High School Highlights

NCHSAA awards Westover, E.E. Smith share of state titles

12 01 72213353 BE6B 400B AC34 B47D274108A2Westover High School’s boys and E.E. Smith High School’s girls basketball teams made history last week, joining a handful of other North Carolina High School Athletic Association teams as the first virtual state champions in NCHSAA history.

After the COVID-19 pandemic forced the NCHSAA to first postpone and then cancel this school year’s state basketball title games, Westover and Smith had been waiting for almost a month-and-a-half to learn what the fate of their title bids would be.

It came via a virtual meeting of the NCHSAA Board of Directors last week on the computer meeting app Zoom. The cyber gathering of NCHSAA board members voted unanimously to name all of the teams that made the eight state championship finals for girls and boys basketball state champions.

12 02 georgeWestover was declared the 3-A boys co-champion while Smith was named the 3-A girls co-champion.

Brad Craddock, the NCHSAA president, who serves as principal at Glenn High School in Kernersville, said the board got a briefing
from NCHSAA assistant commissioner James Alverson on the precedent for not having single champions.

During the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918, no state champions were determined in football. For a period of time during the 1960s and 1970s, some sports didn’t play to a state title, stopping at regional championships because the NCHSAA feared the season was getting too long. One of those teams was Seventy-First, which ended its 1970 season with a 3-A Eastern football championship.

12 03 vernon aldridge copy“We felt like in this crazy time we are in, crowning an East and West regional champion did not do either side justice,’’ Craddock said. “We felt co-champions was the best thing we could do to honor all the work the student-athletes put
 into it.’’

Both Westover boys’ head coach George Stackhouse and Smith girls’ head coach Dee Hardy were delighted with the decision.

“I think the folks involved put the kids first,’’ Stackhouse said. “That’s what we are in it for and that’s what it looks like they did.’’

Hardy has now had a hand in two state championships for Smith. She was a member of the Smith girls track team that won the state title in 1981. She said the basketball state title is the first Smith has won since then.

“The seniors have been through enough and it’s the least we can do to say they are state champions,’’ Hardy said. “I think that’s the best ending we could have at this point in time.’’

Vernon Aldridge, student activities director for the Cumberland County Schools, served on the NCHSAA board as representative of the North Carolina Athletic Directors Association.

Aldridge said he will reach out to city and county government officials to make sure Fayetteville and Cumberland County honor the Westover and Smith teams when the pandemic passes and people can safely assemble for a public celebration.

“This is very exciting for Cumberland County Schools to have two state basketball champions,’’ he said. “As long as I’ve been here, I can’t remember us having two state basketball champions in one year.’’

In other major action by the board, changes were approved in the practice restrictions for high school football.

Beginning with the fall season, the amount of preseason scrimmage time will be reduced from seven hours to five. Schools will have to observe a 48-hour break between scrimmage sessions. This does not include scrimmages in a one-day jamboree setting.

Beginning with April 15 and continuing to the final 10 days of the school year, teams can practice a total of 60 minutes of what is called bumping, a modified form of body-to-body contact that stops just short of tackling an opponent and bringing him to the ground.

In other rulings, athletes will not be required to get a new physical if they got one in 2019 but they will have to update their family medical history. The NCHSAA will develop a physical requirement for athletes who come from out of
state schools.

The realignment process has been put on hold by COVID-19 and will not resume until the realignment committee can safely meet face to face again.

The plan is still for the next realignment to take effect by the 2021-22 school year.

NCHSAA commissioner Que Tucker made no commitment on the status of fall sports but said it is possible one or more sports may have to start late and trim the nonconference schedule to get a season completed.

Scholar athletes of the week: 4/29/20

 Justin McClintock

Gray’s Creek  • Swimming/football • Senior

McClintock has a 3.95 grade point average. He was first team All-Patriot Conference in football and led Cumberland County Schools in tackles with 188. He also swam a leg on Gray’s Creek’s conference-winning 200 and 400-meter freestyle relay teams.

