Friday, May 30, 2008

Wertz Q&A: How will Independence fare against Florida's Madison County?

Observer Staff Writer Langston Wertz Jr. answers your sports-related questions.

To ask a question, e-mail lwertz@charlotteobserver.com or add a question as a post below. Here are recent questions and answers.:

Q. How will North Carolina's Independence compete against Florida's Madison County? I'm really interested in your insight considering I will be in attendance of the game on Sept. 5
A. Hard to say since I’ve not seen Madison play. From what I read and hear, they have a good team at a small school. They’re at home and they’ll be a heckuva lot more used to the Florida heat than the Indy kids. That might make a difference in early September. As for Independence, the Patriots really should be better than they were last year, but we’ve been saying that for awhile. In the past three years or so, Independence has really not played as well as they looked on paper. I’m thinking the state championship loss, the regular season loss to Butler and all the off-the-field stuff will bring them back to the state of mind they used to have when they were outworking everybody around. We'll see.

Q. Langston, you didn't answer my question about Jessica Freeman. What gives dude?
A. Well, I did. Thankfully, looking back on it, it was edited out. There will be all kinds of rumors about players changing schools. This happens every year and I expect it to be higher than usual this offseason due to the rule changing going on in CMS. I’m not sure we should encourage rumor-mill discussion here, especially when there is no way to verify whether or not something is even remotely true. You could post a question, for example, saying, "I saw Michael Jones’ kid at Providence and I know for a fact they’re transferring. What do you think?" And you may just be making it up.
This can cause problems, usually unwanted, for that kid and his family. So let’s wait until folks move and then talk about it - if they do move.

Q. Langston, how do you see the private-school football picture breaking down next year, and why didn't you answer the question about private-school lacrosse?
A. I thought I answered the lacrosse question. Feel free to pose it again if you like. Private school football? Country Day has to be the favorite. All those young kids they had last year are older, and hungrier, I’d bet.
Latin lost a lot, but Latin’s Latin. They just reload.

Christian needs to keep up its improvement despite some graduation losses, and I’m curious about new coach Bruce Hardin at Providence Day. It’s going to be hard for the Chargers to make a lot of noise. Their best player, Kelly Johnson, graduated. Their future star, Larry Kennedy III, transferred to South Mecklenburg. But Hardin is a living legend in high school circles. I wouldn't be surprised if the Chargers make a push for a league crown.
And will Victory Christian finally make a real run? They’re talented enough.

Q. CMS did not rush to anything on South Meck. They broke the rule that is set by the state. It was unquestionable. They also forfeited basketball games. Indy investigation is based more on recruiting. No team in NC has been investigated as deeply as the Indy football program was this year. It appears Butler and/or CMS might have ideas sooner on the softball player since she had only dressed for four games. Did she sit out while an investigation was ongoing?
A. JT, I’m not sure if she sat out. We only know she dressed for four games. I think the situation was handled well.

Q. Langston, Providence only beat Butler because of poor coaching. Ardrey Kell will easily handle Providence in soccer Saturday night.
A. I’m late to the question obviously, but Kell was the best team in the Western 4A bracket for sure. I was a little surprised at what happened to them in the state final (3-0 blowout loss), but it was their first trip. I don’t think it’ll be the last.

Q. If CMS is doing such a great job investigating Independence, then they would find something. If Independence does not violate any rules it will be a cover up! The e-mail tips are coming. This would go away if CMS was fair.
A. I don’t think we really know anything yet. Let’s wait until the results of the investigation come out. Everything else is speculation without much fact.

Q. Langston, when does All-Observer come out? Any insights on golf? What about prep football section? What can you tell us?
A. We’ll drop All-Observer teams sometime in June. I’d say second or third week. I’m beginning to work on mine (soccer, golf, softball) now. Insights on golf? I can’t say now, because that might give something away, but I’ll say this: I tend to lean more heavily toward what you do in the big moments than the benign regular-season game.
Prep football section? Too early to know if we’ll have one. I hope so. I think we’re going to start migrating more to the web. I think you’ll be seeing some big changes there soon.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Recapping Game 1's in Thursday's prep baseball semifinals

- Ardrey Kell left-hander Alex Wood was the difference in the 5-2 home victory against Providence in 4A. His calm, and pitch location to escape a bases-loaded, no-outs situation with a 4-2 lead in the sixth gave the Knights a huge advantage.

With both teams’ top pitchers working Tuesday and Wednesday, depth will play a key role in Game 2 (Friday) and a potential Game 3 (Saturday).
Ardrey Kell’s options Friday are Ryan Butler (5-0), Andrew Miller (3-1) or Blake Parsley (3-0, two saves).

Providence, which had an extra day’s rest before the series, might use a combination of Richie Shaffer, Will Helms or Alex Askey. The Panthers must win, so look for everyone to be ready.

- In 3A, Belmont South Point’s Zach Horne pitched an eight-inning no-hitter in a 1-0 victory in the opener against East Rowan, and ended its 22-game winning streak.

Horne (10-3), a senior left-hander, struck out 10 and walked two. Weston Lawing, a sophomore, drove in the run with a single in the bottom of the eighth. Game 2 is Friday at East Rowan.

- In 2A, visiting East Rutherford won 7-2 at Leford, despite having four hits. The Cavaliers took advantage of five errors, and the pitching of left-hander Seth Baldwin, who struck out 11. Outfielder Michael Milam was 2-for-2 and scored three runs for East Rutherford, the defending 2A champion.

