High School Highlights

Earl’s predictions for 9/5/19

Hurricanes would be bad news during any season of the year, but they are an annual plague on high school football coaches and fans during the fall in North Carolina.
Even before Hurricane Dorian’s arrival in the state, Cumberland County Schools officials took the wise precaution of closing school Thursday and Friday and postponing all athletic events both days, including Friday night high school football. The big concern for everyone is avoiding serious damage to life and property as the result of high winds, heavy rain and potential flooding.
For football coaches, once the weather has finally cleared, there are a host of concerns. First, they need to check on all of their athletes and their families to make sure everyone got through the storm all right.
Then comes the challenge of rescheduling games. Was your field or the field of your opponent rendered unplayable? What’s your schedule for next week? Often at this stage of the season teams are moving into conference play. No coach wants to move a Friday game to Monday in a week when they’ve already got a conference game set on the next Friday.
The perfect situation, which rarely happens, is when both teams have an open date at the same time later in the season and can move the game there. Cramming games too close together cuts down on recovery time and increases the risk of players being injured. I wish we could will hurricanes to a time of the year when they would be less a problem for everybody, but I guess that time truly doesn’t exist.
Here’s praying everyone in our area comes through our latest stormy encounter with the least possible harm and things return to order as quickly as they can.
The record: 11-4
Another decent week with a 5-2 record, pushing the season count to 11-4, 73.3 percent.
Cape Fear at Lumberton - Talk about mixed messages. Cape Fear opens its season a week late and loses a nail-biter to a strong Seventy-First team. Meanwhile, Lumberton gets routed by Terry Sanford in a game that included a running clock, then turns around and stuns defending Patriot Athletic Conference champion Pine Forest on its home field.
I’m thinking the Lumberton win was an aberration since Pine Forest was without University of North Carolina commit D.J. Jones.
I’m going to lean toward Cape Fear in this one.
Cape Fear 28, Lumberton 14.
Lee County at Douglas Byrd - A good night is not likely for Byrd against Lee County, one of the strongest teams in the Cape Fear region this year.
Lee County 35, Douglas Byrd 12.
Seventy-First at E.E. Smith - Duran McLaurin brings his Falcons to his former place of employment and gets Seventy-First’s third win of the young season.
Seventy-First 32, E.E. Smith 6.
West Johnston at Gray’s Creek - The Bears look to get their third win ahead of next week’s Battle of the Bridge with South View.
Gray’s Creek 34, West Johnston 6.
Pine Forest at Jack Britt - Every season there’s one team I seem to have trouble picking correctly. So far this year, it’s Jack Britt. I’m 0-2 calling the outcome of Buccaneer games. Last week’s win over Terry Sanford has made me a believer, so I’m going with Britt in a big match with Pine Forest this week.
Jack Britt 21, Pine Forest 20.
South View at Purnell Swett - South View didn’t want to play Monday and face two games in one week as the Tigers open Patriot Athletic Conference play next Friday against rival Gray’s Creek. Unfortunately with the threat from Hurricane Dorian options were few.
The day the game is played won’t influence my prediction. I’m going with South View.
South View 28, Purnell Swett 14.
Hoke County at Westover - This is one of those dreaded coin flip games that could go either way. I’m leaning toward Hoke because they seem to be playing a little better, plus Westover is coming off an open date and it’s sometimes tough for teams to regain playing rhythm after a break.
Hoke County 14, Westover 13.
Open dates: Terry Sanford.
Other games: Trinity Christian 31, Sandhills Titans 14; John Paul II Catholic 31, Fayetteville Christian 6.

Farmer leads way for rebuilding Trojan netters

20 01 Jonathan WoodJonathan Wood got a nice present as he took over the Pine Forest tennis team as head coach this year. 

His returning squad includes Kelcie Farmer, who was the Patriot Athletic Conference tennis player of the year last season and winner of the 4-A half of the league’s singles title.

Wood is in his first year coaching tennis, but it hasn’t taken him long to be impressed with Farmer’s tenacity and work ethic.

“I know she gets a lot of private lessons,’’ he said. “She gets to travel around and see a lot of pro events. She learns from what she watches.’’

Wood called Farmer a dynamic and powerful player in her ground game and with her strokes. “She’s an all-around great player and great teacher to the other girls,’’ he said.

As returning conference player of the year, expectations are obviously high for Farmer, but Wood said she’s not burdened by the pressure of dealing with that.

20 02 Kelcie Farmer“She knows her abilities and skills,’’ he said. “I think it’s just a pressure she’s naturally born to conquer no matter what. I don’t think it’s a pressure to her. She hasn’t dropped a game yet.’’

Wood said the key this season is for Farmer to focus on what she needs to bring to the court to help her teammates. “She’s our No. 1 for the fourth year in a row,’’ Wood said. “She can’t get too ahead of herself, just keep a humble mind and continue to live off the skills she’s been able to produce over the last three years.’’