Ryan Dukes

Gray’s Creek • Swimming/soccer/track • Senior

Dukes has a 4.35 grade point average. He is in the Academy of Information Technology, the National Honor Society and the Academy of Scholars. He does volunteer work for a number of community organizations.

American Legion baseball season canceled

13 Mark KahlenbergThe local sports scene took another hit last week as state American Legion baseball officials announced there would be no season for the sport this summer in North Carolina due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That followed an earlier announcement by the American Legion that regional and national playoffs were also canceled.

Mark Kahlenberg, who coaches the lone Cumberland County entry, the Hope Mills Boosters, said discussions had been ongoing about the fate of the season in recent weeks, with state Legion officials announcing they would reach a decision on baseball this summer somewhere around April 13.

While no official American Legion baseball season is planned, there has been talk among coaches of some of the teams coming up a non-Legion baseball alternative that would provide those programs around the state that wanted to participate a chance to have something.

Kahlenberg said he’d seen a list of some 10 to 12 teams interested in the alternative season. He also said some teams from the northern part of South Carolina had expressed interest in joining the North Carolina teams if South Carolina should decide to cancel its American Legion baseball season.

But Kahlenberg had multiple reservations about the possibility of a non-Legion baseball league. To begin with, he’s not certain the backer of the Hope Mills Boosters, the Massey Hill Lions Club, would be willing to fund something not affiliated with American Legion baseball.

Further, there would be more expense involved than just paying for officials and travel. Any Legion teams that played in the alternative league would not be allowed to use their official American Legion baseball uniforms or even the official baseballs stamped with the American Legion logo.

Another big concern would be providing for insurance for the players. Kahlenberg said he’s almost certain any policy the teams could purchase would be unlikely to include coverage for the COVID-19 virus. “If something did come up with the virus, I don’t think I would want that on my plate,’’ Kahlenberg said.

Finally, he expects there will be a problem for many teams finding a place to play. The Boosters traditionally play their home games at South View High School. As part of the Cumberland County Schools, South View’s facilities are closed because of the virus, and Kahlenberg doesn’t think they will be opened just for a team that’s not affiliated with American Legion baseball.

The Boosters were also scheduled to play two games at Campbell University, which is also currently shut down.

Kahlenberg is about a month away from the time he would normally have been organizing this year’s team for its first game. According to longtime American Legion baseball coach Doug Watts, who retired in 2018 after 51 years with the program, this will be the first time since 1965 that Cumberland County hasn’t fielded an American Legion baseball team.

Kahlenberg had planned an ambitious 25-game schedule, about five or six more regular season games than Hope Mills normally plays.

A change in the enrollment numbers meant Hope Mills might have been able to add another school to its base this season.

The thing he will miss most, Kahlenberg said, is the camaraderie with the players.

“You have your late nights on the road,’’ he said. “That’s a lot of stories we still talk about. That’s the fun part of it.’’

Virus doesn’t slow recruiting of Bears’ Garcia

13 01 IMG 3740While the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the entire athletic world to a halt, it’s done nothing to slow the recruiting of one of Cumberland County’s hottest football prospects, Gray’s Creek High School running back Jerry Garcia Jr. 

Garcia made a huge splash for the Bears during his junior season, rushing for 2,085 yards, an average of 10.2 per carry, and 23 touchdowns.

He also pulled in 10 pass receptions for another 279 yards and four scores as he earned first team All-Patriot Athletic Conference honors as running back.

This is normally the time of year when college football coaches would be showing up at high school campuses, hitting the recruiting trail as 13 02 Jerrygarciajrspring football games across the country wrap up.

But because of the pandemic and quarantine rules set in place across the country, the recruiting process has been reduced to a new normal of virtual recruiting, with coaches having to rely on video they’ve been sent, while they keep in contact with potential recruits via telephone and text message.

Gray’s Creek head football coach David Lovette said Garcia ranks among the three most-recruited football players in the history of the Bear program. As far as number of direct contacts from coaches and actual scholarship offers, Lovette added Garcia is in a class by himself at the school.

