I had no idea what I was getting into when I first joined The Daily Record back in September 2018.
The only thing I knew about Harnett County was that it was home to Campbell University, my dad’s alma mater, which he had always described as being “in the middle of nowhere.” But it had already been three months since I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I had been passed up for several jobs in bigger cities, and I needed to find somewhere I could get a start. So I figured Dunn was as good of a place as any to begin my career.
But I didn’t know saying goodbye 16 months later would be this hard.
This is my final week covering high school games. I’ll be moving to Charlotte to start working at Sporting News in February. It’s still a bit surreal to me.
In the 507 days I’ve worked at The Daily Record, I’ve been blessed to cover some great teams, as well as some so-so teams and even some not-so-great teams. But no matter where I’ve gone or who I’ve covered, I’ve always had the pleasure of being surrounded by a fantastic community.
That starts with the staff at The Daily Record. I couldn’t be more thankful to former editor Lisa Farmer, who took a chance on a baby-faced college graduate and gave me free range to come up with ideas on how to shape our sports coverage while also offering insights on the ins and outs of each community we cover.
And I’m thankful for current editor Emily Weaver, who’s done a fantastic job following in Lisa’s footsteps and maintaining the high standards for hyper-local news coverage The Daily Record has held for many years.
I also want to thank all my co-workers who made me feel welcome from the day I stepped into the office, especially my fellow newsroom workers (Laura Patterson, Rick Curl, Eliot Duke, Tony Feagin and former reporter Tom Woerner). Work is work, but it’s a lot more fun when you know you’ll be around people you enjoy, and people who are passionate about delivering the community the news coverage it deserves.
Outside of the office, I’ve been lucky to witness some incredible games, interview some impressive athletes and get to know coaches who make an impact on young lives every single day.
Looking back at my time covering Triton, the thing that sticks out most is the quality of the student-athletes. So many of my favorite Student-Athlete of the Week stories were from Triton — Tatiana Muniz, Derreon Burnett, Anaya Lockamy, Ella Layn, Josiah Beasley, Ro’Mello Cowan, Daughtry Williams, Taft Stevens, Michael Carvin — all of them were fantastic representatives of a great community. It’s also not surprising considering so many of my favorite coaches are from Triton — T.J. Morrison, Wendy Simmons, Mark Whitman, Ben Penny and Brian Foster, just to name a few.
I had the fortune of covering some great female athletes at Central, with my second Student-Athlete of the Week being Maggie McCormick. She had a great cross country season, finishing second in the 2018 NCHSAA 3A state championship meet, but what impressed me most was the class with which she handled coming up short in that final race. I also got to cover a couple of conference champions in the girls basketball and softball teams, both led by an excellent coach in Chelsey Cabe. I witnessed the football program finish with a winning record for the first time since 2010, led by as classy a Student-Athlete of the Week winner there’s been in Everett Blake. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention athletic director and boys basketball coach Will Gage, who’s in his 30th year at the school and was always kind and helpful whenever I reached out to him.
The one thing that stood out about Midway during my time here was the number of successful teams and the leadership on each of those teams. The Raiders have had four conference champions and six playoff teams, as well as an individual state champion in the time I’ve covered them. Whether it was Alyssa Wrench and Caitlyn Holland dominating in volleyball, Wrench and J.J. Sankey getting it done both in basketball and softball, Chandler Williford and Carson Calcutt shining on the baseball diamond or Logan Patrick lighting up the golf course, the Raiders seemed to have at least one team show out every season. And I’m not sure if any team was more fun to watch this past fall than Midway’s football team, with senior leaders in Cameron Barefoot and Deantae Byrd continuing the school’s winning traditions.
I think boys basketball coach and athletic director Brody Massengill summed it up best when he said, “We might not always have the most talented teams at South Johnston, but you can almost always expect our teams to compete.” There’s something about the way so many of South’s teams have found ways to be successful, and there’s no better example than the Trojans’ boys basketball team. Sure, they’ve had some star power via the likes of C.J. Ray, JaQuain Smith and Jacob Thornton. But what’s made them successful is having every single player 100% bought in and willing to do whatever it takes to win. And that’s how so many South Johnston teams operate. There truly is something special about the “Trojan way.”