Farmer feels she’s grown into a leadership role on the Pine Forest team and can help her teammates out.

She feels her serve has gotten stronger over the last few years but is still a work in progress.

“I’m making sure I’m getting more first serves in play,’’ she said. “That’s what starts your points. Without a good serve, it’s kind of hard to get into groundstrokes and volleys. Everything starts with the serve.’’

Farmer thinks the Trojan team is in a rebuilding year as many players from last season either graduated or are attending school elsewhere.

“We look at each game as if it’s going to be a state championship,’’ she said. “We’re going to try our hardest and have fun at the end of the day.’’

Pictured from top to bottom: Jonathan Wood, Kelcie Farmer

Tucker shares thoughts as high school year begins

18 01 Que TuckerAlthough we’re a few weeks into the 2019-20 high school year, it’s not too late to hear some words of wisdom shared by Que Tucker, commissioner of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association. Tucker and several members of her staff visited Fayetteville in August to attend the annual Cumberland County Schools Football Jamboree banquet held at Gray’s Creek High School.

I spoke with her briefly and asked if there were any hot-button issues facing the NCHSAA as the school year opened. She said there weren’t, but added there are some topics that never go out of style with the NCHSAA.

“It’s always just about sportsmanship and behavior,’’ she said. “We want our young people to recognize the importance of good sportsmanship, winning with class, being victorious and excited about winning but respecting the fact the other team did lose and practiced and prepared just as hard.’’

Health and safety are always big issues for the NCHSAA, especially in the game of football where the concern of how concussions are handled remains paramount.

Tucker said the NCHSAA continues to stress to schools the need for preseason meetings that deal with topics like where the automated external defibri18 02 Cynthia Miller Jenkinsllator is kept, who the game day administrator is or who’s in charge if a thunderstorm hits during a game.

In the end, it’s all about the student-athletes. “It’s all about educating our young people to be good citizens,’’ Tucker said. “If we can do those things, I think we will have accomplished much.’’

 • Speaking of Que Tucker, she and members of the NCHSAA staff will be back in Fayetteville on Monday, Sept. 23, at 8:30 a.m., for the annual meeting of school officials from the NCHSAA’s Region 4, which includes schools from Fayetteville, Cumberland County and surrounding counties. The meeting will be held at the Educational Resource Center.

Last year’s regional meeting was canceled because of Hurricane Florence.

The regional meeting gives the NCHSAA staff a chance to have face time with local school officials and to share news about important topics statewide.

Cumberland County will have a larger than normal contingent on the NCHSAA Board of Directors for the next few years.

Brian Edkins, who joined the board as principal at Scotland High School, is now at Cape Fear High School and continues to represent Region 4 until 2022.

Gray’s Creek High School athletic director Troy Lindsey is new to the board from Region 4 and will serve until 2023. 

Also new to the board is Vernon Aldridge, student activities director for the Cumberland County Schools. He joins the board as an affiliate member representing the North Carolina Athletic Directors Association for an unspecified term.

 • Cynthia Miller-Jenkins has been named the varsity girls basketball coach at Riverside Christian Academy in Stedman. The announcement was made by Riverside superintendent Dr. Lin Wheeler.

Riverside is a member of the Carolina Athletic Association of Schools of Choice and played for state titles in 2017 and 2018.

Jenkins was head coach at Northwood Temple Academy from 2005-15, winning three conference titles and one North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association state title.

Her career record there was 106-73. Last year she was an assistant coach at Methodist University.

Pictured from top to bottom: Que Tucker, Cynthia Miller-Jenkins

Bulldog ‘Road Warriors’ headed for Reid Ross field

19 01 Bruce McClellandForgive the Terry Sanford football team if it foregoes the nickname Bulldogs this season and opts for Road Warriors instead. They’re doing it with good reason.

Because the school’s aging football stadium was demolished earlier this year in preparation for construction of a new one for the 2020 season, Coach Bruce McClelland and his team won’t play a single game on their campus.

They will be moving to Reid Ross Classical High School’s John Daskal Stadium on Ramsey Street, which hasn’t hosted high school regular season games since Ross was closed as a traditional senior high school in the mid-1980s.

McClelland said the group he feels is making the biggest sacrifice are the seniors on this team and their parents. “They’ve spent so much time giving to the program, and it’s their senior year and it’s kind of like you’ve been displaced,’’ he said.

That’s where the Road Warrior mindset kicks in. “We’ve taken that Road Warrior mentality, tried to pump them up with that,’’ McClelland said.

This year, Terry Sanford was scheduled to play five home games and six on the road. They elected to flip the 19 02 John Daskal Stadiumhome-and-home arrangement with Jack Britt to allow as much time as possible to get the Reid Ross field up to date.

The Bulldogs won’t play their first varsity game at Ross until Sept. 20 when they host Cape Fear. They got in a trial run last week as they were scheduled to play a junior varsity game with Britt at Ross.

McClelland said the current plan is for the Terry Sanford staff to take care of lining and painting the Ross field for varsity games.

