Local News

Cumberland County announces Teacher of the Year

07 Nicole Rivers 2Nicole Rivers, an English teacher at Gray's Creek High School, is Cumberland County Schools’ 2021 Teacher of the Year. From creative assignments to starting a poetry club, Rivers goes above and beyond to form authentic connections with her students.
“My job as an educator is not to just get what I deem as valuable information into the minds of my students,” Rivers wrote in her nomination portfolio, “but how to effectively and responsibly use their words to change the world around them.”

A 15-year veteran educator, Rivers graduated from Fayetteville State University. As the 2021 Teacher of the Year, she received a trophy and flowers from Cumberland County Schools, $300 from the Cumberland County Board of Education, $500 from Olde Fayetteville Insurance and Financial Services, $3,000 from Lafayette Ford-Lincoln — $2,000 for use at her school and $1,000 for her personal use — a commemorative custom Teacher of the Year ring from Jostens, an engraved desk clock from Herff Jones and a gift basket of edibles from Zazzy Treats.

Pictured: Nicole Rivers

Republican and unaffiliated workers needed for precincts

06 N2008P23005CThe Cumberland County Board of Elections is in urgent need of voters who are registered as unaffiliated or Republican to work at precincts during the Nov. 3 General Election and the early voting period in October.

The General Assembly has allocated additional funding to the State Board of Elections to increase election day worker pay by $100, and precinct officials’ unemployment benefits will not be affected by the compensation received for working the polls during the 2020 General Election.

The Board of Elections will follow state guidelines to protect the health and safety of election workers and voters.

Social distancing measures and routine cleanings will be put into place and precinct workers will be provided appropriate personal protective equipment. Duties include setting up and breaking down voting enclosures, checking in voters, issuing ballots and assisting voters upon request.

Interested individuals must be registered voters in Cumberland County and available to attend required training.

You may check your registration status at https://vt.ncsbe.gov/RegLkup/. To register to vote, go to https://www.ncsbe.gov/Voters/Registering-to-Vote.

Precinct workers are compensated for attending training and for working during early voting and on Election Day. Interested registered voters can complete the online application by going to electionready.net.
State Employees Can Get Paid Leave to Help During Elections

The N.C. Office of State Human Resources announced on Sept. 10 that State employees may use up to 24 hours of Community Service Leave (CSL) to serve in roles needed by their County Board of Elections during Early Voting (Oct. 15-31) and on Election Day (Nov. 3). For additional information about using CSL to volunteer as a poll worker, please review the FAQs posted to the Office of State Human Resources website or contact your Agency Human Resources Office.

Absentee Ballot Requests
Absentee ballot requests must arrive at the Board of Elections office by 5 p.m. on Oct. 27. On Sept. 4, the Board of Elections mailed more than 14,800 absentee ballots to voters who had requested them.

To obtain an absentee ballot you must complete an Absentee Ballot Request Form, which can be printed at www.ncsbe.gov. If you have any questions or are unable to print an application, please call the Board of Elections Office at 910-678-7733 to receive one in the mail.

The State Board of Elections announced on Sept. 11 that North Carolina voters who vote by mail can now track the status of their absentee ballot with a new online service called BallotTrax. The service is available through links on the State Board of Elections’ website, NCSBE.gov.

For more information, go to co.cumberland.nc.us/election-board. The Board of Elections is located at 227 Fountainhead Lane. The office is now open to the public. You may call 910-678-7733 or email boardofelections@co.cumberland.nc.us Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for assistance.

52nd annual Cumberland County Golf Championship

01 02 IMG 0314When Billy West is not prosecuting cases as the district attorney of Cumberland County, he is trying to win golf tournaments.

When Gary Robinson is not building houses or working at the golf course he co-owns, he, too, is seeking victories on the links.

West, 46, and Robinson, 61, have been the two best amateur golfers in Cumberland County for decades. They have each won the county golf championship eight times, far more than anyone else.

They will renew their friendly rivalry when the 52nd annual Cumberland County Golf Championship is held Oct. 9-11 at Gates Four Golf & Country Club.

Time would appear to be on West's side to eventually win the most titles since he is 15 years younger than Robinson.

“I hate the fact I'm 61 and he's 40-something,” Robinson laughed. “It's not a fair fight. I've enjoyed playing with Billy throughout the years. He's a great competitor and it means as much to him as it does to me. We might both say the proper things but we both want to win more than the other guy. I want to have the most titles and I'm sure he feels the same way. I need to get one or two more because I know Billy is going to.”

West shrugs off the age difference.

“Gary is kind of ageless,” he said. “He still hits the ball a tremendous long way and the rest of his game is solid. I would love to win this year and break the tie but I'm very aware that Gary may not be finished adding championships either.”