- In 1A, Cherryville crushed visiting South Stokes 14-4 in six innings (the 10-run mercy rule is enforced after five innings). The Ironmen pounded 12 hits, including three by Seth Freeman, and home runs by Tyler Buff and Colton Ballard.

-Cliff Mehrtens

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Hopscotching around the prep baseball playoffs

-I felt like I was in one of those storm chaser stories on the Weather Channel at Ardrey Kell’s baseball playoff Tuesday, but the storm was chasing me.

It had been very windy as the teams warmed up. Then the wind stopped. Ominous clouds and lightning rolled into south Charlotte quickly. The clouds were lower than usual, and dark as a bruise.

Ardrey Kell officials moved the crowd off the metal bleachers and into the gym when they learned of a tornado warning. Good call. The rain fell at 7:04, and didn’t stop for a long while.

Sitting in the gym was boring, so after 40 minutes, I went outside in the light rain. I love baseball fans’ optimism - several stood by the backstop discussing whether the puddles could be cleared. Players mingled. Coaches pondered, and after about an hour, postponed the game.
The upside: A perfect rainbow overhead, clear enough to see all its colors.

-Providence’s 10-4 win at South Caldwell shocked folks across the state. The Panthers beat the defending 4A champions, who hadn’t allowed a run in the first three playoff games, and none in the first four innings Tuesday.
Providence began its season 0-3.

It rallied, playing in the state’s best conference (Southwestern 4A) and against a solid nonconference schedule. The Panthers didn’t panic after falling behind 3-0 at South Caldwell.

"A resilient bunch of kids," coach Danny Hignight said.

-East Rowan (26-2) extended its winning streak to 22 with a 5-4 victory against Mooresville in 3A. The Mustangs trailed 4-0 heading into the bottom of the seventh, and scored five times.

-East Rutherford, defending state champion, is pounding the ball in the 2A playoffs. The Cavaliers have scored 11, six, 13 and nine runs, and will play Ledford (24-6) in the best-of-3 semifinals.

-Cliff Mehrtens

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Christian loses title, but saves arm

Charlotte Christian baseball coach Greg Simmons made the right decision.

Despite trailing 1-0 in the best-of-3 series for the 3A championship in the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association on Sunday, Simmons didn’t bring back his star pitcher for a second consecutive strenuous day.

Luke Bard, a junior, had thrown more than 70 pitches in Game 1 Saturday, and was a bit sore the next day.

Could he have thrown? Sure, and some coaches might have coaxed their top pitcher, considering the circumstances.

Others - and it would be a tiny percentage - might be blinded by the potential championship and not worry about sending a sore pitcher out there.

The temptation is great, and we’re all human.

We like to win, but Simmons kept the larger picture in focus.

“It’s like having a thoroughbred horse in the stable,” Simmons said Monday. “You know you could out-run them, but what effect would that have? Luke has been pitching on four days’ rest all year. No game is so important to cost a kid a career.”

Charlotte Christian, which had won six straight state championships, lost Game 2 on Sunday to Wesleyan Academy.

The title string was gone.

The program’s, and Simmons’ integrity, wasn’t.

Simmons didn’t sound sad Monday.

“Whether it is our No. 1 pitcher or our No. 4 pitcher, health is important,” he said. “That’s why we carry so many pitchers. You want to build a team, not rely on one arm.”

-- Cliff Mehrtens

Friday, May 16, 2008

Wertz Q&A: 'Pressure busts pipes'?

Q. What did coach Flowers mean in his pressure busts pipes comments? And what kind of coach do you think he’ll be at Chester?

A. He was responding to people in school and state administration, feeling they had overreacted to the situation at West Charlotte.

Flowers contends he did nothing wrong. That the NCHSAA banned him for 365 days means it felt strongly something did happen and he had some role. Flowers feels they jumped the gun a little.

I do not know who did what at West Charlotte last fall, so I cannot comment on that, but do I think he’s an excellent football coach? Yes. I think he and Pete Gilchrist were kind of natural successors to Tom Knotts at Indy as the resident high school star coaches. It’s a shame we’ve now both lost them. It seems like Mecklenburg County is bleeding great coaches and not gaining many. I hear Aaron Brand at West Charlotte could be that type of guy. I hope so, and we need to hold onto folks like Mike Newsome at Butler and Kurt Wessler at Butler basketball.

I know coaches find it hard here with the red tape, which CMS is trying to eliminate, and the tight reigns on camps and weight rooms and having your athletes in class together year round -- and other behind-the-scenes kind of things that coaches feel are integral to running a successful program. But there are many advantages to working here, and a few coaches outside the system tell me that once the smoke clears from all the investigations and things get back to normal, maybe those will be easier to see again and we’ll begin to attract some top flight talent. I’d like to see that.

Q. Hi Langston, the Observer again ignored North baseball. We read and
heard about great 2nd round playoff games about every school except
North. Not one mention, not even results, about the two-hitter pitched
by the North starter Eric Finley (7-0) against Davie Co. High School or
the home run hit by Patrick Ledford, which clinched the win.

A. I know in a vacuum it seems that we may ignore certain teams then cover others. Sometimes playoff games are scheduled on days when we don't have space, or manpower, or didn't have enough time or notice to arrange adequate coverage.

We try to do right by everybody and always will. Also please encourage your team to phone in results to us. That always helps.