He’s also enlisted the help of baseball coach Sam Guy to make sure the surface of the field at Ross is in the best shape possible.

“Sam has been real instrumental in taking good care of the field over here,’’ he said. “His baseball field looks so good.’’

McClelland said Terry Sanford plans to treat each visit to Ross much like it would a road trip to neighboring E.E. Smith High School.

The players will eat a pre-game meal at Terry Sanford, dress and go through their walk-through on Friday before taking the short bus ride to Reid Ross.

The home stands will be the set of bleachers closest to Ramsey Street.

One good thing about Reid Ross is it has press boxes on both sides of the field, so the Bulldogs should have no trouble finding space for print and electronic media to have seats along with the crews from both schools that videotape the game. 

There should actually be more on campus parking than at Terry Sanford. McClelland said the school hopes to make some money off that by selling season-long parking passes for $30, which will come down to $10 per each of the three home games that will be played at Reid Ross.

Terry Sanford’s final home game with Pine Forest will be at Fayetteville State’s Jeralds Stadium when the Bulldogs will celebrate Senior Night.

In addition to the parking in front of the school, there is a rear parking lot behind the visitors stands that can be accessed by a residential street at the end of the stadium furthest from the school itself.

Tickets will be sold on both sides of the stadium.

McClelland hopes Terry Sanford will be able to visit the stadium Thursdays and have a brief practice on the game field to get used to it.

The tentative plan is for the team to enter the field through a small group of trees outside the rear entrance to the gymnasium at the main school building.

The schools plans a major outreach to alumni and boosters in the next couple of weeks to
make sure everyone knows where to go and where to park. 

“Safety of the kids is the most important thing to me,’’ McClelland said. “All the other stuff is luxury. My responsibility is to the parents and the kids and their safety.

“That playing surface is the No. 1 thing.’’

Picture 1: Bruce McClelland

Picture 2: A view of what will be the home bleachers when Terry Sanford plays its varsity and junior varsity football games at John Daskal Stadium at Reid Ross Classical High School this season

State title on mind of Cape Fear's Blackwell

17 01 Toni BlackwellCape Fear golf coach Todd Edge said it seems like yesterday when senior golfer Toni Blackwell began her career on the Colt team.

“Time flies when you’re having fun,’’ Edge said, and Blackwell’s performance has definitely made coaching her and the Cape Fear team plenty of that for Edge.

Blackwell has b een a three-time conference player of the year in golf and was the medalist in last year’s 3-A regional tournament.

Blackwell hasn’t rested on her laurels over the last few years, Edge said, using practice to improve her overall game.

“She’s played a lot of tournaments and is tournament golf ready,’’ he said. “She hits the ball further than she did three years ago. She’s improved her chipping and putting and her scores have improved because of that.’’

Blackwell’s improvement hasn’t gone unnot17 02 Todd Edgeiced by people outside Cape Fear. She’s committed to play college golf at UNC-Pembroke.

Edge said Coach David Synan will be getting a player who will fit in well with the players he’s already recruited.

But Blackwell has one more high school season to go, and she and teammate Gaby Bynum, who placed third in the final Patriot Athletic Conference individual standings a year ago, return to lead an otherwise young Cape Fear team on the course this season.

Edge expects Blackwell and Bynum will again lead Cape Fear in scoring, while the pressure to produce a third competitive score in the weekly matches will fall on one of the untested new players on the team.

As for the rest of the conference, Edge isn’t sure where the main competition in the Patriot Athletic Conference will come from until Cape Fear plays its first match this season.

“We take every team very seriously and we are going to try and play to the best of our abilities every time we go out,’’ he said.

The Colts got off to a good start in last week’s first Patriot Athletic Conference first regular-season match at Stryker Golf Course at Fort Bragg. They fired a 266 as a team to win the match, with Blackwell taking medalist honors with a 75.

Blackwell said she’s been working on hitting more greens in regulation and trying to stay consistent with her game after winning the Patriot Conference regular-season title with a 79.3 average last season. She was the only player in the conference to break 80 for the season.

She hopes to motivate her younger teammates while bracing for the unknown against conference opposition.

“I’m just trying to work on staying focused, not getting distracted and making smart plays,’’ she said. “I want to win regionals again and I want to win a state championship, keep around an even par average.’’

She placed seventh in last year’s North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A state meet. She’s fully recovered from a broken middle finger on her right hand that forced her to play with a splint over the summer months.

“I couldn’t grip with it and didn’t play my best all summer,’’ she said.

Edge feels Blackwell has the potential to be among the top two or three golfers in the state this year.

The key he said is putting together back-to-back good days at the two-day state tournament. “You can’t lose any strokes,’’ he said. “The double bogey is the big thing she’s got to eliminate. If she plays her par-birdie golf, maybe a bogey once in awhile, I think she’ll be there.

“That’s her goal.’’

Pictured from top to bottom: Toni Blackwell, Todd Edge

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