Robinson holds the amazing record of winning the county championship in four different decades. He won it the first year he played in the tournament in 1982. He added titles in 1987, '89 and '90.

Then he didn't play in the event again until 2001 and, naturally, won again. He added titles in 2002, '13 and got his last victory in '15. Five of his championships have occurred at Gates Four.

“I have an incentive this year to win in five different decades,” Robinson said. “That's a pretty lofty goal. That would be something special. I still feel I can be competitive. I wouldn't play if I didn't think I could win.”

West said, “One thing that has made Gary so fantastic is winning titles in four different decades. He certainly has the game to win it in a fifth decade. He is one of the best senior players in the Carolinas.”

To reinforce that, Robinson shot 3-under to tie for third place in the Carolinas Senior Amateur Championship early in September.

If West wins this year, it would give him county titles in four different decades, as well. He first played in the event in 1990 and won his first title in 1994 at the age of 19. His other wins came in 1997, 2004, '05, '10 and '11, '17 and '19. He has won five of the last 10 county tournaments including last year with a 7-under total of 209. Twice, he has won back-to-back titles. Three of his wins have come at Gates Four.

He has missed only one county tournament since he started playing in them 30 years ago. That came in 1993 when he was a golfer at N.C. State and he had to play in a collegiate tournament.

“I hate that I missed it,” West said. “I regret that kind of broke my streak.”

The tournament clearly means a lot to West, who has lived in Cumberland County his whole life.

“For me, this is my favorite tournament,” he said. “It's always the one that meant the most to me through the years. If you win it, you are your county's champion for a year.”

The tournament is recognized as one of the longest running county golf championships in the state. Its most famous champion is Chip Beck, who went on to a storied career on the PGA Tour. He won in the early years of the tournament in the late 1960s.

“We've always had great players, great champions and a great history,” West said. “It's always been the most special tournament to me. It's been the one I've always wanted to win the most. One reason is the tournament has kind of followed me through my golf life. When I won it in 1994, I was a young 19-year-old kid. When I won it last year, I was 45 years old with a wife and two kids.”

West holds the distinction of winning the tournament at all four public golf courses in the county where the tournament has been held. Besides the three titles at Gates Four, he has won three times at King's Grant and once each at Baywood and Cypress Lakes.

For West, the tournament is about more than golf. It's about friendships made and the sense of community that he feels by playing in it.

“Life has changed a lot but one thing that hasn't changed is competing every year against the same group of golfers who I became very close friends with,” he said. “I really believe it's the premier county championship in the state. It has a special feel to it that other tournaments don't have.

“I often say when I'm in the drug store or the grocery store the week after the county tournament, everybody's going to say, 'Hey, Billy. I saw where you played well or I saw where you came up a little short.' There's not another tournament all year where you get that kind of reaction from the public. A lot of people in the community follow it year to year and that's what makes it special.”

Another strong contender is Thomas Owen, who won the title in 2016 and has finished second the last three years. Originally, Owen had decided to skip this year's tournament because a jammed fall golf schedule caused by COVID-19 would have forced him to be away from his family for six straight weekends.

“I just had to pick and choose which ones I'm playing in,” he said. “It's just a matter of balancing everything between golf, family and business.

“Coming in second three years in a row leaves a bad taste in your mouth. I need to get back out there and see if I can Billy and Gary a run for their money. I like my chances. I'm playing pretty well, I've just got to make more putts.”

Owen has won the county match play championship for the last five years and is ranked among the best players in the Carolinas Golf Association.

West and Robinson know that at some point their stranglehold on the tournament will end and they both feel the 31-year-old Owen may be the player to take over.

“I think Thomas Owen is the guy,” Robinson said. “He's the guy who is going to play in the most number of them if he doesn't move. He definitely has the game. He's got a couple of bad breaks the last couple of years where he finished second. He's just got to get comfortable in that last round.”

West likes Owen's chances to be their successor, too.

“Thomas has been incredible,” he said. “He's either won or been the runner-up the last four years. Thomas is not only one of the best players in the area but he's one of the best in the state. He doesn't have any weaknesses. He hits the ball a long way and he has a good mental game. He's going to win many more county championships.”

But whoever takes over as the best golfer in Cumberland County won't do it overnight. It will take decades for anyone to beat West and Robinson's accomplishments.

“It's going to take some serious golf over quite a bit of time to catch up to what they've done,” Owen said.

Robinson agreed.

“There will be somebody to come along at some point to beat us,” he said. “But they're going to have to play for a long time. You don't win eight, nine or ten times by just playing in it eight, nine or ten times.”