Q. LangDaddy good to see you back. No sitout rule was added by the citizens committee on eligibility. The NCHSAA enacted a 365 sitout rule for people providing fraudulent documentation. I think CMS would have adopted that if not put in place before they had a chance to act. CMS has sitout rules in place that are much tougher than any other area and those remain intact.

A. I hear you. Thanks for writing.

Q. Langston, is Brand the right guy at WC and what's going on with the Chester job? Will Shipp go back to work with Brand? Will Tedder?

A. I think Brand is the right guy, yes. Will Shipp go back with him? I don’t know. Wherever he goes, though, he’ll be an asset. I’d really like to see Shipp be a head coach one day. I think he could be special. He needs to take a few steps first, but he’s not far away, I’d say. Tedder? I don’t know. I thought he took a head job in Virginia or somewhere.

Q. Langston, I'm a West Charlotte parent VERY involved with our football team. I'm glad to see coach Flowers get a new job. I don't care about some undeserved ban he got from CMS for a year. He's a good coach. Like Toguchi, he did not do ANYTHING WRONG. I know.

A. OK, thanks for writing. Flowers got himself a very good job. Chester is a program that’s been long suffering but had great support and in the past three years, the Cyclones have started winning. I hope Flowers can schedule some CMS schools and some local privates and get back to town for some games. I think his brand of wide open offense will work well in S.C. Duncan Byrnes has used that style to dominate that run-happy state across the border.

I know people will say S.C. football is better than N.C. I think the gap is closer than S.C. fans will admit, but N.C. football is definitely ahead in terms of innovation. Most S.C. teams are still running ‘70s offenses. Some of them will be dumbstruck trying to deal with Flowers’ zany formations and plays. But Flowers needs to develop his run game and defense to go with his offensive wizardry. He’s a little like Knotts in the old days. Knotts learned and look what he’s done. Flowers can do the same thing.

Q. Mr. Wertz, pardon the intrusion. I'm a writer at a small paper, a young writer. I was curious who do you think is the best high school reporter in the state and who taught you? What advice would you give a cub reporter?

A. Never an intrusion. We welcome everybody. I always try to help out guys like you because I was that guy once. Anyway to your question, best high school writer in the state? Hmm. You know I have an ego right?

No seriously, I learned how to cover this stuff from Richard Walker of the Gaston Gazette and Chris Hobbs of the Hickory Daily Record. Richard is the most aggressive reporter I’ve ever seen and his sources go deeper than tree roots. Chris is the ultimate numbers guy who just knows all the ins and outs of this business. When I started here, we all worked together. I remember my first day on the job Chris stuck me in the passenger seat of his Ford Mustang, took me to the bank and we talked about how to do this. I’ll never forget that. I was scared to death. His talk helped calm those rookie nerves.

I’m biased but I’d start with them.

I think Earl Vaughan does a great job in Fayetteville. I think Mason Linker of Winston-Salem’s Journal is the second hardest working guy in the state behind our own Brett Honeycutt (you all have NO idea how much of what you see in our coverage is a direct result of BH’s efforts).

So there’s lot of good ones. I think the crew at the Salisbury Post probably covers the stuff better than anyone except us. I just think with our reach and staff, we touch a lot of bases in a week. Check out our online page. It’s chock full every day.

Advice for a cub reporter? The former publisher of the Charlotte Observer, Rolfe Neill, once told me this: “Get it right. Get it right. Get it right.” He’s one of the people I’ve most respected in this business. I flat admire the guy. So it’s his advice I’ll pass on to you. Get it right. Get it right. Get it right.

Q. LW, what do you know about the Florida team Indy will play?

A. Indy will play Madison County, which is about a half-hour from Bobby Bowden-ville in Tallahassee. Madison is Florida’s 2A state champion and the 2A class there is third smallest of eight classifications.

Madison returns 17 starters and two have committed to Florida State (DL Jacobbi McDaniel and RB Chris Thompson). The team was 13-1 last year.

Sounds like the Shelby of Florida to me, and having two high major recruits is solid.

Q. Thoughts on kell-providence saturday? I think we'll get 'em this time -- Dence 8

A. This should be a great game. Kell shut out the Dence the first two times. Providence now is a different team. These girls are quite determined…and what’s that old sports adage? It’s hard to beat a good team three times? Kell’s at home, though, and confident, but they may be a little nervous, just two wins from a first state final appearance.

The girls on this Providence team have felt playoff heat before and come from the best program in the county. That’s where Kell wants to get to.

So to me, this is either a passing of the torch game or another Providence playoff win. It’s the biggest match of the year so far in our county.

Q. Langston, we saw Butler had ineligible player today. Will they forfeit all their games?

A. But let’s see. Butler will not forfeit games. CMS determined that this was a players’ action and the school would have no way of knowing.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Mallard Creek football could contend

Langston Wertz Jr. answers your sports-related questions. To ask a question, email Wertz or post your question below in the comments section
Q. Langston...how about a comment on "Da Creek" Mallard creek Football. Looks like they may have a chance to be really good. Meca 7 District & Regional Track champions and most of those guys are Football Players. They look to be pretty big up front also. how about an early conference prediction.

A. Mallard Creek is on a fast track to be pretty good. Look at the track team and all the kids coming back next year. There may not be a school in the ME-CA 7, including Dub, that has the skill athletes that MC has. Question is, do the Mavs have any size? But I think they can be a factor next year.

