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PINETOPS — Mark Pittman and Jerome Staton, the latest inductees into the SouthWest Edgecombe High Athletic Hall of Fame, played starring roles when varsity football became a respected tradition at the school in the early 1980s.
Pittman, a sure-tackling, hard-hitting linebacker, and Staton, a record-setting running back, excelled on teams that won championships and established precedents. Individual accolades piled up for each.
But most prominent as each reflects upon a spectacular career from 1982 through 1984 is the opportunity to oppose archrival Tarboro in the “Function at the Junction.”
“We didn’t bypass anybody,” commented Pittman during an interview session following Monday night’s induction ceremony that launched the Cougars’ annual athletic banquet, “but that’s what we played for all year long. What we played for was to get to them. Most of the time, that game decided who went where. They were SOME battles.”
Added Staton: “That was the biggest game of the year. North Edgecombe was pretty big, but they were not as good as Tarboro. Playing the Wilson schools was always a challenge.”
SouthWest fared well against the Vikings during the three-year varsity careers of Pittman and Staton. The Cougars conquered Tarboro for the first time in the 1982 playoffs. That outcome triggered five consecutive wins against the Vikings until losing to them in the third round of the 1984 playoffs.
Pittman and Staton were introduced to a rousing ovation and enshrined by SouthWest athletic director Sandra Langley. Their induction increased member to 29 in the hall of fame that was established in 2006.
Of his induction, Pittman responded: “It lets me know the SouthWest community hasn’t really forgotten me and thought enough of me to induct me into it. It’s a great privilege.
“I never really thought about it. I thought, well, kind of, sort of, maybe ... I never dwelled on it. If the time was right, it was going to happen.”
Expressed Staton: “Wonderful, a great experience. Coming at this late age (52), it’s surprising. But it’s good to be remembered and it’s a great thing what they’re doing.”
In brief remarks upon being inducted, Pittman challenged SouthWest athletes to “listen to your coaches; they can take you a long way.”
Staton departed with the message: “Be grateful. Don’t take (good fortune or success) for granted. It can be gone in an instant.”
Pittman, also 52 and now a member of the Fike High coaching staff, lettered in football, basketball, baseball and track. He was proclaimed all-conference in football all three varsity years and twice in baseball.
His accolades included Wilson Daily Times All-Area, Iron Man of the Year, All-State and honorable mention Adidas All-America his senior year. Pittman played in the North Carolina Coaches Association’s East-West All-Star game in 1985 and continued his career at Winston-Salem State University from 1985-1988.
He coached at SouthWest from 2004-07 before accepting a position at Fike in 2008. He has been recognized on numerous occasions as a top Fike employee.
Pittman has been married to his wife, Ethelene, for 22 years and they are the parents of Dominique and Diamond, both SouthWest graduates. They have two grandchildren.
In the 1982 playoff game against Tarboro, Pittman amassed a staggering 28 tackles.
“I was going to try to make every tackle on the field,” he described his linebacker mindset. “Every time the ball was snapped, I was ready to get to it.”
Pittman kicked off his varsity career at quarterback and defensive end. But a broken foot resulted in his being shifted to middle linebacker in the 5-2 scheme. He insists he owes much of his success to his partner at linebacker, Rodney Johnson, now deceased.
“(Head) coach (Jimmy) Tillman thought taking me off one side (defensive end) and putting me in the middle would benefit the team.”
At running back, Staton rushed for over 1,500 yards in each of his three seasons and remains the career rushing leader with over 5,000 yards. He amassed 380 yards rushing in one game.
A punishing runner at 6-foot-1, 185-pounds, Staton was named All-East in 1983 and 1984. As a senior, he was hailed first-team Adidas All-America and first-team All-State. Staton represented the Cougars in the 1984 Shrine Bowl and his jersey has been retired.
Staton earned a football scholarship at North Carolina State University and played for two years until Dick Sheridan succeeded Tom Reid as head coach and Staton was redshirted. He then turned to a warehousing career and served as a pastor for four years.
Now a Clayton resident, Staton is the father of three sons — Jeremy Jerome, Jerrick Jerrell and Darius Jamal. He has five grandchildren.
Jeremy was born at the start of Staton’s senior year at SouthWest. Staton explained that, while the situation was viewed a negative by many, his son’s birth was a personal source of inspiration.
During the three varsity seasons of Pittman and Staton, the Cougars defeated Tarboro for the first time (1982), captured the first of two North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A Division II championships in 1982, reached the 3-A Eastern final in 1984 and started 10-0 in 1984 — when they lost to Tarboro in the third round.
Tillman, their head coach throughout their varsity careers and SouthWest’s head coach for 11 seasons, hails Staton as the best running back he’s ever coached and Pittman as the best all-around football player he has coached.
“They were two great football players to have on the same team at the same time,” Tillman declard. “They were fun times.
“But the thing about them of which I am most proud is the men they turned out to be. They are good husbands and good fathers. They both did a great job of raising their children.”