Out of all the schools I’ve covered, there isn’t one that has a bigger collective chip on its shoulder than Western. It doesn’t matter how down an Eagles team is, you can expect them to scratch and fight and claw until the very end. The best example of this to me was when Western’s baseball team struggled to find consistency throughout the regular season but, led by current ECU freshman Bradley Wilson along with six other seniors who signed to play at the next level, the Eagles were able to rally together to win the Tri-County Conference Tournament and clinch a postseason berth.
One of the two best football games I’ve covered for The Daily Record was in Overhills’ season opener at Triton. The Jaguars trailed by 18 points with 7:48 remaining in the fourth quarter, but led by junior quarterback Chris Perkins in his first ever varsity game, they were able to complete the miraculous comeback. I have a feeling I’ll be keeping up with Perkins at the next level in a couple of years. I was also lucky to see the Jaguars make history by sweeping the Harnett County Tipoff in 2018, continuing their recent run of dominance in the tournament.
The other one of the two best football games I covered happened one night earlier at Hobbton, in which eventual Record Player of the Year Grayson Rogers led the Wildcats to an unbelievable comeback against East Chapel Hill. Rogers’ magic carried over the rest of the year, leading Hobbton to its first winning season and first playoff victory since 2010. Of all the athletes I’ve covered, I don’t think there’s anyone who’s a better leader than Rogers. And he made Hobbton one of my favorite teams to cover week in and week out.
I didn’t get to cover a lot of the regular season, but the postseason run CFCA’s softball team went on to win the 2019 NCISAA 1A State Championship was as impressive as anything I got to see my entire time at The Daily Record. Not only was I wowed by the play of the Lady Eagles, but also by the constant love and support that was shown by fans in blue and gold, in spite of the sweltering heat that persisted throughout the tournament. That team, along with delightful Student-Athlete of the Week winners like Kristen Bass, E.J. Bethea, Zykia Matthews and Ella John Dupree, was a perfect example of what it means to represent your community with pride.
I don’t think I could have been at The Daily Record at a better time to cover Campbell athletics. The Camels had their most successful all-around year in athletics, winning the school’s first ever Big South Sasser Cup in 2018-19. Among all the great stories from Campbell in my time here, two of them stick out. First, the success of the men’s basketball team, which won the Big South regular season title and earned a berth to the NIT thanks to Chris Clemons, who led the nation in scoring and now currently plays for the Houston Rockets. Getting to profile an athlete of Clemons’ caliber was a dream come true, and an experience I’ll never forget. Second, the run the baseball team went on to win the Big South championship and advance to the final game of the Greenville regional at East Carolina. Led by local heroes like Midway alumnus Matthew Barefoot and Harnett Central alumnus Tyson Messer — who were both taken in the 2019 MLB Draft — the Camels were a joy to watch every time they stepped out on the field.
I still remember the day, early in my time at The Daily Record, when a woman called, thanking me for the Student-Athlete story I wrote on her daughter and telling me she wanted to get it framed. The thought that my words might live on forever, hung up on a wall in someone’s house, stuck under a magnet on a refrigerator in someone’s kitchen, or even collecting dust in someone's attic, was something that brought me unprecedented joy. It’s something I tried to consider with every story I wrote: “Make this story worth holding onto. Make your words mean something.” So to anyone who’s ever held onto a newspaper clipping, shared an article I wrote, reached out to thank me or even to offer constructive criticism — thank you.
It’s going to be hard not working on the local sports beat anymore. While I may not have had any connection to the area before I came here, I’ve come to know and love each of the individual communities that I’ve covered. I’m so curious to see how South’s boys basketball team finishes the season, how Josiah Beasley finishes his swimming career and Michael Carvin finishes his wrestling career at Triton, whether or not Central’s softball team can reload and win a third-straight conference title, how Hobbton’s baseball team does in Jason Fussell’s first season and how Midway does with Cory Barnes filling his place. There are so many great stories yet to be written for these schools, and while I may no longer be the one writing them, you can bet that I’ll be avidly reading about all the teams from the place that became my second home.