High School Highlights

County schools lead nation in NFHS coaches education

14 scott graham EPppwcVTZEo unsplashVernon Aldridge, student activities director for the Cumberland County Schools, has long stressed the importance of the county’s coaches taking courses to make them better at their jobs.

That commitment recently earned the county national recognition as the National Federation of State High School Associations listed three county schools as first in the nation to reach Level I status on the NFHS School Honor Roll program.

The three schools are Gray’s Creek High School, John Griffin Middle School and Pine Forest
Middle School.

Since the initial three schools were announced, five more have been added to the list. They are Pine Forest High School, South View Middle School, Hope Mills Middle School, Spring Lake Middle School and Anne Chesnutt Middle School.

To make the list, a school must have at least 90% of the full-time coaches on its staff complete four courses offered online by the NFHS.

The courses are Fundamentals of Coaching, Concussion in Sports, Sudden Cardiac Arrest, and Protecting Students from Abuse.

There are two more levels schools can achieve by completing additional NFHS courses.

Because all the county schools have been taking part in the NFHS initiative, Aldridge is optimistic it won’t be long before every county school is recognized for at least reaching Level I.

“The more we take these courses, the higher quality our coaches are,’’ Aldridge said. “I think it enhances the experience for the student-athletes.’’

He added all coaches in Cumberland County Schools have been required to take the four NFHS courses before the School Honor Roll program was started last December.

In addition, all county schools coaches must receive training in performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation and using an automated external defibrillator.

“My goal is to have all our schools to be Level 3 in two years,’’ Aldridge said.

County athletes chosen for East-West games

A number of Cumberland County high school athletes recently received statewide recognition by being honored as all-stars and were given the chance to compete in all-star competition, subject to the lifting of COVID-19 shelter-in-place restrictions later this summer.

Most of the athletes were chosen to take part in this summer’s North Carolina Coaches Association East-West All-Star games in Greensboro this summer.

Here’s a brief look at each of the honorees:

Football

Cape Fear head coach Jake Thomas was previously chosen as an assistant coach for the East team in this summer’s East-West game at Grimsley High School in Greensboro on Wednesday, July 22.

Four Cumberland County football players were named to the East roster, linebackers Mark Burks of Cape Fear and Jackson Deaver of Terry Sanford, running back Matthew Pemberton of South View and wide receiver Anthony Fiffie of Jack Britt.

Thomas will coach the linebackers in the game. He said Deaver was a four-year starter with
 the Bulldogs who plays like a coach on the field. “He’s very smart and will come up and hit you,’’ Thomas said.

Deaver was the defensive player of the year in the Patriot Athletic Conference. He finished second in Cumberland County in tackles with 162.

Burks is a versatile player who can also double as a safety. “That’s a plus when you’re coaching in an all-star game,’’ Thomas said. A three-year captain for Cape Fear, Thomas called Burks an outstanding teammate and leader.

Burks had 70 tackles and 4.5 sacks. He was first team All-Patriot Athletic Conference at linebacker.

Fiffie is the only one of the four county players that Thomas didn’t actually see in a game this season since Cape Fear and Britt don’t play each other. “I’ve heard offensive coaches talking about him, his size as a receiver and his hands,’’ Thomas said. “He does a great job of running routes and being precise.’’

Fiffie was a first team All-Sandhills Athletic Conference wide receiver. He led Cumberland County in receiving with 81 catches for 1,156 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Thomas called Pemberton a versatile playmaker who can do all kinds of things to help a team win. “He’s just a tremendous athlete,’’ Thomas said.

Pemberton was Athlete of the Year in the Patriot Athletic Conference. He rushed 230 times for 1,919 yards and 31 touchdowns. He caught 20 passes for 235 yards and three touchdowns.

Girls soccer

Terry Sanford’s Maiya Parrous was the lone county player selected to the East girls soccer team. Previously announced as head coach of the team was Pine Forest’s Isaac Rancour.

Like the rest of the soccer players in the state, Parrous had her senior season stripped from her when the spring sports season was halted on
March 16.

Before play was halted this season, Parrous was one of the leading scorers in Cumberland County. She had eight goals and two assists. Last season she scored 19 goals.

Parrous, who will attend the College of Charleston in the fall, said she’s excited about what she hopes will be one more chance to put on the uniform and compete as a high school player.

“Everyone hopes it happens,’’ she said of the soccer all-star game, which is scheduled for Tuesday, July 21, at Greensboro’s MacPherson Stadium.

Rancour said he plans to play Parrous at a wing position. “I think she has good technical ability and fits in well with the other players,’’ Rancour said. “I hope she can score a few goals.’’

Rancour said all-star game officials indicated they would make a final decision on whether they will be able to play this summer around mid-June. “A lot of it revolves around the coaches clinic and what’s going on there,’’ he said.

The East-West games are annually held in conjunction with the North Carolina Coaches Association Clinic, which takes place at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex.

Girls golf

Although not connected to the East-West competition in Greensboro, Cape Fear High School golf standout Toni Blackwell was chosen to take part in the fifth annual Tarheel Cup as a member of the
East team.

The competition, which has been canceled because of COVID-19, was scheduled May 15-17 at MacGregor Downs Country Club in Cary.

The event would have pitted six girls and six boys from the eastern part of the state against six boys and six girls from the western part of the state using a Ryder Cup-style format.

Blackwell won the NCHSAA East Regional championship this year and placed third in the 3-A state tournament with a two-day total of 80-69-149.

She plans to join the golf team at UNC-Pembroke in the fall.

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.

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.

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.

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