Q. Langston, you said awhile back you were going to do some stuff on golf. When? - Anonymous

A. We’re hitting the duffers right now. We had a feature on Butler’s Daniel Meggs Friday and another Monday on The Dence kids who are 8-0 this year. We’re covering the state finals as well.

Q. I posted my comments but u didnt answer them i was asking bout the rumors concerning the west charlotte basketball program an the new coach

A. Relative to Bernard Sullivan going there? Well, I’ve not heard anything like that. Why leave a team that has a chance to win state this year and next year and the year after that? I would be shocked to see Bernard go to Dub or Oak Hill or anywhere. He’s fine where he is. Does that mean other folks are not trying to woo him? Not at all.

Q. Langston, I gotta admit that was good work on Butler. Seems they deserve it. You all seem to ignore the teams on the north end of town though. you know h-dub and north played for conference title last week in baseball? No coverage. I could go on. Please give us some love up here -- A Concerned Parent

A. Thanks for the nice note on the Butler piece. I wish I could find a story like that every day. Maybe you all can help me and clue me in on stuff. As for Hopewell-North, we also had the SW 4A tournament going on at the same time and our resident baseball writer, Cliff Mehrtens, said we had too many games and not enough troops to cover them. We’ll try to do better. I promise.

Q. Langston, are you all going to cover the playoffs next week? What's in the works?

A. We’re going hog-wild, bananas, covering the playoffs this week and last week. There are some good storylines developing. We’ll do a ton in Wednesday and Thursday’s papers. This weekend we’ve got state championships in tennis and track and all the private schools. It’s a big week. We’re gearing up for it.

Q. Thoughts on the Gorman's group proposals? I don't like the sit out thing

A. I’m really more curious as to what you all think of them. Until we get the final word from him, I think everything else is premature. I know that Charlotte is being looked at by others in the state as being a leader, as being proactive.

Q. Langston, there hasn't been enough coverage of Butler recently. Can we please see more stories about them? Four in one day is just not enough.

A. Hmm, I sense a little sarcasm, eh? Well I thought it was a great moment in time for Butler, which was doing so well in spring at that moment. I tried to tie in a neat but sad story about their soccer coach with other spring players/teams doing well. It could’ve been West Meck or Kell or anywhere, just happened to be Butler.

Q. LW, thank you for the great coverage of Butler Spring Sports. The school is having an oustanding season. Thanks for your support! -- Don Dawg

A. You got it Don.

Q. how do you think the garinger wildcats baseball team did this season? also how about the pitcher david johnson? and hitters like tommy johnson and ryan meadows batting .525 and others?

A. I was really impressed with Garinger and loved seeing them perform so well. Folks are telling me that Garinger is on the way back up, especially in football. I’d love to see the Wildcats officially end the streak. I know they want to do it.

Q. Serious ? 4 U: why do U write?

A. That’s a great question. I write because I enjoy it. I’ll read something funny or moving and I want to write something. You know how if you like basketball a lot and you watch it on TV and you just gotta go outside and play? That’s me with writing.

I went to Chapel Hill for pre-med or pre-law (the dreaded undecided major) but a young lady named Andrea Shaw in my English class told me I should try out for the Daily Tar Heel. She thought I wrote well. I just thought it was all funny. Chapel Hill wouldn’t admit my mother back when she applied in the late '50s, but here I was trying out for the student newspaper.
Scott Fowler, now a columnist here, was sports editor. He asked me to watch a game and write about it. Like, 250 people applied for jobs at the student paper that fall. I got one. And once I got behind that computer, I was in love. So to answer you question, I write because I love it. I write because I want to. I write because I have to. It’s a passion of mine.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Wertz Q&A

Wertz Q&A: On reporters loving UNC and A&T hosting football finals

Langston Wertz Jr. answers your sports-related questions. To ask a question, email Wertz or post your question below in the comments section

Q. Langston, enjoyed your answer about state championships in SC and NC. I agree SC should keep them centrally located. Why couldn’t NC do it at A&T State? - Aggie Pride Nationwide 04

A. Aggie Pride, when I was running off potential locales, I didn’t think about Aggie Stadium. It seats about 30,000, which is a great size for a big high school event, and it’s about as centrally located as you can get. With Wake Forest just down the road, you could have four events at A&T and four at Wake.

That would be an excellent way to go, even if Aggie Stadium just got in on the current rota with Wake, State and Carolina.

Of course, A&T would have to aid the NCHSAA in hosting the event, something A&T should be well versed in since track has held there for a few years.
Again, great point.

Q. Langston seriously, when you're sittin' at home watching Duke play UNC at your Dean Dome you're not pulling for the Tar Holes? Give me a break. I see through your baby blue foolishness. - Pack.

A. Pack, I said when we journalists are covering an event, we have to do our best to take a neutral stance. That was it. You seem to think that reporters are not people. We are. Just like you. As I said before, like you, we grew up with favorite teams and players.

At work, you have to put that aside. It’s like one of my best friends, he got a job at Coke in Atlanta. Hates the product. Only drinks all things Pepsi. But at the job, it’s his job to push forward all things Coke.

Q. LW, what are you hearing about the Chester job and the NW Cabarrus job? - Anonymous

A. There are local coaches who have been or are still in the mix, I hear, at both places.

Chester AD Ricky Campbell told me today that it would probably be next week before the job was announced. I’ve heard it’s already been offered and accepted but needs board approval. We’ll see what happens.

That’s an interesting job. Chester had been down for years but the last coach turned things around and took them to the first state championship in four decades. There’s tons - TONS - of community support there. That could be a great job in the making.

