playing at its adopted home of John Daskal Stadium at Reid Ross Classical High School. I think that will be the result this week.
Southern Nash 28, Terry Sanford 24.
- Tuesday, 26 November 2019
- Written by Earl Vaughan Jr.
The basketball court at E.E. Smith High School is named in honor of the school’s veteran girls basketball coach, Dee Hardy, for a reason.
Her Smith girls have been frequent visitors to the North Carolina High School Athletic Association state 4-A playoffs.
Last year, led by current Wake Forest University freshman Alex Scruggs, they made one of the deepest runs in Smith history.
With Scruggs leading the way, Smith went 30-2, falling only to North Raleigh Christian in the John Wall Invitational and Southeast Guilford in the 3-A Eastern Regional finals.
Southeast went on to win the state 3-A championship, beating Cuthbertson 56-49 in the title game.
The bad news for Hardy is the bulk of the talent on that team came from her seniors who are now departed. Along with Scruggs, the losses include players like Daireanna McIntyre, Danielle Tripp and Trinity Dixon.
Scruggs departed E.E. Smith as one of the most decorated players in school history.
She was the Sandhills Athletic Conference Player of the Year for the 2018-19 season.
She led Cumberland County Schools in scoring with 26.2 points per game. She was also its top rebounder at 12.8 rebounds per contest.
While three-point shooting wasn’t her specialty, she still finished fourth in the county in that category with 45 made shots for the season.
She also contributed 3.2 assists per contest.
McIntyre was the team’s No. 2 rebounder behind Scruggs with 6.1 per contest.
But the cupboard won’t be completely bare for Smith. First-team All-Patriot Athletic Conference guard Kendall Macauley is back for Smith, along with honorable mention all-conference swing player Keonna Bryant.
Macauley is the leading returning scoring for the Smith girls, averaging 9.3 points per game last season. Bryant is the No. 2 scorer back from last year’s team with an average of 7.8 points per contest.
“We are looking for big things from them as far as leadership and direction on the court,’’ Hardy said.
Macauley feels she let the seniors down last year, falling just short of making the state title game.
She doesn’t think this year’s team is feeling pressure to duplicate the record of a year ago.
“If we do what we’re supposed to do in practice and execute in games, we’ll be fine,’’ Macauley said.
Macauley said her focus will be to bring energy to the team and play a mentoring role to the younger players.
“I want to make sure I put them in the right direction,’’ Macauley said.
Filling the huge void left by Scruggs will be a challenge, Hardy said. Scruggs, the conference player of the year, led all Cumberland County Schools scorers with 26.2 points per game and a county-best 12.8 points per game.
The job of replacing those points and rebounds will have to be done by a process Hardy describes as by committee.
“We won’t depend on one person to pick up the load,’’ Hardy said. “It’s going to have to be done as a team. We have some young players coming in who have a lot on their shoulders.’’
Hardy said they won’t have the luxury of veterans playing in front of them to allow them time to take advantage of a learning experience.
“They are going to get it right in the face while they are on the court,’’ Hardy said. “That pressure will be on them.’’
One returning player Hardy is counting on is 6-foot junior center Jordan Everett. Everett is rehabbing from a knee injury suffered last year and hopes to return sometime close to the December holiday break.
Smith could use her sooner rather than later because Smith will already be playing conference basketball games Friday, Nov. 22 when it faces old rival Terry Sanford.
“We’re not going to have a lot of time once the season cranks up,’’ she said. “We’ll get hit with everything and put them out there and see what happens.’’
Hardy isn’t sure what to expect from the rest of the Patriot Athletic Conference this season.
She knows Pine Forest lost star Kendal Moore, now a freshman at North Carolina State.
Hardy said she’s always wary of South View and its veteran coach, Brent Barker. “I know everybody has been working hard and it’s going to be a coin toss to see what happens,’’ she said.
She feels Smith has the potential to be in the championship mix but knows that means nothing if the potential isn’t developed.
“Because we’re so young, it’s just talk,’’ she said. “Our key is going to be our chemistry. Of course with every team, defense is an emphasis.’’
Lacking height, Hardy said this Smith team will have to defend, box out and rebound to compete. “We need to get to know each other and trust each other so we’re able to play,’’ Hardy said.
Macauley said the Smith team has much to learn, but Hardy will be a great teacher. “As long as we have her staying on top of us we’ll be fine for the rest of the season,’’ she said.
Picture 1: The basketball court at E.E. Smith is named after Dee Hardy, pictured above.
Picture 2: Kendall Macauley