FOUR QUESTIONS: A CONVERSATION WITH… CHRIS HOBBS
Chris Hobbs is the sports editor of the Hickory Daily Record in Catawba County and has had an impressive career covering high school athletics. A native of Catawba County, this is his 39th year covering high school football. He is known for keeping meticulous records of the schools he covers and has been very helpful with the NCHSAA Record Book as a result.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in high school athletics during your career?
Several come to mind:
1. A general always moving forward aspect, including the benefits of corporate sponsorship and their impact on how it has allowed the North Carolina High School Athletic Association to add vital programs that benefit student-athletes off the field often as much or more than on the field.
The NCHSAA has done an excellent job addressing and making sure that an early concern from the outside looking in – that corporate money would lead to things like Company A’s logo having to be painted in every school’s football end zones – never came to fruition and that there were no strings tied, so to speak, to the corporate donations.
2. Fewer and fewer coaches staying within one community for 30 or 40 years. Coaching tenures are much shorter, the turnover of coaches much greater than when I first began covering preps in the mid-1970s. That can probably be attributed to many things – the long hours worked by teachers and coaches, compensation and still-growing expectations among some parents that simply participating in a sport should result in a college athletic scholarship for their son or daughter.
3. From a media standpoint, there are so many more avenues for exposure for student-athletes – more TV, more video, more everything – and I’m not sure the accuracy of a lot of the information disseminated is what it was in the old days. Social media is now a factor and that often leads to inaccurate information spreading like wildfire, and we (media) also now face covering more off-the-field and in the legal system incidents. In the old days, we seldom (if ever) were dealing with stories that involved police reports, etc. In that respect, coverage of high school athletics has intensified as society’s attention to prep athletes has increased two to three fold because of the multitude of websites devoted to following high school athletics.
What is one of the most memorable games you’ve ever covered?
There are so many that the years now sometimes run together. And the memories often aren’t as much about who played as what happened. One in football, basketball and two in baseball that stand out:
Football – The night a young sophomore running back named Natrone Means finished with more rushing yards than the entire A.L. Brown team. Means and his Central Cabarrus team did not win, but it was apparent to anyone in the stadium that Means was special. I left the stadium that night certain I had seen a future NFL running back.
Basketball – A late 1970s night in Gastonia, with the two top-ranked teams in the state — Hickory and Gastonia Ashbrook (and I don’t remember which was No. 1 and which was No. 2) – playing an old Western 4A Conference boys game. At one point in the game, Hickory’s Al Young – a star guard who later played at Virginia Tech – drove the baseline at one end of the floor for a fairly impressive dunk over/around Ashbrook’s James Worthy and he stared at Worthy.
Undaunted and still in his quiet but dramatic way, Worthy answered at the other end by driving the right baseline, threw down a “monster” slam over Young and gave Young the eye as well.
Baseball – Sitting on the front row of bleachers at Balls Creek Optimist Park near Catawba around 1980 or so watching Bandys’ varsity baseball team prepare to play. On the mound was a sophomore, maybe age 15, named Bryan Harvey. He was a hard-throwing right-hander but his pitches were basically, at times, all over the place.
I turned to someone sitting beside me and said “That’s a major league fastball… only problem is he doesn’t know where it’s going.”
Harvey, of course, reached the major leagues and played nearly 10 seasons, was an all-star in both leagues, and was the top relief pitcher in major league baseball at one point.
Traveling to Eastern North Carolina to see what all the fanfare about East Carteret pitcher Brien Taylor was all about. He was lanky with a smooth arm and good poise… and then he threw the ball. All you heard – it was hard to see the ball – was a swooshing sound, much like a train passing at high speed. Best I remember, Fuquay-Varina (the home team) got bat to ball twice, a foul ball and a grounder to second base. Taylor was eventually the No. 1 pick in the amateur draft by the New York Yankees.
Who are some of the greatest athletes you’ve seen play in person during your time as a journalist?
With apologies to hundreds of others:
Football (in no specific order): Natrone Means of Central Cabarrus; Heath Shuler of Swain County; Tyrone Westmoreland of South Iredell; Leon Johnson of Freedom; Ryan Succop of Hickory; Mackie Rhinehardt of Maiden; Dennis “Dink” Hollar of Bandys; Curt Dukes of Newton-Conover; Mike Thomas of Richmond County; Clint Gwaltney of Shelby; Mike Morton of A.L. Brown; Richard Huntley, Monroe.
Girls basketball (in no specific order): Andrea Stinson of North Mecklenburg; Christy Cagle of Hayesville; Beth Laney and Mitzi Yount of Bandys; Tracy Connor of South Rowan; Tisha England of Newton-Conover; Jennifer Howard of Fred T. Foard; Sally Reid, Fred T. Foard.
Boys basketball (in no specific order): James Worthy of Gastonia Ashbrook; Vernon Odom of Bandys; Casey Rogers of Freedom; Sleepy Floyd, Hunter Huss; Brian Franklin, McDowell; Bobby Jackson, Salisbury.
Baseball (in no specific order): Madison Bumgarner of South Caldwell, Bryan Harvey and Hunter Harvey of Bandys; David Craft of Hickory; Brien Taylor of East Carteret; Kevin Millwood, Bessemer City; Jimmy Fortenberry, East Lincoln.
If you could wave a magic wand (that worked), what is one thing you’d like to change in high school athletics?
1. Overall, adjustments of the state playoffs in some sports (if not all) in which teams with losing records do not qualify.
2. Consideration be given to the state football and basketball championships being played in an East-West format, alternating hosts, and the games be played at the nearest college facility in that side of the state, especially in football. An example: Swain County vs. East 1A winner at Western Carolina or Appalachian State (then the following year’s game at a college facility nearest the East 1A champion).
3. From a media (and otherwise) standpoint, a more computerized systematic way for conference standings and school athletic records to be handled by school systems or the NCHSAA so that the state playoff pairings bracketing process would be faster because all game results would be readily available to those working the brackets.
If accomplished, it would lend itself more toward having the brackets revealed on the Sunday following the end of the regular season in football, by a podcast or on TV because of the excitement that would generate and because of the number of people very interested in seeing the football matchups.