And I thought the lull before the summer months suffered from a lack of action.
‘Tis the season where athletes across the country are less concerned about maintaining a winning streak or redeeming a loss and more worried about what is wrapped underneath the Christmas tree. They may be suiting up for a road trip, to be sure, but they won’t be competing for a postseason playoff berth. Rather, it will be to compete with their rarely seen second cousin for that last piece of sweet potato pie.
Even my co-workers will be enjoying pockets of vacation time during these next few weeks (as will I). Which selfishly means I won’t have anyone to complain to about the New York Jets’ quarterback situation, or if the return of Amare Stoudemire will cause the red-hot New York Knicks to nosedive. The Laurinburg Exchange, for all intents and purposes, will be a ghost town for random intervals.
But then again, after the 2012 year that was for Scotland County sports, perhaps everyone involved can use a break. All of the highs, lows, drama and breathtaking excitement that defines the very best characteristics of sports were on full display, without a certain Mayan prediction ending everyone’s year on a bad note.
For someone that was fortunate enough to experience much of the year at large, this column will serve as a year-in-review…somewhat abbreviated of course, because to flesh out in extensive detail every highlight could turn into a novel, and I don’t have the time, resources or money to partake in such a daunting undertaking.
I have a job to do, after all.
My introduction to the Scotland sports culture was unique to say the least, due large in part to the fact that I’m not a lifelong resident of the county, and also that I didn’t become the sports writer for the Exchange until well into the calendar year.
However, I was allowed to hit the ground running, having been thrust right into the middle of a baseball/softball season that ended in playoff appearances for both the boys and girls of the Fighting Scots.
In head coach Tommy Britt’s final season after a 20-year tenure, the varsity baseball Fighting Scots went 24-3 en route to a conference championship and a 4-A state playoff run which ended in the third round via a 5-3 loss to Wilmington-Ashley. While it may have been a disappointing end for a Scotland team picked by many as a favorite to win the state championship, the season nonetheless further solidified Scotland High School’s standing as one of the consistently top-tier baseball programs in North Carolina.
While the baseball Scots rolled to another dominant year, the lady Scots’ softball squad suffered its fair share of growing pains before finally gelling for the most crucial stretch of the season. Under coach Pat Williams, Scotland earned a number-three seed in the 4-A playoffs and won their first-round game in convincing fashion 7-3 over the Millbrook Wildcats. However, the lady Scots encountered a buzzsaw in the form of a Holly Springs squad loaded with collegiate talent, and subsequently lost 5-2 to the lady Golden Hawks who made it all the way to the state championship.
The conclusion of the spring sports’ schedule was most certainly not the end of the baseball and softball action which punctuated the summer months. Far from it in fact, as the Fighting Scots helmed by former SHS star athlete and new head coach Jamie Coleman logged an impressive showing in the Central Carolina Scholastic Summer League.
It was a joy to be granted a preview of the 2013 season and the exciting young players who will undoubtedly etch their names into the record books, to be sure. But aside from the sticky southern heat and my natural ability to attract every mosquito in the county, the summer of 2012 will be best remembered by the slew of little league and travel ball baseball/softball programs that hit their full strides.
From Scotland County Parks and Recreation to the Optimist Club, my worries about a lack of stories were quickly dispelled as local kids of all ages did their best to remind me that youth sports can often be the best, and most exciting, to watch. In my years of sports reporting, never have I seen a community so tirelessly dedicated to giving young people an athletic outlet to occupy their free-time, and it was a great thing to witness.
And while I detailed team-after-team of kids creating baseball/softball memories that will last a lifetime, another new face was slowly making his presence felt in preparation for the Fall.
He was Scotland varsity football coach Richard Bailey, and the Fighting Scots team he gradually formed certainly demanded everyone’s attention.
You know the story already: A new head coach leads an unproven team filled with fresh faces to the brink of a second consecutive 4-A state championship appearance. It was a tall order to fill by all accounts for the 2012 Fighting Scots, with many of the starting roster being players who rode the bench last season as their 2011 counterparts went a perfect 15-0 and crafted a legendary season that is regarded as the greatest in Scotland County history.
But if you followed the football Fighting Scots at all this season, you would know that 2012 will also go down in the record books as one of the best years ever. A 12-2 record, conference championship, 21-14 win over Richmond…A 4-A state championship notwithstanding, to say that the 2012 football season was quite the ride is an understatement of epic proportions.
It was a ride that I’m thankful I got to experience from beginning to end…But I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge another Fall team’s season that captured the hearts and minds of those invested.
Those varsity volleyball lady Scots were something, weren’t they?
Written off as a team depleted by graduated standouts, Scotland once again did what fans have grown accustomed to seeing year in and year out: Dominate.
While Scotland’s football and baseball teams have received more press over the years, it’s been the lady Scots’ volleyball squad that has quietly put together the most sustained winning seasons of any SHS sport in recent memory. Under head coach David Barnes, the lady Scots have compiled a record of 250-26, and that tradition continued in 2012 as this year’s iteration finished the season with a 23-1 record and school-record eighth consecutive conference championship.
And after their run ended in the third round of the 4-A state playoffs, Barnes opted to step down as head coach to pursue a collegiate coaching career.
In fact, one of the prevailing themes of 2012 was the rapid coaching changes that seemingly came in every sport at Scotland High School and beyond. I often joked that it was my arrival in Scotland County that facilitated the departure of long-standing coaches (was it my persistent coffee breath? My large notepad that grew in infamy with each sporting event I attended?), but truth be told, it was perhaps a better indication of the growing reputation for excellence that Scotland sports have acquired over the years.
Simply put: The Fighting Scots breed winners, and programs around the Carolinas began to take notice this year more than any other.
But above all, the 2012 sporting year will be remembered for the student athletes who not only made their mark when the lights shone brightest, but also as enduring embodiments of sportsmanship.
SHS Seniors like Scotland pitcher Curt Britt, reigning “most athletic” senior superlative recipient Cori Newton, Scots’ linebackers Artemis Robinson and Chris Moss, Scotland volleyball standouts Caroline Pridgen and Greta Griswold, lady Scots tennis players Charlotte Laurent (battling through a foot injury that ended her junior season) and Munroe Buie who helped SHS tennis reclaim their first conference championship in six years.
I had the pleasure of documenting the seasons of all the aforementioned athletes and countless more. And speaking from a reporter’s perspective, what impressed me most of all was the character that each athlete exhibited on and off the field of play.
Word travels fast in small communities, and if a sports program garners a reputation for not doing things the right way, people learn about it fast (I’ve seen it before). Never did you hear a disparaging comment about any of Scotland’s athletes, as opposing coaches had nothing but the highest praise for the Fighting Scots regardless of a game’s outcome.
To be honest, a column like this always has me glancing over my shoulder, because I know I’ve surely left out many who deserved mention. But those I have forgotten hopefully hold the coverage they received during their respective seasons in high regard, because they surely helped contribute to my array of memories that I will personally hold dear.
And what memories they were, as taking the time to mention merely half of them would result in another (overlong?) column. From local families kind enough to share their story with me, to the support I received from the community that truly made me feel at home, to a certain baseball field located in McColl that saw me take a knee and propose to my now-fiance, I can’t thank Scotland County enough for what was certainly the greatest year of my reporting career.
Feel I forgot something? Don’t hesitate to flag me down the next time you see me attending a sports event. If nothing else, it will grant me another opportunity to ramble on about the local sports community which welcomed me with open arms in 2012.
You’ll be doing my co-workers a favor, trust me.
Happy New Years and many happy returns to all.