STEPPING UP — My Take: Reflecting on a historic year in high school sports

Published 2:35 pm Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A year ago, almost to the day, the Washington Daily News got a new sports editor, a 22 year old who had just graduated from East Carolina looking to get his feet wet in the world of community sports journalism.

It’s been an interesting 12 months to say the least. I’ve not only had the luxury of reporting on a county full of great people, one that has given me the privilege and opportunity to learn from my mistakes, but one that has also provided an overabundance of great student-athletes playing on championship-worthy teams.

Since I accepted by job last December, I’ve had the chance at meeting some of the most revered figures in sports, including former ECU quarterback David Garrard, former Ravens fullback Vonta Leach, Pam Pack legend and former Kansas City Chief Terrence Copper, racing icon Mario Andretti and, of course, Naismith Hall of Famer and former Washington hoops star Dominique Wilkins.

But on a more personalized local level, this year in Beaufort County high school sports has been one of, if not the most memorable in history. Talk about being in the right place at the right time.

The spring season was highlighted by two championship runs — the Riverside girls’ basketball team (Martin County) and the Washington girls’ soccer team. The Knights, one of the most well-coached basketball team’s I’ve seen to date, came a couple of seconds and one well-timed half court shot shy from a state championship, one that would have dethroned powerhouse Bishop McGuiness and handed Riverside its first 1-A title. While the basketball gods had other plans, the accomplishments of that team and the talent of each individual who played on it will certainly go down in history.

Then there was head coach Ed Rodriguez and the Pam Pack. Like Riverside, it was the best season in the history of the girls’ soccer program, as Washington finished 22-3 (8-0 Eastern Plains) and allowed just seven goals all season. The Pam Pack, led by seniors Alana Jefferson, Harley Hudson and Christian Heggie, activated the nine-goal mercy rule in 17 of the team’s 22 wins en route to the 2-A state championship. Unfortunately, a handful of injuries in key positions, including Heggie, who finished as the state’s leading goal scorer, crushed Washington’s state championship aspirations. The team lost to West Stokes in the title game, 2-0. It had been the first team at Washington High School to reach a state championship since girls’ cross-country in 1988.

And while both fell short of reaching the title game, Washington’s softball and wrestling teams also finished their seasons strong with winning records.

In the fall, the Southside Seahawks and Pam Pack football teams notched excellent records and made deep postseason runs, but it was the latter that had the biggest impact on not only a program, but a community.

Washington won 14-straight games before it fell just two-points short of a state championship when it faced East Lincoln in Winston-Salem. It was a historic season that featured a shutdown defense and a running back who made team history with 2,152 yards rushing and 27 touchdowns.

For second-year head coach Jeff Carrow’s Seahawks, Southside managed to turn a disappointing 3-9 campaign in 2013 into an impressive 10-4 finish this year. Never veering from his customary wing-T offense, one that featured a trio of talented running backs, Southside made it to the third round of the 1-A state playoffs.

The Washington soccer team also had one of its best seasons in history under head coach Jim Kozuch, finishing 20-5-1 and reaching the fourth round of the 2-A state playoffs

Teams’ success aside, I had the privilege of meeting two respected men — Coach Dave Smith and Greg Rowe — both of whom passed away over the summer. Smith coached the Washington basketball team through its glory days in the ‘70s and Rowe spent his free time transforming a team of undersized, homeschooled girls basketball players into champions. Before they were coaches, however, they were remarkable human beings.

Dominique Wilkins’ return to Washington, an event that will eventually be turned into an ESPN Films 30-for-30 production, was an honor to be apart of and report on. Seeing hundreds of people from the past and present come together to witness sports history was a special event and something that will never be replicated.

The last 12 months was an exciting time to be a fan of Beaufort County sports. 2014 will be a tough act to follow.