High School Highlights

Gray’s Creek extends county Exemplary School streak

11 01 GraysCreek1For the third year in a row and the fourth time since 2009, Cumberland County has brought home the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s Exemplary School Award, a measure of the quality of what the NCHSAA calls the total program at the winning school.

The win by Gray’s Creek adds them to a list that includes the last two winners, Terry Sanford and Cape Fear, along with Jack Britt, which captured the award in 2009.

A common thread at all of the schools is something that was started years ago by former Cumberland County Schools student activities director Fred McDaniel and continues today with one of his successors, Vernon Aldridge. That’s a push for all county schools to get their athletic directors and coaches certified by the National Federation of State High School Associations.

“I think it helps with the quality of coaching that our young people are going to receive,’’ Aldridge said. “I think the taking of National Federation courses is creating a better coach, which hopefully will create a better experience for our student athletes in Cumberland County.’’

Aldridge said the award does more than measure what a school does on the athletic field. It considers multiple elements, including academic performance.

“It’s exciting to have three schools in three years win this award,’’ Aldridge said. “What I hope it shows is we are providing a quality product, athletically as well as academically, for the students in Cumberland County.’’

Gray’s Creek athletic director Troy Lindsey, who like Aldridge is currently a member of the NCHSAA Board of Directors, feels the award for his school is the byproduct of having an outstanding staff, including both head and assistant coaches.
“Everyone of my head and assistant coaches gets it,’’ Lindsey said. “They get the whole purpose of what interscholastic athletics is about. It’s an extension of the classroom.’’

Lindsey feels Cumberland County has been a consistent winner of the Exemplary School Award because of outstanding leadership over the years at the county level, coupled with the fact the entire school system has embraced the importance of having certified coaches and athletic directors.

“I’ve been an athletic director for 15 years, and for 15 years it’s been the same message,’’ Lindsey said. “You’ve got to do it right and you’ve got to get the certification to stay up to date on things.
“I think we have embraced that as a system before other people have.’’

Cautious NCHSAA hopes practice can resume shortly

10 quetuckerBarring any last-minute changes caused by the situation with COVID-19, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association has set a tentative date of June 15 for hopefully allowing its member schools to resume some kind of workouts in preparation for what it hopes will be a fall sports season.

But the look of those workouts and the look of the fall sports season are pictures that will both be dramatically altered and possibly out of focus based on the various plans that have been put forward for how teams can proceed.
On a video conference call with reporters statewide last month, NCHSAA commissioner Que Tucker announced the official extension of the current summer dead period to June 15, hoping that by then, the Phase Two plan of reopening the state of North Carolina would allow enough flexibility for teams to conduct some kind of practices.

“We will be very deliberate in our task, which is one reason we have not rushed,’’ Tucker said.

The main reason for taking it slow, Tucker said, was to carefully develop plans to make workouts safe as possible and allow coaches and athletic directors time to develop their own local plans of how to secure things like hand sanitizer and set up hand-washing stations.

“It will not be possible to prevent every student-athlete from contracting COVID-19,’’ Tucker said. “It’s our goal to do everything in our power to protect the health and safety of our student-athletes, our coaches and the communities represented by our schools.’’

For some sports, like football and wrestling, summer workouts will likely not allow any physical contact, making them more sessions devoted to conditioning than actual practice sessions.

Tucker said the current NCHSAA plan is not to hold any team back from practice once June 15 arrives, but to allow all of them some form of workouts within the guidelines set down by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. The National Federation of State High School Associations has also issued a lengthy set of guidelines, but Tucker said the DHHS guidelines would take precedence.

The big question yet to be answered is will there be a fall sports season, especially football, which generates much of the revenue that is the life blood for the entire athletic program at many schools.

The other question yet to be answered is how many fans, if any, would be allowed to attend football games or other sporting events. That is a question Tucker is not ready to answer.

“To not have any fans in the stands would be rough,’’ she said. “We are not at the point yet where we are pulling up the tent on football this fall. We are hopeful we can have some fans.’’

Once the fall arrives, Tucker said the NCHSAA will look at any option possible to putting teams on the field, especially football. That could mean everything from a later than normal start to cutting the season short.

NCHSAA bylaws do not prohibit moving a sport to another season, but Tucker said that’s something that the NCHSAA would prefer not to do. “Moving sports season is a last resort,’’ she said. “It’s too early to talk about that. It’s very clear whatever we do will not be outside the parameters of the guidelines from the governor and DHHS.’’

For the moment, Tucker said the most important thing is that all agencies involved in deciding when and how high school sports will resume be consistent with what is put in place.

“It is important we are all singing from the same song sheet,’’ she said.

County football coaches cautious about start of practice

This time of year, high school football coaches are usually getting ready for a long summer of conditioning workouts with their teams in preparation for the start of official practice in North Carolina on August 1.

11 01 BillSochovkaBut the COVID-19 pandemic and lingering uncertainty over what kind of, if any, football season we’ll have this fall has the Cumberland County Schools senior high school football coaches taking a far more cautious look at what a return to the sport could mean.

None are more circumspect in their feelings about this fall than veteran Pine Forest coach Bill Sochovka. Like all of his fellow coaches, his main concern is the health and safety of his players and coaches. He’d like to wait and see what goes on in states that are opening up practice faster than North Carolina.