Late last year, Lovette sent film of Garcia to some 40 coaches. A few made stops at Gray’s Creek before the pandemic set in.

There was some buzz out about Garcia because of his performance in camps. He was timed at 4.5 seconds electronically in the 40-yard dash at a Nike camp. Before the Bears had to shut down weightlifting, Garcia maxed out with a 275-pound bench press.

There are some things about Garcia that can’t be measured in numbers. One of them is his desire to improve. When he scheduled a recruiting trip to Furman before the pandemic, Garcia had to leave at 6 a.m. for the trip to Greenville, S.C.

Lovette said Garcia rose at 4 a.m. the morning of the Furman trip, so he’d have time to get in his weightlifting for the day at a private gym in Hope Mills.“He’s a hard worker, a great kid and a likeable kid,’’ Lovette said. “He’s fun to be around and fun to coach.’’

There’s one other part of Garcia’s resume that has so many schools interested in recruiting him. Unlike some prospects, Garcia has solid numbers in the classroom, where he enjoys studying math and working with numbers. He carries a weighted grade point average of 3.75. He plans to continue working on his grades and hopes to have a 4.0 average when fall arrives.

His high grades are reflected in the types of schools that have already offered him scholarships. All three of the service academies, along with the Citadel, have made him offers. So have Princeton and Penn, as well as Dartmouth. At last count, some 13 schools have made firm offers to Garcia.

If there’s one thing about Garcia’s recruiting to date that has disappointed Lovette, it’s the lack of offers from North Carolina schools. He had none until just days after this interview was conducted when Gardner-Webb in Boiling Springs near Shelby finally stepped up and made him a scholarship offer.

“There are some good schools in North Carolina he’d be good enough to play for,’’ Lovette said. 

But even with only one offer from inside the state so far, Garcia feels he’s been getting plenty of attention in spite of the problems caused by the virus and coaches not being able to make in-person visits.

“The coaches do build a bond with me,’’ he said. “They call me on the phone a couple of times a week and check on me.’’

Garcia isn’t letting the free time he has because he's not going to school go to waste. He has weights in his garage, and he has regular workouts with a neighbor who is also on the Gray’s Creek football team. He’s hoping to gain some weight by the time football season starts in the fall.

While there’s no guarantee that’s going to happen, Garcia said he’s remaining optimistic.“I’m hoping we’ll be able to play,’’ he said.

He is in no hurry to make a decision where he’ll attend school. He had planned to decide on a school before football season started this fall. The virus is behind the reason for not rushing the process.

He said the college coaches have talked to him in detail about what their schools have to offer, but Garcia wants to pay an in-person visit to the campuses he’s looking at so he can see for himself what each school is like.

He wants to major in engineering and said that most of the schools he’s gotten offers from have an engineering program.

He doesn’t seem committed to playing running back in college, noting that some schools have told him he’ll likely play a slot position for them while others have said they may put him in the offensive backfield and use him in motion where he can get the ball on pitches and run it.

“They’ve tried to explain to me how they want to use my versatility,’’ Garcia said.

Scholar athletes of the week: 4/22/20

14 01 Ashton FieldsAshton Fields
Jack Britt  • Volleyball/softball/unified bowling • Junior
Fields has a grade point average of 4.375. She is student body vice president. She is in the National Honor Society, Key Club, Britt Life and co-editor of the Jack Britt yearbook. In volleyball, she led Cumberland County Schools with 140 blocks last fall. She was on the 2019 North Carolina American Legion softball state championship team.

 

14 02 Carlie MyrtleCarlie Myrtle
Jack Britt • Softball • Junior
Myrtle has a grade point average of 4.450. She was chosen as a Junior Marshal for graduation. She is editor of the Jack Britt yearbook. She is a member of the Student Government Association and Britt Life. When softball season ended she was 5-0 with 62 strikeouts and a.600 batting average
.

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