LUMBERTON — While high school sports will resume in November and into the spring, some of the staples of each sport’s season in Robeson County will not happen in the 2020-21 school year.
Public Schools of Robeson County athletic director Jerome Hunt says the annual Robeson County Shootout basketball tournament and Robeson County Slugfest baseball and softball tournaments will not be held this school year.
While the North Carolina High School Athletic Association will sanction a season in all three sports, the condensed nature of this year’s athletic calendar leaves schools without the scheduling flexibility to play in tournaments such as the Shootout and Slugfest.
“It’s very disappointing, because that’s a great time of the year for everybody to come together to watch some good basketball, and in the spring watch some good baseball,” Hunt said.
Coaches across the county shared in the disappointment that the events will not be held.
“We’re in trying times right now and everything is different, but when you talk about an event that’s so monumental in our county, to finally win it and not be able to defend the championship, it stinks,” said St. Pauls girls basketball coach Mike Moses, whose Bulldogs team won the 2019 Shootout.
”It’s a loss to the basketball programs as well as the fans in the county,” said Red Springs boys basketball coach Glenn Patterson, who has coached the Red Devils in 27 Shootouts. “But of course, due to the pandemic, this is not the norm.”
The news is especially disappointing for the county’s baseball and softball programs, whose season this spring was stopped because of the pandemic.
“We didn’t get to play it last (school) year, and this year we’ve only got seven playing weeks so logistically it’s impossible to get it in this year,” said Purnell Swett baseball coach Jeff Lamb, whose Rams team won the 2019 Slugfest. “We had a run going in the Slugfest — I think it’s seven years in a row we’ve been to the championship game.”
While the Slugfest has been canceled before by weather, and this year because of the pandemic, this is the first time the Shootout has been canceled since the boys tournament began in 1986 and the girls in 1993.
Money raised annually by the tournaments goes back to the participating schools’ athletic departments. Hunt says the schools have gotten as much as $2,000 for the Shootout and $500 to $600 for the Slugfest.
To offset at least some of that loss, Hunt says the county plans to hold preseason jamborees for the county schools across various sports, with money going back to the participants. The already-existing football jamboree at Lumberton will continue. The county is looking to potentially have some of those events at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Other nonconference events
The Shootout is not the only nonconference event involving Robeson County schools affected by the condensed schedule.
Patterson said Red Springs is unsure if a second MLK Classic will be feasible, after the school held the first edition of the event on Martin Luther King Day in January.
“We’re waiting to see how the conference, how they’re going to do (the schedule),” Patterson said. “We’re allowed 14 games and we’re trying to see the format they’re going to come up with, to be fair to every team. Once they do that, if there’s any way we can squeeze a game in, (we’ll try to).”
Scotland and Richmond, who participated in the event this year, expect to fill their entire 14-game schedule with Sandhills Athletic Conference games. Southern Lee, however, plays in a smaller conference and will have some nonconference availability. But the biggest factor remains how the Three Rivers Conference, where Red Springs competes, formats its schedule.
Elsewhere, the St. Pauls girls were scheduled to play in Southeast Raleigh’s Thanksgiving tournament, the John Wall Classic in Raleigh and the She Got Game Classic in either Washington D.C. or the Charlotte area. All three events have been canceled.
“This preseason right here was going to be amazing for us,” Moses said. “Those girls last year earned all of this, the right to be invited to all these things, and now they’re being canceled. That stinks, man, it really does; you work so hard for something and it’s taken away from you.”
It appears annual in-county nonconference games, such as the traditional basketball rivalry between Lumberton and Fairmont, will have to wait until 2021-22.
Virtual learning impact
With the Robeson County School Board voting Tuesday to continue virtual learning for the second nine weeks of the 2020-21 school year, the Public Schools of Robeson County will remain in an off-campus learning situation when the NCHSAA’s first sports to play this year — volleyball and cross country — are scheduled to begin in November.
The NCHSAA will allow schools to play without returning to in-person classes, and currently allows skill development activities, limited to 25 participants indoors and 50 outdoors. Robeson County, however, has yet to allow any of those activities, such as workouts, to resume.
“That’s something that the school board will have to decide, but we’re definitely hoping that even if we’re virtual the second nine weeks we’ll still be able to take part in volleyball and cross country, until we can actually get back in the buildings,” Hunt said. “The state says you can do it, so I’ve got a good feeling the school board will allow us to also.”
Coaches are certainly eager to resume some activity with their athletes — and quick to point out that surrounding counties are allowing workouts.
“These athletes, not just my girls, need to be doing something,” Moses said. “There’s other counties that are back working out, and practicing, and we’re just kind of sitting around right now.”
Middle school sports wait
Hunt says local middle school sports plan to follow a similar schedule to the high schools, with condensed seasons primarily in the spring semester.
However, the difficulty with middle school sports is that students have no way to get to campus if they’re not already there for in-person classes.
“High-school kids, a lot of them can drive, so they can get to the school for practice, games,” Hunt said. “Middle-school kids obviously will have trouble getting to the schools, with parents working all the time, so the main thing with middle school is just getting them back inside the building before we’re able to do anything.”