4 QUESTIONS: A CONVERSATION WITH…LANGSTON WERTZ
Langston Wertz is a columnist and long-time sports writer at The Charlotte Observer. He has been with the Observer for more than 25 years, and part of his beat has always been high school athletics during his tenure there. He also has covered college sports, professional sports, golf and technology for the paper.
A 1984 graduate of West Charlotte and a 1988 graduate of UNC, he has been in charge of coverage of Mecklenburg County athletes since fall of 1989 and took over primary coverage of the high schools in the newspaper’s coverage area, now 133 in two states, in 1993. He was the winner of the NCHSAA State Award for Media Representative of the Year in 2013.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in high school athletics during your career?
The biggest change I've seen in my career covering high school athletics is just sheer size of the athletes. The athletes are bigger, stronger, faster and they set records at a record-setting pace. My first few years here, somebody running for 250 yards in football or scoring 30 points in basketball was a big deal. Nowadays, it happens almost every night.
I also cannot believe how much better Mecklenburg County football teams have gotten in the past 15 or so years. I think it really got started with the Panthers coming to Charlotte in the middle 90s and then Tom Knotts going to Independence at the start of the 2000s. Football was not very good when I got here in 1988 — Charlotte was a basketball town and in a lot of ways still is — but now Mecklenburg County football is among the best in the state.
I guess the last thing I've noticed is just how much better the middle school athletes are around Charlotte. They are so much more ready to compete right away. This wave of middle school kids coming along now in the 6th and 7th grades is unlike anything I have ever seen in my 26 years. I really, truly believe Charlotte-Mecklenburg is about to hit a Golden Age of football and basketball over the next five to 10 years.
Describe one of the most memorable games or events you’ve ever covered.
Probably the most memorable game I can think of is South Mecklenburg vs. West Charlotte in the 1993 football state semifinal. West Charlotte won 24-23 when South Meck, a huge underdog, could not get its field-goal unit onto the field as time ran out. Memorial Stadium, which seated 24,000 then, was packed. There were All-Americans on both sides of the field at a time when having local high school All-Americans was new to Charlotte fans. It was just one of those games you knew would be a defining moment for the city — and it turned out to be. I think that game, those teams, the attention they got, also helped spark a renaissance for prep football here.
Who are some of the greatest athletes you’ve seen play in person during your time as a journalist?
I've been fortunate. Guys you know: LeBron James, Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter, Dwight Howard, Steph Curry, Chris Leak, Maya Moore, Ivory Latta, Elijah Hood, TJ Logan, Mohamed Massaquoi, Hakeem Nicks, Ty Lawson, John Wall, Todd Gurley, Kennedy Meeks, Chris Paul, Raymond Felton….I could go on for a long time. Nearly every major North Carolina athlete of the past 20 years, I've covered somewhere or another. Working at a paper like the Charlotte Observer, we get to cover a lot of ground.
Away from your work, what are some things that you enjoy doing?
I used to love playing golf until I started coaching my son's now 5th grade basketball team at the Queen City Athletic Association three years ago. But I love sports. I watch pro and college and still will go to a game sometimes when I'm not working. I like grilling out with my two boys, who are 14 and 10, and hanging out with my wife of 18 years, Whitni Wilson-Wertz. But I do plan to get back to playing golf. That's a passion. And I used to be halfway decent!