I know there are two local coaches among the finalists for the NW Cabarrus job. It’ll be interesting to see who gets it. I know one local coach who has applied is (wrongly) under fire from his school community. But I also hear a Rowan County coach is interested in it, too, as well as one guy already on staff.

I just think sometimes we can push good coaches out the door and I fear that is what is happening with one of the applicants. He’s had very good success with not a lot of talent. One high level coach told me yesterday, "We can be as good coaches as we want, but if you don’t have players, you can’t win."

Truer words were never spoken.

Q. LW, let me guess, you’re going to be best man at your boy Tom Tindalls’ wedding. - Joe from Charlotte.

A. Joe, I’ve known Tom Knotts for 19 years now. I met him in 1989. He looked like an offensive lineman then. I’ve never been around him outside of a school or athletic field environment. I am not sure where some folks think Tommy and I are best friends. I’ve covered him a long time, but that’s about it. I try to not get close with those I write about. I think it’s prudent.
I would say the person I’m closest to in the high school world is not a coach at all, but an athletics director. But that won’t stop the Langston-is-Tommy’s-boy gravy train from rolling.

Q. Langs, I agree and disagree. Ur rite, colleges should not play on Friday. Ur wrong. South Meck WILL beat Indy this year. Write it now....BTW, who ya got in the election? -- Anonymous

A. Yeah, I hate to see colleges play on Fridays. That shouldn’t happen.

Glad to see your spirit about your Sabres. I love the fan base over there.

In the election, I’ve been a bit surprised by how things have gone. I liked McCain all along among the Republicans. Among Dems, I started with Hillary but Obama grew on me. I like him much better now. Should be fun in November.

Q. Hey, glad to see this Q&A is back. There's the persistent rumor around town that you are not going to be covering high school sports next year. Is that true? my other question is this one: if you had a big time recruit in your home would you keep him in state or send him to SEC or somewhere? - Anonymous

A. Glad you’re back to the Q&A, just adjust your bookmarks to http://prepinsiders.blogspot.com

I have heard this rumor. A lot of people have asked me about it - or them.

One was I was going to the Panthers and another had me going to cover colleges. For the record, I have not heard anything different from my bosses, Mike Persinger and Harry Pickett, about what I’m doing. Hope that puts an end to that.

On your second question, if I had a big-time football recruit, I think I’d tell him to try to stay in state, but that would be his decision (my oldest son, 8-year-old Trey, fancies himself as a basketball player; my baby boy, Khamani is a 4-year-old "future tackle football player" so hopefully one day I will be faced with such choice).

I see so many kids leave for SEC glory and sit on SEC bench. Why not play closer to home (South Carolina excluded) and be a major factor at State or Wake or UNC or even Duke? Start a new trend.

Q. Wofford probably would have smoked Notre Dame last year. - Anonymous

A. Anonymous is responding to a post from earlier this week. And to answer your question, Notre Dame was not a clear favorite against much of anyone in 2007.

Q. Langston, you are so right. The mood at The Big I has completely changed. Coach Knotts has his fire back, "the old TK". 8 is deff. in our grasp. The graduating class of 09 guaratees it. -- Anonymous

A. I’ve heard that. I do know that for the past 2.5 years, Indy wasn’t the Indy I saw when Knotts came there. To use one of his favorite quotes, they’d gotten "fat and happy."

Q. LW - UNCP did really well for a first year team last season. With there lastest recruiting class I think they will make some big noise this year! What are your thoughts? -- Anonymous

A. Which sport are we talking about?

Q. Langston, good story on the Providence girl today, but how about Butler's soccer team? No love for us yet? - Anonymous

A. Thanks on the Providence piece (http://www.charlotte.com/preps/story/613444.html). Rachel Patton is a neat girl. How about Butler? They’re, what, 14-3-1 and playing Hopewell in the second round of the playoffs Friday. Check Friday’s paper for a piece on the Dawgs.

Q. What's up with WC job? Who was the guy they hired and who are they looking at now? -- Anonymous

A. They initially offered the job, I hear, to a former CMS employee who was coaching in Florida. His second team finished 1-10 or 0-10 last year. Now, I heard a current CMS assistant coach interviewed today and a former playoff-level head coach is interested, too. Surprisingly, I’m not hearing a whole lot about the job. It’s an important hire, given all that’s happened and the Dub administration is wise to take its time and get the right guy.

Q. LW, in the past three weeks, there have been stories on AK and Providence girls soccer. How about one on the team that won the championship this year and lost in the state finals last year? That's Weddington if you didn't know.

A. Well, we have to take care of Mecklenburg County first. And I’ve got to figure out how to treat some of these border schools like Weddington and Marvin Ridge and Lake Norman.

A lot of my friends are moving to Western Union, enrolling their kids in Weddington and Marvin Ridge and still maintaining their lives here. I think those areas are getting our city edition. That’s something I need to investigate more.

But yes, I know about Weddington. Weddington is ranked No. 6 in the 4A poll, highest in our area, is 17-2-2 and won eight of their past nine. They tied Kell 3-3. And we did have a story in today's editions about your team. You see it?

(If you want to ask questions, email me at lwertz@charlotteobserver.com or just post them in the comments section below).

Watauga High wins sports award

Watauga wins Exemplary School Award
Two new major awards were presented to schools at the North Carolina High School Athletic Association Annual Meeting at the Smith Center on the University of North Carolina campus last
week.

