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The ticket: The best act of sportsmanship, plus more weekly high school sports news, analysis, and insight

The best moment of the boys soccer championships didn’t include the ball. The display of sportsmanship escaped the sight of Clinton coach Brad Spell, but a number of fans (and luckily our camera) caught it.

With about 11 minutes left in a tightly-contested state championship game, which Clinton won 2-1, Newton-Conover’s Manny Marquinez slid towards a bouncing ball in the box, hoping to score the tying goal. After his effort, his left hamstring cramped up.

Marquinez was in pain.

But as the ball exited the area and went to the other side of the field, Clinton goalkeeper Reid Walters began helping Marquinez stretch out the cramp.

Walters held Marquinez’s leg, stretching the cramp until a stoppage of play allowed trainers to get onto the field.

Marquinez made sure to thank Walters for helping him. Walters thought nothing of it. 

“I would want someone to help me if I was down. It’s just the right thing to do,” Walters said. “Where we’re from, you help everybody out. …. That’s kind of the way we were taught.”

But it was a welcomed sight in such a big moment. It was especially welcomed by Marquinez’s cramp, which he was was a seven on the 1-10 physical pain scale (10 being the most painful) and a 10 of 10 emotionally.

“They’re all nice guys, super nice. … It was a great gesture,” Marquinez said, “because there wouldn’t have been anyone on my team anywhere near to stretch me out right there, so it was a good move.”

Soccer parity?

An edict passed by the U.S. Soccer Federation in 2012 that disallowed players on U.S. Soccer Development Academy rosters from playing for their high school teams looked as though it would hamper the top boys soccer programs in the state. 

It was hard to tell in 2012, when Green Hope (in Cary) repeated the 4A title without its USSDA players. But the following 4A champions came from outside the Triangle and Charlotte — T.C. Roberson (in Asheville) and Reagan (in Pfafftown).

By 2018, it looks as though that initial impact as faded.

Green Hope is again the 4A champions, and the 3A and 1A champions all hailed from the Triangle. The runner-ups all came from Charlotte or its immediate outside communities.

More realignment news

Last week, we posted a breakdown of schools’ average daily membership numbers and how they rank were realignment to begin today.

A few of those schools will try to change classifications by next fall. 

The NCHSAA allows some teams to change classifications at the halfway point of a four-year realignment period. Typically, a school must have three things.

First, it must have the numbers (the NCHSAA did away with “playing up” years ago, save for allowing Raleigh parochial school Cardinal Gibbons to play 4A instead of 3A, and “playing down” has never happened) to fit in its new class; second, the numbers must be explained by some shift in the district’s population so that the decision is not made based on a one-off increase or decrease; and third, it must have reached agreements with its new conference to join and with its old conference to leave.

Some previous examples: Jay M. Robinson (Concord, N.C.) went from 4A to 3A because the school district shifted, causing a dramatic drop in enrollment; Cardinal Gibbons was allowed from 3A to 4A in part because the PAC-6 Conference accepted the Crusaders into their league.

The schools we know of that will be applying to change classes:

  • Vance County (Henderson / from 2A to 3A): Northern and Southern Vance were consolidated into one school this fall, giving two 2A schools 3A numbers. The school will join the Big Eight Conference.
  • Warren County (Warrenton / from 2A to 1A): The county has a declining population. No change in conference association will be needed as it already plays in a 1A/2A split league.
  • Morehead (Eden / from 3A to 2A): When the MillerCoors plant closed, a major job provider left. The number of students rapidly dropped. The Panthers would join the Mid-State 2A Conference with county foe Reidsville if approved. 
  • McMichael (Mayodan / from 3A to 2A): Same goes for the Phoenix, another Rockingham County school. Both schools asked the NCHSAA about changing classifications two years ago, right as the current realignment started. Both were proven right in their concerns that they would soon have a 2A-sized population.

There should also be a few new 1A schools that will receive conference assignments, including Eno River Academy (Hillsborough), Christ the King (Huntersville), Sugar Creek Charter (Charlotte), and Cabarrus Charter (Concord).


This week’s question: What were your thoughts on student section misconduct?

This week’s answer: Well, more than one thing can be true at the same time.

High school sports are made better by active student sections, but they can also be a detriment if the behavior is left unchecked.

You don’t have to be a Puritan to know that there are things said, both in unison and not, that go unpunished because they’re said to students from another school that would be unacceptable for a student to yell at a classmate during school hours and, in any other setting, unfathomable for one person to yell at a stranger.

This is uncomfortable territory for many. But there are judgment calls that have to be hashed out at the beginning of the school year and applied consistently, because, like pregame music, something that is “clean” is not always acceptable, and something that is “impolite” is not always unacceptable. 

I’ll be honest: I do wish more schools had a tighter leash. I’ve seen horrendous chants happen while administrators have sat idly by. And this is only the in-game behavior. Student sections can also provoke things by stoking the rivalry fires online.

But make no mistake, there is nothing that better adds to the atmosphere of a contest than a supportive student section.

It makes for tough questions like “How do you foster a great student section and encourage original thoughts and chants while also staying consistent with behavioral expectations?” And “How do you steer your students away from the model they see on TV from the often-vulgar college student sections without zapping the fun out of it?” And, of course, “How can you ask a student to exhibit better behavior than some of the adults (we’re role models whether we accept that mantle or not) in the same crowd?”

But make no mistake, schools should have something in place to deal with potential problems before they arise. As recent events have shown, unfortunately, your student section is more likely than ever to make the news for one or two bad apples.

J. Mike Blake

J. Mike Blake is an English teacher at Cardinal Gibbons High School in Raleigh and a contributor to He covered high school sports for a variety of newspapers in The News & Observer Publishing Company for 10 years and won 14 N.C. Press Association awards. He is also the only two-time winner of the N.C. Soccer Coaches Association’s media person of the year award.