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While there was no signature moment to define 2019 on The Wilson Times readership-area sports scene, there was no shortage of moments and people that went into making the previous 12 months memorable.
Wilson’s continued emergence as a North Carolina Little League power was evident with the Wilson City Little League winning the Ages 11-12 (Major League) state title and finishing second in the Ages 9-10 state tournament. The Ages 11-12 All-Stars returned to the Little League Southeast Regional four years after WCLL made its first trip to Warner Robins, Georgia.
Greenfield School enjoyed not only state championships in boys basketball in February and boys soccer in October, but the school also earned its third Wells Fargo Cup for overall supremacy in the North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association 1-A ranks. The school also held its first athletic hall-of-fame induction ceremony in September.
Individual state championships were claimed by Fike’s Aaron Bancroft and Hunt’s Dionte Alston.
Coaching changes, especially for high school football teams, were prevalent in the area in 2019. Beddingfield, Hunt, North Johnston and Greene Central all got new mentors in 2019 while Barton College saw a plethora of changes in its coaching staff.
The bigger news at Barton in 2019 was the transformation of its campus that included the construction of a turf stadium and the complete renovation of Wilson Gymnasium. The Bulldogs played their first men’s lacrosse matches in 2019.
Another school that opened new facilities and broke new ground was Wilson Preparatory Academy. Wilson Prep joined the North Carolina High School Athletic Association for the 2019-20 school year and hosted its first on-campus soccer match in October while welcoming former Barton and Harlem Globetrotters star Anthony Atkinson Jr. as boys basketball head coach.
Southern Nash put an exclamation point on an incredible 2019 with the Firebirds reaching the NCHSAA football championship game for the first time in the school’s 52-year history. The Firebirds lost to Charlotte Catholic in the 3-A final but that didn’t diminish their accomplishments, particularly those of senior Quinton Cooley, along the way. Cooley rushed for 3,058 yards, the most in the state, and scored 55 touchdowns, also the most in the state, to lead the Firebirds to 15 straight wins before losing in the championship game. Cooley, the Times Offensive Player of the Year, signed with Wake Forest University on Dec. 18 and will enroll in classes in January.
In May, senior Darius Edmundson became just the fourth Southern Nash student-athlete to be named the Tom Ham Athlete of the Year as presented by The Wilson Times.
At Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf, junior Jeremiah Deans emerged as a true star for the Hornets basketball and track teams in 2019. However, Deans’ career ended prematurely at ENCSD, which dropped its athletics program in the fall when no replacement could be found for retiring athletic director Leonard Baker.
Former Greenfield star Coby White, the 2018 Times Athlete of the Year, became a star over the course of his freshman season at North Carolina, leading him to leave college after one year. White was drafted with the No. 7 overall pick by the Chicago Bulls in the NBA draft in June.
Another area great, former Southern Nash three-sport star Julius Peppers, announced his retirement after 17 seasons in the NFL.
The Wilson Tobs enjoyed one of their best seasons in the summer collegiate baseball Coastal Plain League, reaching the Petitt Cup playoff semifinals for the second year in a row.
Finally, 2019 saw the loss of two pillars of the baseball as well as larger athletic community in Wilson with the deaths of E.D. Hall and Lee Gliarmis.
LITTLE LEAGUE POWER
The WCLL Ages 11-12 team used power and pitching to rampage through both the District 6 tournament at Gillette Baseball Complex and the state tournament in Kernersville. Hurlers Carter Adams, Seth Evans and Joe Glover were among the power producers while Ryan Bass, Tyson Foster, Simon Quinn, Connor Radford and DeAndre Sellars kept the bases occupied for the big blasts. Wilson scored 44 runs in its first three games at the state tourney before rallying to beat Lake Norman in the championship game.
Unfortunately, Wilson’s offense didn’t keep up the momentum at the Southeast Regional, losing to eventual champion Virginia and Tennessee to exit without a win in four regional outings all-time.
KNIGHTS’ TIME AGAIN
A year after White and fellow senior Elijah McCadden led Greenfield to the NCISAA 1-A basketball final, the Knights were back in the championship game with a deep cast of mostly juniors. Greenfield won its last 23 games, including a 68-67 defeat of Fayetteville Northwood Temple Christian in the final for its fifth state title but first since 2006. With five of its top seven players back this season, including senior Dji Bailey who became the third Greenfield player to sign with an Atlantic Coast Conference team when he inked with Wake Forest University in November, the Knights are among the favorites this season.
Greenfield earned its third Wells Fargo Cup in June, the first since 2009-10.
The 2019-20 boys soccer season got off to an inauspicious start for Greenfield, which lost 2-0 to Neuse Christian on the ultimate day of the Knights’ Dr. Robert Stone Memorial Showcase in August. The game was a rematch of the 2018 state 1-A championship, which the Knights lost 4-2.