One top player who will be missing from the field is Spencer Oxendine, who won in 2018 when he was a senior at Jack Britt High School. Now, he is a sophomore on the golf team at N.C. State. Although the Wolfpack fall season has been cancelled because of COVID-19, Oxendine still has team activities and school work that will prevent him from playing.

This marks the fourth straight year the tournament will be held at Gates Four. Bill Bowman, the publisher of Up & Coming Weekly and a major sponsor of the event, took over as tournament director in 2016 and has staged it at his home course.

Gates Four has a large clubhouse to host the pre-tournament Champions Dinner and pairings party and an outside pavilion for the awards presentation after the tournament. Of course, the pre-tournament events have been cancelled this year because of COVID-19 and the awards ceremony has been scaled back.

“We're going to do everything virtual for the awards on Sunday,” said Gates Four general manager Kevin Lavertu. “We don't encourage everybody to hang around and we're taking all the precautions like trying to provide single-rider carts.”
Bowman is attempting to build up the tournament participation to where it was years ago when nearly 200 golfers played and two courses were used to accommodate them. Last year, there were 88 players.

Lavertu is hoping for at least 100 players this year.

“Because of Covid there hasn't been the event fatigue like we've had in years past,” he said. “People have not been traveling and playing in a lot of events so I'm thinking registration and participation might be up. The rounds are up all over the county this year because golf is one of the only things you've been able to do during the whole pandemic.”

West and Robinson like the Gates Four course but they would like to see the tournament rotate to Cypress Lakes, King's Grant and Baywood as it has in the past.

“I think Gates Four is a great competitive test, particularly from the back tees,” West said. “But I would like to see it rotate. Each course presents its own challenges. I think that is one thing that makes the tournament special, the fact that it has moved around. Gates Four has been a great host while we have gone through a transition period with some of the other courses doing some renovations.”

Robinson is a co-owner of King's Grant and said he would like to host the tournament “but not every year.”

“I've won a lot of tournaments at Gates Four and I think it's one of my favorite courses in the county, other than King's Grant,” he said. “ But holding the tournament in one place is not how the tournament was founded and I don't think that's how it should be. I think it should be spread around at all the courses and let them enjoy it.”

Lavertu said, “King's Grant and some others have shown some interest so I don't know what the future holds. I think some of the players would still like to see it rotate around, so whatever works the best for everybody.”

The tournament was pushed back from September to October this year because of COVID-19 and Lavertu thinks that will make playing conditions at Gates Four even better.

“We've always played the tournament the second week in September, historically, but that's really the worst time for the golf course coming out of the heat of summer,” Lavertu said. “We've usually just aerified and it takes two or three weeks for the greens to heal. The green speeds will be up a little bit. It actually worked out better this year to have a delay with all the uncertainty. It seemed to be a natural fit. It should be a tough challenge for three days.”

Any golfer who lives in Cumberland County and is at least 16 years old is eligible to play. There are divisions for championship, men's open, senior men and super senior men (65 years old and up), women's open and senior women (age 50 and up). The super seniors and women will play 36 holes on Oct. 10-11 and the entry fee is $145. All other divisions are 54 holes and the entry fee is $175. The deadline to enter is Oct. 2 at 5 p.m.

Players can register online at cumberlandcountygolfclassic.com or return an application to Lavertu at klavertu@gatesfour.com.

Toni Blackwell won the women's title last year when she was a senior at Cape Fear High School. But she will not be able to defend this year. She is now a freshman on the UNC Pembroke women's golf team and their season starts in October.


Pictured above: Gary Robinson and Billy West


01 01 IMG 0117 Robinson









Gary Robinson playing in the U.S. Amateur Fourball at Winged Foot

 01 03 IMG 3898 Robinson










 Gary Robinson

01 04 IMG 1928









Billy West

Local museums reopen

The Army Airborne & Special Operations Museum in downtown Fayetteville and the Museum of the Cape Fear Historical Complex in Haymount are doing business again. Both museums had been closed since March because of COVID-19 restrictions. The ASOM is now open from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays. Weekend hours will be phased in gradually. Museum of the Cape Fear hours of operation have also changed temporarily. The new hours are Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Attendance is limited at both facilities. Visitors are expected to wear face masks and maintain physical distancing of at least 6 feet from one another. Hand sanitizer stations are located throughout the buildings. Anyone experiencing symptoms of illness or who have recently been in contact with people who tested positive for COVID-19 are asked to postpone their visits.

No tours of the 1897 Poe House are being provided for at least 30 days after reopening.