Watauga High School was named the second annual winner of
the Exemplary School Award while Asheboro High School earned the 2008
Sportsmanship Award.

The awards are given as a cooperative venture among the
NCHSAA, the N.C. Coaches Association and the N.C. Athletic Directors Association.

In addition to a trophy and a banner for display at the respective schools, each school received a $1,000 cash award.

The Exemplary School Award recognizes the top overall school in the state in terms of the "total program," including but not limited to athletic success, scope of athletic opportunities offered, facilities, community interest and involvement, academics and the like.

Watauga is recognized as a North Carolina School of Distinction and is consistently ranked among the top in state Scholastic Aptitude Testing scores.

The Pioneers have won the Northwestern 4A Wachovia Conference Cup nine of the past 11 years and fields 33 different teams in 22 different sports. Already the school has won league titles in football, volleyball, men's and women's tennis, men's cross country and men's soccer
this year. Veteran track and cross country coach Randy McDonough, has
produced 68 conference championship teams and 10 NCHSAA state championship teams.

The girls' soccer program has won 16 conference championships since 1993 but has also won an NCHSAA Scholar-Athlete team award for nine consecutive years. More than that, though, many of the Watauga
athletic programs are involved in community service, including several that
conduct free clinics for youngsters.

The sportsmanship honor is designed to recognize a school that has been ejection free, has a plan to promote and implement good sportsmanship, is welcoming to visiting fans, makes appropriate accommodations for officials and their own fans demonstrate good sportsmanship.

Asheboro has made treating the visiting fans and teams a major priority. The booster club assists with the hospitality that is provided to visitors, and the school is continuing a streak of ejection free years.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Busy weekend for track and field

Top athletes from across the state of North Carolina will compete in a busy weekend of track as the North Carolina High School Athletic Association begins its state track and field championships.

The weekend of competition will feature 2A championships for both boys and girls on Friday, and then on Saturday the 4A championships will be held, all at the Irwin Belk Track on the campus of North Carolina A&T State University.

The 1-A and 3-A meets will be held next weekend.

Action in the field events will begin at 11 a.m. and running events will start at noon on Friday, while Saturday's schedule opens with field events at 10 am and running events at 11 a.m. It will be the 88th annual boys' championships and the 37th annual renewal of the girls' event.

Burlington Cummings is the two-time defending state 2A girls champion while North Rowan has won the team title among 2A boys four times in the past five years. Cummings was among the regional winners in girls, along with West Henderson and Swansboro. Among the regional champions in boys action were Shelby, Southern Guilford and North Brunswick.

Harding has earned three of the last four 4A girls titles while New Bern is the two-time
defending champ among the 4A boys.

Southeast Raleigh, Apex, West Charlotte and Myers Park all took regional titles last weekend in girls' competition, while Butler, Mallard Creek, New Bern and Southeast Raleigh won 4A boys regional events.

NCHSAA FastFacts
Event: NCHSAA Track and Field Championships, 2-A and 4-A classifications
Date: May 9-10, 2008, with 2-A men and women on May 9 and 4-A men and women
on May 10
Site: Irwin Belk Track, North Carolina A&T State University, Greensboro
First Held: 1913 for men, 1972 for women
Qualifiers: The top four finishers in each event, including relays,
qualified from the regional level to the state championship meet
Defending champions: women: 2-A, Burlington Cummings; 4-A, Charlotte
Harding University; men: 2-A. North Rowan; 4-A, New Bern.
Of Interest: the oldest men¹s track and field record still on the NCHSAA
books is the 1975 record-setting shot put of Mike Salzano of Northern Durham
at 61 feet, four and one-half inches.
Host City Sponsors: Greensboro Sports Commission, Greensboro Convention and
Visitors Bureau, Chick-Fil-A of Greensboro

-- Observer news services

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Hopewell, N. Meck decide it on field

Flip a coin, or decide it on the field?

North Mecklenburg and Hopewell, ME-CA 7 4A rivals and tied for the baseball conference lead, picked the green grass.

They’d split two regular-season games, and played Monday to determine which would receive the No. 1 playoff seed. North Meck won 13-9 in a an eight-inning game filled with crooked numbers (baseball slang for innings that don’t have 0’s and 1’s on the scoreboard).

North Meck had two four-run innings, and a three-run top of the first. Hopewell scored three in the first, and four in the fifth.

North Meck (18-4) jumped to an 8-4 lead. Hopewell (21-4) rallied to tie at 9. North Meck scored four in the top of the eighth.

Adam Eckstenkamper was 2-for-3 with two RBIs, and Sean Pope had a home run and three RBIs for North Meck.

Hopewell’s top hitters were Adam Waters (2-for-4), Keith Prowse (3-for-5, two doubles, two RBIs) and Cody Murtle (2-for-4, RBI).

It was an exciting game between rivals, on a beautiful spring night.

Detractors might say the coaches should have flipped a coin, and rested arms and legs for the playoffs, which begin Friday.

Others say what could be more exciting than a third meeting - winner take all?

What do you think?

Post your thoughts in the comments section below.

-- Cliff Mehrtens

Wertz Q&A: Indy, App still playing bully

Q. Independence Football 08 comments about next year? - Anonymous

A. Well lots of things have changed at the Big I, haven’t they? First time since 2000 they are not defending the state title. Coach Tom Knotts has gotten married and is having a kid. I don’t think that will change him. I would expect Tommy to be more focused than ever. I know his desire for 8 straight titles was huge, but I think given how everything happened last year, his desire to start a new streak is even greater now.

