FOUR QUESTIONS: A CONVERSATION WITH… CHRIS HUGHES
CarolinaPreps.com founder Chris Hughes started his website in 2007 and has established it as one of the primary websites in North Carolina that covers high school football. His background in the business allows him to offer a unique perspective as a former coach.
A native of Kannapolis, Chris graduated from South Rowan and enlisted in the U.S. Army and became a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg. He later became an assistant football coach at South Rowan High School and would later make stops at Douglas Byrd High School in Fayetteville, and Southern Lee High School in Sanford.
Since beginning Carolina Preps, he’s offered football and basketball camps and combines, has been invited to speak at numerous coaching clinics and other events, and has become a regular on multiple television and radio programs that promote high school sports.
In addition to his role with Carolina Preps, Chris is also a staff member with the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas and he’s twice broadcasted the Shrine Bowl game on ESPN-U.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in high school athletics during your career?
I’ve seen a lot of changes, both good and bad, in high school athletics over the course of my career. The most notable is explosive growth that social media and Internet reporting has had on the sports. When I first began coaching, and later covering high school sports, you would have to wait until the next day’s newspaper to be delivered know how other teams in your conference fared, or for playoff brackets to be released. Now, instead of waiting on your local sports writer to publish scores and news, everyone has become a sports reporter with the advent of social media sites and smart phones.
The main change I’ve seen, and in my opinion, for the bad, is the continuing trend of seeing parents and coaches push student athletes to specialize on a single sport. With travel teams becoming big business, playing sports have gone from being a fun activity that is designed to add balance to a kid’s life, to now becoming more of a job. Not only have travel or club teams caused athletes to become burned out and more injury prone to being over worked, but these teams have also taken away from the high school’s programs as well.
How did your web site covering North Carolina high school sports get started?
As a teenager growing up in Kannapolis, I became a huge fan of the work Arnold Solomon did with his N.C. Prep Football News yearbook and newsletters. As far back as I can remember, I would study football scores, rankings, and the history of high school football in North Carolina.
After a brief coaching career, and after being medically retired from the U.S. Army due to a serious spine injury, I decided to start my own publication to cover high school sports and provide my own unique perspective on the game, and essentially become an online history book for high school football in our state.
What are some of the projects you’ve been involved with of which you are particularly proud? The project of cataloging all the high school football stadiums in the state seems massive, but that certainly seems like a labor of love in many ways.
There are three things about Carolina Preps that I feel sets it apart from any other prep football publication. As you mentioned, the Stadium Project is a labor of love that has taken on a life of its own. But I’m also proud of the relationships we’ve made with coaches across the state and acting as an advocate for them, and potentially the third, and most important facet is the historical research we’ve done in researching nearly every high school football score dating back to 1960.
The Stadium Project began in 2008 when my family and I were driving through Pitt County on the way to the beach and I saw a sign for D.H. Conley High School. I took a quick detour to check out the stadium and decided I would take a few photos. From that point forward, anytime I saw a school that I hadn’t been too, I would stop and take photos. After that, it became somewhat of an obsession to visit new stadiums and the reception on the website and from the public was overwhelmingly positive.
To date, I’ve been to every high school in North Carolina, and have high quality galleries of all but a few stadiums in the state.
But as proud as I am about the stadium galleries, I’m equally proud of the fact that we’ve been able to research the scores of nearly every football game in the state for over 50 years. I had already been keeping my own records, but they only went back about 12 years, but when Jim West joined our team, he took our research to a new level. Being a CPA and an incredible auditor, he spent several years in libraries across the state documenting scores, stats, and has unearthed a lot of stories from the past.
Away from your work, what are some things that you enjoy doing?
I enjoy traveling across North Carolina with my family and enjoying all that our state has to offer, and I take pride in knowing that I’m exposing my children to a lot of history and culture. When I’m not working, I can often be found relaxing in the hammock or watching my two favorite television channels, the History Channel and Smithsonian Network.