However, when Greenfield returned to the state final, it found the Lions again in their path. This time, the Knights were not denied as they blanked Neuse Christian 4-0 at Forbes Field to win their 15th NCISAA 1-A boys soccer crown and first under head coach Eric Nguyen.
It took 55 years but Fike High finally produced a state champion wrestler when Golden Demons junior Aaron Bancroft claimed the 160-pound title at the NCHSAA 3-A tournament in February. Bancroft finished the season 52-1, including 31 pins, in a dominant campaign. So far this season, Bancroft has won all 21 of his matches as he attempts to win back-to-back state titles.
Hunt senior Dionte Alston became the school’s first indoor track and field state champion when he won the 3-A long jump in February. However, that success did not translate to outdoors for Alston, who scratched out at the state 3-A meet.
Wilson Christian swept the individual championships at the North Carolina Christian School Association cross-country meet in October. Sixth grader Emily Miles won the girls 5-kilometer race to spark the Lady Chargers to the team title while Chargers freshman Seth Trull claimed the boys race.
The girls cross-country title was the only state crown for Wilson Christian, which lost in the NCCSA 2-A girls basketball, girls soccer, baseball, softball and boys soccer championship games in 2019.
Both Hunt and Beddingfield welcomed new football coaches this season but Bruins’ first-year mentor Carl Smith claimed the upper hand in the first meeting with Hunt’s Ryan Sulkowski. Smith, who was a star performer and later an assistant coach at SouthWest Edgecombe, was hired in June as the successor to James Ward, who directed the Bruins to a 9-3 mark in 2018 before leaving for Wakefield.
Smith, with even fewer players than Ward had in his final season, led Beddingfield to not only a 9-4 mark and to the second round of the NCHSAA 2-A playoffs, but also the Wilson County Championship. The Bruins knocked off Fike and Hunt to win their first county title since 2009.
Sulkowski became the seventh head coach in Hunt’s history in March when he was hired to replace Keith Byrum, who was asked to step down after three losing seasons. Byrum, who had been an assistant coach at Hunt for nearly 20 years, remained at Hunt to join Sulkowski’s staff, helping to solidify the standing of his new boss. The Warriors finished 5-7 and returned to the state playoffs for the first time since 2015.
Two assistant coaches took their first head coaching jobs as Michael Barnett replaced Jon Riba at North Johnston and Jason Wilson took over for Allen Wooten at Greene Central.
Beddingfield also saw the departure of longtime coach Joe Dvozenja, who moved to New Mexico.
EXCITEMENT AT BARTON
The year was less than a month old when Barton’s on-campus turf stadium was in place. Electric Supply Company Field made its official debut Feb. 23 when the Lady Bulldogs lacrosse team beat Coker 14-9 in the rain.
The Barton men’s lacrosse team played its first match at Cardinal Gibbons High in Raleigh on Feb. 2.
The most successful Barton team in 2019 was the men’s volleyball squad. The Bulldogs beat such national powers as Grand Canyon and Southern California during the season before winning the Conference Carolinas tournament title and earning a home game in the NCAA tournament. Ivy League member Princeton ousted the Bulldogs in the first round in the Wilson Gym.
On his first National Signing Day as Barton football head coach, Chip Hester landed 36 players to form the Bulldogs’ first team at the NCAA Division II level. Currently, the Bulldogs roster lists 75 players with another signing day approaching in February. Barton will kick off its football season Sept. 5, 2020.
In his second season, Barton baseball head coach Jim Chester took the Bulldogs from a 12-36 mark in 2018 to a 31-20 record last spring. However, Chester left for NCAA Division I Gardner-Webb over the summer and was replaced by Keith Gorman, who led Cumberland County (New Jersey) College to the National Junior College Athletic Association championship in May.
Thomas Goines stepped down as Lady Bulldogs soccer coach in February. His successor, Andy McNab, directed Barton to a 12-6-1 mark this past fall.
In May, interim head coach Tyler Amerson got the job as Barton men’s and women’s cross-country, indoor and outdoor track and field head coach. The Beddingfield High product was a four-year letterman in track and cross-country at Barton.
Fike enjoyed one of the best baseball seasons in school history in 2019. The Golden Demons finished the regular season by winning the Golden Leaf Invitational then marched to the fourth round of the NCHSAA 3-A playoffs before losing D.H. Conley 9-5. Fike, led by North Carolina Baseball Coaches Association all-state selections Hunter Stokely and Chad Bean, finished with a 22-2 mark under head coach Buck Edmundson. Stokely signed with North Carolina in November.
At North Johnston, the senior-laden Lady Panthers also reached the fourth round of the 2-A softball playoffs before succumbing 6-5 in a heartbreaker against South Granville.