Earl Vaughan is the scholastic sports editor and religion writer at the Fayetteville Observer. Inducted into the Fayetteville Sports Club Hall of Fame in 2012, he chairs the selection committee for the NCHSAA Athlete of the Year and has been one of the state’s top prep writers for many years, with four decades of experience in the Cape Fear region.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in high school athletics during your career?
One that I'm not happy with is the disappearance of the career coach, the ones who gave 20-plus years to the profession. I'm not seeing anymore people like Doris Howard, Len Maness, John Daskal, Bob Paroli, D.T. Carter, Tom Jackson, Gil Bowman and Dean Saffos, to name a few. Not to disparage the work of younger coaches in the business, but I think we miss the wisdom and knowledge that can be shared by veterans of the game like these giants.
What is one of the most memorable games you’ve ever covered?
I have to mention two. The first was the 1-A state title game between Maxton and North Duplin. The Maxton football team still ranks as the greatest single unit I've ever had the privilege of covering. They beat North Duplin 86-8 in the state finals. James McDougald, who went on to play at Wake Forest, rushed for 327 yards, while also playing on defense. He left the game offensively in the third quarter.
The other was the 1991 miracle team from South View that rallied for two touchdowns in the final quarter of the Eastern final and upset an unbeaten Wilmington New Hanover team 35-34 on Jorge Rios-Marti's extra point with no time left on the clock. The next week they upset West Charlotte, then unbeaten and nationally-ranked, 10-7 for the 4-A title.
Who are some of the greatest athletes you’ve seen play in person during your time as a journalist?
I've been blessed to cover athletes like Brad Edwards at Douglas Byrd and Harry Sydney from Seventy-First, both who today wear Super Bowl rings. I saw Jeff Capel and Robert Brickey, both basketball stars at Duke, soar to great heights when they played at South View and E.E. Smith, respectively. I still follow the exploits of Shea Ralph, who set a basket full of NCHSAA records while playing basketball at Terry Sanford. She won a national title at UConn, helped coach a gold-medal winning U.S. women's team in the Olympics, and is now on Geno Auriemma's staff at her college alma mater.
If you could wave a magic wand (that worked), what is one thing you’d like to change in high school athletics?
I would eliminate all traveling, off-season and AAU competition in every sport. I think there is plenty of information available today that we are wearing our young athletes out far too early in their careers. If they choose to pursue individual training opportunities in the off-season to stay in condition, that's one thing. But I think the pressure of year-round organized team events, in some cases overseen by people with questionable motives and no true concern for the physical well-being of the athletes under their charge, is going to kill traditional high school sports eventually.