I just remember how sullen he looked at the championship ceremony watching someone other than him get to hold the trophy. I figure he doesn’t want to watch that again - or his returning players.

I’d install Indy as the favorite to win. Again. The bully is back.

Q. There were a few teams that were DQ’d during the track conference meet at Myers Park. On several occasions the officials refused to tell the coaches why their teams were DQ’d from events. Could you please look into this and provide a list of what DQ’s took place and why? -- Anonymous

A. Apparently, this happened at the ME-CA 7 meet and not the Southwestern, and stemmed from a school not getting regular meet officials and using school personnel instead.

Q. Langston, I had been wanting to ask you your thoughts on Coach Roy Williams wearing the Kansas sticker at the national championship game. I know you’re a UNC grad, but you’re pretty fair of the reporters up there. -- Anonymous

A. I saw it and thought a lot of people would get all up in arms about it. I didn’t think it was that big a deal. The man spent a quarter of his life at Kansas, fighting for all things KU. In ’93 when UNC played in the final and Kansas lost in the semis, he did the same thing in reverse. I wouldn’t have done it, if I were in his shoes, and I doubt too many other coaches would do it either, but Roy’s his own guy, and that’s a big part of his appeal.

Q. L-Dub, you won’t answer this but do reporters really think we believe they are neutral and don’t have favorite teams? Most of you Observer folks went to Chapel Hill that’s why so much Chapel Hill news is in the paper. - John G.

A. John, I don’t hide where I went to school. But “most folks” at our sports department didn’t go to Chapel Hill. If the Tar Heels didn’t have the fan support, winning programs and the interest they generate (which helps us sell papers at this business), they wouldn’t get the kind of coverage they do. We have to try to write about what people care about most. It’s a tough thing to do, but I think our coverage is pretty fair. Look at all of it and not just the days Carolina is on the cover.

I hear from UNC fans all the time that claim we’re biased against them, so as long as I hear it from both sides, I think we’re doing pretty well.

As for playing favorites, reporters are people too. We grew up watching sports and liking players and liking teams. But this is a business and you have to maintain a neutral stance when covering events and do the best job you can telling the story of that event.

Q. Langston, speaking of '08 football champs and App State in the same breath, how well do you think the Mountaineers football team will fare this fall? With two of the area's highly recruited players, SM QB Jey Yokeley and Indy RB Rod Chisholm, playing for App State this fall, we have even more reasons to support!

A. I think App will be strong again. They’ve got a good nucleus back, an outstanding QB and incredible fan support. Their title run last year, to me, was one of the best stories in our area, especially the beating Michigan at Michigan part. Wow, I couldn’t believe that.

Q. You surprised Titus went to Buffalo? I know you thought he might be higher major with a year of prep. -- Anonymous

A. Buffalo had been the school recruiting East Meck’s Titus Robinson the hardest all year. They really worked him and he’ll get big playing time there. Could he have gone to a bigger player by going to prep school? Maybe, but in his mind, I guess there was no need to gamble. He’ll be fine in Buffalo. We’ll send him some snow shoes and a ski mask.

Q. How do you think the twins, Whitney and Britney will do at Virginia? -- Anonymous

A. That’s hard to say. We’re talking about the Edwards twins from P-Diddy, guys. When she was a sophomore, I thought Britny was going to be one of the better players to come out of here in awhile. By her senior year, I thought Whitny had surpassed her sister.

How they do in college really depends on how they get used. Whitny’s a good outside shooter, Britny’s potentially a mismatch combo forward (too big for small girls and too quick for big ones). I’d say Whitny needs minutes and Britny needs hunger, ultimately.

Q. Have you heard of any names in the running for the boys head basketball coaching job at WC? - Anonymous

A. Sorry I missed your question before Dub AD Masanori Toguchi gave it to Baronton Terry of South Meck. I’ve seen Terry do his thing. He coaches a complex up-tempo style and I think he may be one of the hidden gems in the city. Now on a much bigger stage at Dub, he could help turn around a struggling program and establish himself as an elite coach around here, and we could use a few the way we’ve been losing them lately (Barbara Nelson of Providence Day; Gosnell White of Dub; Jerry Faulkner of Latin et al).

Q. Well we know Flowers won’t coach in public school in state. You hearing anything?

A. Heard a few rumors, but let’s wait to see how things pan out.

Q. I hear that two of the private school AD jobs will open soon. Any idea who might come in?

A. I know the two jobs you speak of. It’s been long rumored. I don’t know, but if two AD jobs come open at any of the Big Four, I’d expect folks to chase it hard. They pay well. They’re high profile. And they’re about as close as you come to running a small college without quite as many headaches as the guy at a small college.

Q. Would you say that Latin volleyball coach Suzie Pignetti is the best girls coach we’ve ever had here?

A. She’s on a short list with Providence’s Zoe Bell and Providence Day’s Barbara Nelson, among others. Bell, particularly, impressed me that she could so thoroughly rough-house the competition in softball and then dominate even more in volleyball. Most coaches, like players, are one-sport specialists.

Q. Lang, the association’s board meeting is this week. If I remember correctly, they plan to discuss eligibility issues. What changes could they implement and what do you think the state should do? -- Anonymous

The state put out their plan. The local team will put out their plan soon. They meet this week.

Q. Langston just curious to what you think about the SW4A this year. I think East Meck has a good chance to shine. How do you think they will fare? - Shane.

