Tuesday, 07 April 2020
Written by Earl Vaughan Jr.
While many high school coaches and athletes in North Carolina deal with the frustrating routine of not being able to play their chosen sports during the COVID-19 pandemic, Vernon Aldridge and other athletic leaders around the state are holding conversations and looking ahead to the time when everyone will be able to return to the fields and courts to resume competition.
Aldridge is the Student Activities Director for the Cumberland County Schools, but he also wears important hats at the state level.
He is one of the leaders of the North Carolina Athletic Directors Association, a role that also landed him a spot on the North Carolina High School Athletic Association Board of Directors.
In recent days, Aldridge has been involved in video conferences with other athletic directors and also with high school principals, partly as a wellness check, but also to see how everyone is dealing with the current situation and looking ahead to a time when play will resume.
“The biggest thing with the pandemic is things are fluid,’’ Aldridge said. “Things are changing hour by hour. It’s the hope of everyone that at some point we are able to come back and play in the spring.’’
The NCHSAA has suspended all play and practice for its member schools until May 18. Cumberland County’s school year is currently scheduled to end on May 22 unless county or state officials decide to extend it.
Aldridge said the fate of athletics hinges on whether or not Cumberland County and the rest of the state returns to school first. “It’s going to be hard to justify playing athletics if the kids aren’t in school,’’ he said.
Even if they are, students won’t be thrown onto the athletic field or court immediately when school reopens. They’ll have to be given a few days, maybe more, to practice.
Que Tucker, commissioner of the NCHSAA, has already said the NCHSAA will not extend the spring athletic season into the summer months. If athletics resumes on May 18, Aldridge isn’t sure how much of a spring season Cumberland County could play, especially schools in the nine-team Patriot Athletic Conference.
The dates for state championships in boys golf, track and field, boys tennis and lacrosse will have already passed.
The only championship dates left would be girls’ soccer on May 30 and baseball and softball June 5-6.
“A conference season would be difficult,’’ Aldridge said. “I’d love to see us be able to to play a couple of games so we could have senior nights and acknowledge our seniors the way they should be acknowledged.’’
A growing worry is the pandemic could continue and extend to football season. Football gate receipts pay the way for the total athletic program. Losing all or part of it would be a huge hit to local schools.
Aldridge said when sports do resume, it’s critical that fans support the program. “Come out and support teams, get involved with booster clubs at the schools, get involved with what we are doing,’’ he said.
For now he hopes coaches are checking in on their athletes and offering emotional support.
“The bigger picture is the health and safety of people,’’ he said. “It’s more important than what we’ve got going on on the field.’’
Monday, 30 March 2020
Written by Earl Vaughan Jr.
In the midst of the ongoing bad news 2020 has generated during the battle with the COVID-19 virus, basketball coaches Dee Hardy of the E.E. Smith girls and George Stackhouse of the Westover boys got a bit of good news recently when the North Carolina Basketball Coaches Association announced its All-State teams.
Hardy and Smith got a double dose of recognition as she was named the NCBCA’s girls basketball coach of the year while freshman Miya Giles-Jones made the All-State third team chosen by the coaches.
For Stackhouse, the news was that Westover junior D’Marco Dunn was picked to the All-State second team for the boys.
Hardy led the Smith girls to a 31-1 record and a still pending state 3-A championship game matchup with Southeast Guilford.
The Westover boys are a perfect 30-0 and are also on hold as the North Carolina High School Athletic Association has suspended all sports competition until mid-May because of COVID-19, with Westover awaiting a championship matchup against Morganton Freedom for the 3-A title.
Neither Hardy nor Stackhouse were surprised that their players were chosen for All-State recognition by their fellow coaches.
A 5-foot-10 guard, Giles-Jones was a versatile player for the Smith girls, averaging 13.4 points and 10.3 rebounds. Dunn, a 6-foot-4 junior guard, was the leading scorer among boys from the Cumberland County Schools with 20.8 points per game and 7.3 rebounds. He also led in 3-point baskets with 70.
Hardy said Giles-Jones had several double-doubles during the season and was able to do anything on the court that Hardy asked her to do. “She rebounds well and is strong, puts it back up,’’ Hardy said. “She could also handle the ball well.
“We could take her and move her to face the basket as well as post her up, depending on who was guarding her.’’
Stackhouse said Dunn was an efficient player, adding that his scoring and rebounding totals didn’t tell the full story about his ability. “He put up a lot of those numbers in three quarters,’’ Stackhouse said, noting that Dunn frequently went to the bench in the fourth quarter of games the Wolverines had already wrapped up.
“I think he had 38 points in one game this year and only put up 15 or 16 shots,’’ Stackhouse said. “He shot maybe 50% from three-point in conference games. He just did a lot of things to help us win. To be that good, he had to put in a lot of work.’’
The last few weeks have been difficult ones for Hardy, Stackhouse and their players. It has been some weeks since the NCHSAA announced this year’s state basketball championship games would be placed on hold as the entire country is dealing with the fallout from COVID-19.
Both Hardy and Stackhouse are hopeful that the championship games will eventually be played, but the prospects are looking grimmer as the days pass.
Last week, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper announced that the state’s public schools would remain closed at least until May 15. Shortly after that announcement, NCHSAA commissioner Que Tucker said the association would extend its hold on all high school athletic competition and practice by its member schools until at least May 18. She added that it was becoming increasingly unlikely that the NCHSAA will be able to hold spring sports this year.
In an earlier teleconference with statewide media, Tucker said that the NCHSAA would not extend the spring sports season into the summer months because of commitments many high school athletes had with summer sports camps and other obligations.
The state championship basketball games that Westover and Smith are hoping to play are an entirely different matter. Tucker indicated that the state would be able to play those in a much shorter period of time, possibly allowing the competing teams five days or so to return to practice, then finding them a venue where they could play.
But as much as they’d like to play a title game, both Hardy and Stackhouse had doubts what kind of title game it would be with only five days to prepare.
“I don’t know how realistic it is to take such a long time off and then come back in five days,’’ Stackhouse said. “That kind of feels like disrespect for your game. That would be like having a championship game after the first week of practice. The level of play and the level of conditioning wouldn’t be the same.’’
Hardy said her present focus has had little to do with thinking about playing a championship game and more about concern for the safety of her players, making sure they are avoiding becoming infected by COVID-19 and making sure they have enough to eat during the shutdown.
“It makes everything else seem so small as far as facing adversity,’’ she said. “It’s hard to keep that focus and that intensity.’’
Although she’s had contact with her players, Hardy said she doesn’t know if they are exercising or what they may be doing to stay in anything close to
She said she had made phone calls to her players, but the subject was academics, not basketball. “I don’t want them to lose anything as far as the academic piece,’’ she said. “For me it’s a little bigger than athletics. My concern was are they going to complete their packets, their online work, for school.’’
While the teams left to play in the finals of the basketball titles have won Eastern and Western titles this season, no decision has been made on what they’ll awarded if the title game isn’t played.
There was a time when the NCHSAA ended state playoffs in football with Eastern and Western winners. If the title game can’t be played this year, Hardy knows what she would prefer.
“I’d rather see it as co-champions,’’ she said.