“A later date would give us a better understanding,’’ he said, adding he’d prefer to have preseason practice no earlier than July 1.

“People forget that high school sports, particularly football, is a natural petri dish for germs,’’ Sochovka said. “Anytime a kid gets a sniffle or a stomach bug, you’re going to have six or seven kids on the team wind up getting it.’’

11 02 jakethomasSochovka said the sport of football is already under the microscope for how it handles injuries because of the recent concern for the treatment of players who suffer concussions. “We’ve got to think about kids and safety first,’’ he said. “We’ve got to be smart about it.’’

Another concern is just what kind of football we’ll be playing when the sport first resumes. Jake Thomas, coach at Cape Fear, noted that the preliminary practice guidelines set down by the National Federation of State High School Athletic Associations turn practice into more of a case of strength and conditioning than actual game practice.

“Screening every athlete and coach every time you meet with them seems not financially feasible,’’ Thomas said. “Schools already have limited budgets, and now football games without fans and a band
will financially destroy high school athletics and many schools.’’

Thomas thinks coaches may need to look for pre-determined risk factors like a respiratory condition and possibly not allow at-risk athletes to come out for the team.

“At some point, we have to go back to living life and stop hiding in fear,’’ he said.

Terry Sanford coach Bruce McClelland said his staff has already worked out a rotation of players to limit numbers in the school’s weight room, along with plans to sanitize all areas used by players and team staff.

“There are so many different professional opinions I have listened to — it’s become confusing,’’ he said. “I am honestly hoping we get some good news in the near future from the medical field that will help make this an easier decision.’’

Seventy-First coach Duran McLaurin would love to be practicing, but he’s cognizant of what that could entail. “I’m very concerned with keeping my players safe more than any reward I can think of right now,’’ he said.

Regardless of what happens, the advice given by new E.E. Smith head coach Andy Karcher is likely the wisest. “The biggest takeaway from this is to be patient, keep everything and everyone as clean as possible and don’t take any unnecessary risks,’’ he said.

Westover’s Pompey wins NCHSAA scholarship

12 madisonpompeyWestover High School’s Madison Pompey has been named the Region 4 winner of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s Willie Bradshaw Memorial Endowed Scholarship.

The scholarship, which is worth $750, is presented to winners from each of the state’s eight geographic regions, with two statewide winners getting an additional scholarship of $1,000.

The winners are chosen from outstanding minority nominees for the award, which is named for Bradshaw, a Durham native who was a star athlete at Hillside High School and a longtime coach and athletic administrator. He is a member of both the North Carolina High School Athletic Association and National High School Halls of Fame.

Pompey competed in both cross country and track and field during all four years she was a student at Westover. She was a team captain her junior and senior years and earned second team all-conference, lettering in both sports.

She also received the Distance Award and the Coach’s Award.
She is active in her church as a member of the youth group and a participant with the church’s liturgical dance team.

Pompey volunteers both at her church and with local civic organizations. She plans to pursue a degree in forensic science.

COVID-19 precautions are important for N.C. athletics

19 NC STATEThe late United States Senator Bobby Kennedy made a speech in the 1960s that popularized what some claim is an ancient Chinese curse, although the real source of the phrase has been disputed over the years.

The words Kennedy used were, “May you live in interesting times.’’

Regardless of where the phrase came from, it certainly applies to the current situation in state and local high school athletics resulting from fears over the continuing spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19 as it’s officially known.

Over what seemed like a matter of hours, concerns over the spread of the virus led to some sweeping decisions at the state level that left the high school sports world, locally and statewide, at a standstill.

The first pronouncements came from the North Carolina High School Athletic Association.

The organization initially decided to restrict access to its state basketball championship games at North Carolina State’s Reynolds Coliseum and North Carolina’s Dean Smith Center to official team personnel and a small group of parents from the competing schools.

Then they followed that with word that the championships had been postponed, with no guarantee they would even be played.

Of course, this leaves the boys from Westover and the girls from E.E. Smith, who had qualified for the state 3-A basketball championship games at Reynolds this year, in limbo waiting to find out if they would ever get to fulfill every high school athlete’s dream of chasing a state title.

More bad news from the NCHSAA followed. The entire spring sports season was suspended effective at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, March 13. The ruling stated that not only competition would cease, but so would any workouts, practice or skill development sessions.

The North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association followed suit shortly after that, announcing the suspension of all interscholastic games, scrimmages or contests on the same date as the NCHSAA. The NCISAA did leave the option of holding practices at the discretion of its member coaches.

I am not a doctor. I don’t pretend to understand everything that’s been written and spoken about the coronavirus. But one thing I have heard loud and clear is that it’s critical to stop the spread of what I’ve seen described as a disease with a lot of unknowns that there is currently no vaccine for nor any medication that has been truly effective at knocking it out.

I respect the frustration of coaches in Cumberland County, where as of this writing there are no reported cases of the virus, as they try to understand why their teams can’t play.

All I can say is this decision to close schools is much like when there’s a forecast of snow. Sometimes, the forecast is wrong, but officials have to make a decision based on what’s best for everyone’s safety. That is what is happening here, only the stakes are far higher than having a car skid into a ditch and get stuck.

 I am confident we will get through this, as long as we all take common sense precautions and do everything we can to prevent the disease from spreading. At the same time, let’s not spread rumors. Listen to the professionals and stay safe.

Photo credit: N.C. State

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