PAINT IT BLUE: Community lends support to historic team

Published 3:18 pm Tuesday, December 2, 2014

SAVANNAH LUCAS | CONTRIBUTED SCHOOL SPIRIT: The Pam Pack student section has grown in size with every playoff game. The bleachers should be packed for the Pam Pack’s regional final game against Elizabeth City Northeastern.

SCHOOL SPIRIT: The Pam Pack student section has grown in size with every playoff game. The bleachers should be packed for the Pam Pack’s regional final game against Elizabeth City Northeastern.

It’s been 35 years since any Washington team has hoisted a state championship trophy in a major sport. From Russ Chesson to Larry Harris, the school has produced a special collection of state championship wrestlers, individually, but has gone decades without a team title.

In 1988, the girls’ cross-country team, coach by Bill White, won the state championship and a season later, those same girls followed up with a track state championship — both of which flew under the radar at the time. Last spring, the girls’ soccer team came just a few injuries and goals short of bringing the trophy back from Raleigh, while the swim and softball teams have proved formidable in recent years.

But on Friday, the Washington football team, boasting the No. 1 seed in the Class 2-AA bracket and a 13-game win streak, will host the regional championship for the first time in school history and sits on the brink of its state championship in a major sport since 1979. The Pam Pack, a nickname without a mascot and singular in form, could not be more appropriate for a program feeding off the excitement of a community and the production of an unrivaled defense.

Through the years, Washington High School and the town have shared a symbiotic relationship, one that ‘s come with its fair share of ups and downs. Ted Melton, the vice principal at Washington, is a graduate of the school (1985) and has witnessed the town rally around the athletic program.

“The high school is the center of the town most of the time. With that comes the pride with us being in this title game,” he said.

“A championship would reinforce the fact that what we have here in Washington is very special. It would reinforce that we have student athletes and not just athletes. These kids on this football team don’t get in trouble, their grades are very good and they really represent the community and school very well.”

For a town made up of a great deal of Washington graduates, the relationship between team and town is a special one. The athletes of yesteryear are now district attorneys, dentists and teachers, contributing to the community in a different way, while never forgetting their roots.

Daily News contributor and former football player Bartow Houston played for Wake Forrest and the 1956 Pam Pack team, the last to make the state championship. While the Pam Pack didn’t win, it was the furthest the football program had ever gone.

“Any success that (this team) has is something that all of us from the past relishes,” Houston said.

Painted on the storage shed next to the practice field is the Pam Pack motto, one that carries an eternal meaning. The “Long Blue Line,” it reads. It’s a mantra that Houston invented, rather capriciously, while speaking alongside former NFL player and Pam Pack receiver Walter Rasby during a football banquet.

“I said, ‘I can see those autumn nights at Kugler Field, but if you listen closely, you can hear the crowd, feel the energy.’ I was trying to tell those young people you’re part of a tradition, part of the Long Blue Line. It’s a continuity that stretches all the way back to the very beginning. There was P.S. Jones and all of those players are part of it too. (Because of) the confluence of more modern times, the colors ran together. A lot of these players are standing over the players at P.S. Jones. They weren’t times to be proud of, but they should be proud of how they played.”

From Choppy Wagner to Sport Sawyer, the Long Blue Line, like the Pam Pack itself, is a singular entity that extends into the far reaches of this small community. Wagner, an NCHSAA Hall of Fame coach, was the best, undoubtedly, in school history, but was never able to secure the coveted trophy.

Sawyer and this new Pam Pack team, one that sports gray jerseys now, has the opportunity to pay homage to all those down the Long Blue Line. In a way, it already has.

In 1982, Roanoke Rapids was a conference opponent and one of Washington’s most hated rivals. Along with Tarboro, the conference served as the best in the East. Seth Edwards, the district attorney for the second prosecutorial district, which includes Beaufort County, quarterbacked the 1982 team. The Pam Pack finished 9-1 that season, making for one of the best teams in school history.

But Edwards’ team was snubbed of a playoff spot, as Tarboro and Roanoke Rapids finished 9-1 as well. A vote by the coaches to decide which team would represent the conference sent Roanoke Rapids to the playoffs.

Appropriately, Washington defeated the Yellow Jackets, 26-0, to earn a spot in the regional final last week.

“I’m extremely proud of the program that’s been built here over the years,” Edwards said. “Going back to 1956 when Wagner was the coach, we just had a lot of good teams throughout the years and fostered some great rivalries.”

To garner even more support for the team, Washington is rallying the community and hoping fans will come out to support the Pam Pack this Friday at 7:30 p.m. For those not attending, Melton hopes local business owners (some already have) will wear their blue.

“To me, it has less to do with the football game than the community at hand,” he said. “Here were are with a chance to be recognized throughout the whole state.”