At the ASOM, water fountains are off, but visitors may bring clear containers of water. Food is not permitted. Reservations can be made online. Upon arrival, visitors should scan the QR code at the museum entrance to complete guest registration. The gift shop is limited to five visitors at a time. Only debit and credit cards will be accepted for payment. Donations to support museum operations can be made online or during checkout in the gift shop.
Some areas of the Museum of the Cape Fear remain closed to the public. They include the steamboat exhibit, the Civil War soldier teaching corner and the general store. Visitors will be able to view these areas but not enter them. Residents can keep up to date by visiting the museum’s website at www.museumofthecapefear.ncdcr.gov. The facility is located at the corner of Bradford and Arsenal Avenues and is operated by the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

In 2007, the Museum of the Cape Fear Historical Complex Foundation received a planning grant from the North Carolina General Assembly to perform a benchmarking and assessment study to determine whether a new museum should focus on the Civil War and Reconstruction period in North Carolina. Because of the existing museum’s location on one of North Carolina’s most important Civil War sites, consultants recommended that a new facility replace the existing regional museum with a major statewide history center. Much of the planning has already been done.

According to the history center’s website, planners concluded that the entire state’s story is the most compelling one. A feasibility study validated this finding, demonstrating that the completed project will attract wider attention and stronger support by reaching beyond Fayetteville to tell the larger story. The result is an $80 million project involving a phased, multi-year approach to both fundraising and the history center’s overall development.

The site will include a 60,000-square-foot visitor center built just outside the Fayetteville Arsenal’s archaeological footprint, protecting the remnants of the asset seized by Confederate forces in 1861 and leveled by William T. Sherman army four years later. The existing 1896 E. A. Poe House and three Civil War-era structures will comprise “History Village” and are incorporated into the larger, interpretive plan.

13 01 ASOM

13 02 Ghost Arsenal Tower









Picture left: ASOM is now open from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays. Weekend hours will be phased in gradually.

Picture right: Museum of the Cape Fear is set to reopen. The new hours are Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.


Split court ruling permits some felons to vote

12 N1506P39009CSome N.C. felons who have finished their active prison time will be able to cast ballots in the 2020 election, based on a 2-1 ruling from a state Superior Court panel.

The court’s order applies to any felon who is out of prison but still must pay fees or fines before his criminal sentence is considered complete.

The ruling in Community Success Initiative v. Moore represents a partial victory for the “Unlock Our Vote Campaign,” led by an advocacy group called Forward Justice. The group’s lawsuit filed in November 2019 aimed to restore voting rights for almost 60,000 convicted felons not serving active prison time. Supporters argued that state laws regarding restoration of voting rights for felons violate the N.C. Constitution.

The Sept. 4 ruling in the case offered plaintiffs mixed news. The judges refused to strike down voting restrictions for all felons who have completed active prison sentences. But two members of the panel — Judges Lisa Bell and Keith Gregory — agreed that money-related requirements for post-release felons create unconstitutional restrictions of voting rights.

“As Defendants correctly argue, the express words of [the challenged state statute] do not in and of themselves create different classifications of persons convicted of felonies — all such persons remain disenfranchised until they have been ‘unconditionally discharged,’” the judges wrote. “However, by requiring an unconditional discharge that includes payments of all monetary obligations imposed by the court, [the statute] creates a wealth classification that punishes felons who are genuinely unable to comply with the financial terms of their judgment more harshly than those who are able to comply.”

Bell and Gregory agreed to grant a preliminary injunction allowing those felons to cast ballots this year. The judges limited their injunction to felons now prevented from voting “solely as a result of them being subject to an assessment of fees, fines, or other debts arising from a felony conviction.”

Felons on probation or parole with no outstanding fees or fines would not be affected.

The third judge in the case — John Dunlow — agreed with his colleagues only in the parts of their ruling that rejected plaintiffs’ arguments. Dunlow would have thrown out the entire lawsuit and ruled in favor of the defendants.

“The Plaintiffs, throughout their complaint, briefs, filings, and arguments, complain of North Carolina’s ‘disenfranchisement scheme,’ ‘disenfranchisement statute,’ and ‘disenfranchisement of citizens,'” Dunlow wrote. “The disenfranchisement of which Plaintiffs complain is in no way attributable to [the challenged statute]. No reasonable reading of the plain language of [the statute] could be interpreted to disenfranchise any person. Rather, the sole purpose of [the statute] is to provide a mechanism whereby individuals who have been convicted of a felony offense may be re-enfranchised.”

The N.C. Republican Party responded to the ruling. “It is outrageous for these judges to change the rules for an election when absentee ballots have already started going out and voting has begun,” N.C. GOP Chairman Michael Whatley said in an emailed statement. “This is yet another example of why we need to elect Conservative Judges who will apply the law rather ran re-write the laws they don’t like.”


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