A. East has a load of talent and a good young quarterback. You have to replace an absolute stud in RB Mike Mayhew, who’s the best at that school since, wow, Carlos Horton back in the early ‘90s. I think East and South and Butler will chase Indy for the league title.

Q. What will become of the indy patriots football team they still have the number 2 rank safety in the country in Holloman. - Anonymous

A. People, Indy lost in the state finals. They lost several players before the game, including their top offensive weapon in Rod Chisholm, and another right at game time and if a wide receiver catches a wide open pass, they’re up 21-0 and that game is over. I think Indy is still the best team in our state, and having Devonte Holloman certain doesn’t hurt.

Other teams are catching up, but I get the sense that the Patriots will have some of the hunger they had back in 2000-03 when they were building the program and less of the attitude that they had recently - the “we can turn it on when we need to” mentality.

I think the 2007 final was a reality check.

Q. Now that the coach of southmeck is at west charlotte do u think that ian miller will transfer again to play for him an i heard there could be other players moving there too from powerhouse teams in the area - Anonymous

A. I’ve heard this a lot since I reported that news last week, about Ian Miller. I don’t know if he’ll leave. If he does and moves and does it properly, that’s his and his family’s decision. Would he help West Charlotte? Absolutely. Miller, to me, is one of the five best rising juniors in our state, a potential All-American by his senior year. Will other players move? You just don’t know.

This time of year is hot for rumors. Y’all know my policy by now: until I see them on a new campus, I’m assuming they’ll stay where they are.

Q. Have you heard anything about what’s going on over at South Lake with basketball? I heard the coach is trying to build the program up with some our areas top basketball players. - Anonymous

A. Haven’t heard anything, but that coach is doing the same thing every other coach is doing - trying to build a program. Basketball is extremely competitive around here and it’s starting - thankfully - to get back to how it used to be in the ‘80s and ‘90s: good players, good teams chasing championships. Nice to see Queen City ball getting back to that.

Q. Anonymous rates Yokeley from SM as one "of the areas highly recruited players". He's going to be a walk-on at App, didn't even get offered a scholarship. Where do people get their info from?

A. Yokeley got a lot of college looks. I would say he was highly recruited. I think, though, when people say “Joe was highly recruited” it has to mean Joe got looks from Michigan, Notre Dame and USC. But it can be Wingate, Wofford and Western Kentucky. If it’s multiple schools you’re being recruited pretty well in my book.

Q. LW--not a bad spring for the Weddington teams--SW4A girls soccer champs, boys baseball and girls softball in tournament finals. Not bad for a school that should be playing 3A if you look at enrollment. Tonight boys face MP--a school with over 2X as many students.

A. Yes, indeed. I agree. Weddington is really starting to get its footing.

Q. The facts about Yokeley being "highly recruited" by colleges are absolutely true and come directly from the kid's coaches, both SM and colleges including App State. Where does the other writer's info come from? ... I will not speak for others but this kid has shown nothing but character and untapped, undeniable talent. App State fans are happy and fortunate to have him. Time and opportunity will tell the rest of the story. - Anonymous

A. And here is where we should end this particular part of the Jey Yokeley discussion. I wish the kid well and hope he makes himself some nice memories up on the mountain. He deserves that.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Colleges should leave Friday night football to high schools

Before it scheduled a Friday night college football game with Wofford on ESPN2 for Halloween night, Appalachian State’s athletic department contacted its local high school, Watauga, and the N.C. High School Athletic Association to let them know about their plans.

That was a good move, but I still hope this is not a trend.

Friday nights are for high school football. Always have been. College football shouldn’t be played on Friday nights. Ever.

I get why App. State would want to play the game. It’s national TV. It’s a big matchup between teams that shared the Southern Conference title last year.

Bottom line, ESPN shouldn’t even be offering schools these Friday night games as it has done since 2004. Schools, like App. State, are hard pressed to say no to a rare shot at national exposure, which can greatly aid recruiting – and Pandora’s box is opening wider and wider. Can I see a day where we have a weekly Friday night football package of college football? I think I can. And it’s not a good thing.

High schools depend on Friday night football to pay the bills for entire athletics departments. Putting college football games on at the same time creates unnecessary competition, especially when high school football literally feeds the college game with players. Also teams such as Appalachian, which might hope to showcase itself to those potential recruits, would be playing these showcase games at the same time the recruits are playing for their high school teams. So those recruits would have to TiVo.

It’s not a win-win.

The App. State-Wofford game forced Watauga High to move its game to Thursday. I don’t think a Thursday night crowd will be the same as on a Friday. Kids have to go to school the next day, parents to work. I think too many people will stay home. And on Friday, there will be fans of other teams who also stay home to watch the big Southern Conference college game and not support the local high schools.

Again, it’s not a win-win.

N.C. High School Athletic Association executive director Charlie Adams was appreciative that Appalachian officials gave his organization plenty of warning about this year’s game. That allowed schools to change game dates if needed. But he said this can’t continue. And he’s right. Colleges simply can’t call up and say, "Sorry, you’re playing Thursday this week." That won’t make playing on Fridays OK.

"We do not support any college or university televising a football game in the traditional Friday night high school football slot," Adams said. "We hope that this is not the beginning of a consistent pattern of games being played and televised in North Carolina on the primary night that high school teams play, because we believe that could really damage our programs."

And that’s definitely not a win-win.

-- Langston Wertz Jr.