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Gallagher column: Long rides no big deal for Chatham Central

BEAR CREEK ó When the realigned conferences for 2009 were released by the NCHSAA recently, North Rowan was placed in a 1A conference.
The first two words I noticed were “Chatham Central.”
The first two words I uttered were “Oh, no.”
Almost immediately, people were asking us, “Where is Chatham Central? Heck, where is Chatham County?” Putting North Rowan in a conference with a school from Chatham County seemed to make as much sense as putting North Carolina in a conference with New Mexico.
There was an uproar from the people in Spencer, but the NCHSAA told them basically the same thing football coach Avery Cutshaw might tell his football players late in the fourth quarter.
Suck it up.
North is 1A. It’s going to stay 1A. And the “closest” 1A conference includes Chatham Central.
But where is it?
I decided to find out.

I left the North Rowan parking lot, and by the time I reached Bear Creek, the crossroads where the school is located, my odometer read 84 miles.
It’s not a bad trip, just a long one. I rode by Lexington and through Asheboro and Ramseur. Sixty-seven miles after leaving Spencer, I crossed into Chatham County.
Then came Siler City. Got on Highway 421, crossed Tick Creek ó that’s right, Tick Creek ó hit N.C. 902 and, boom, there was the school of 445 students.
I found athletic director Freddie Little and football coach Bob Pegram and quickly realized the Bears don’t carry the same angst as North Rowan fans when it comes to 84-mile trips.
“It’s not a big deal to us,” Little said.

Chatham Central is used to the long hauls. It’s been in this league for quite a while.
“We’ve got several schools in the conference that are hour-and-a-half trips,” Little said.
Amazingly, Little said his school will spend more than $20,000 this year just for travel expenses. He pays $1.50 per mile to use a bus.
So how does a 1A school pay it off? Gate receipts and booster club help, mostly, but the school system is helping foot the bill this season.
In Rowan County, buses cost a school almost $1.00 per mile. So figure around $168 for every trip to Chatham Central.
Spring sports is where it really hits a school hard. A school might have three different teams on the road.
“We’re already talking about what we can do about moving games up so it won’t be so late getting back,” Little said. “Friday night isn’t so bad. It’s those Thursday night jayvee (football) games where you’ll have a problem.”

North’s AD, Cutshaw, says schools need to go back in time to when teams doubled up on buses. Used to be, girls and boys basketball teams piled on board, along with the cheerleaders. Expect something like that to happen again.
“There are ways to get around taking more buses,” Cutshaw said. “We have to sit down as an athletic department and brainstorm about saving money.”
Cutshaw’s wife, Ruby, says the increase in mileage is a bit exaggerated. She agrees sharing a bus cuts costs dramatically.
“Many schools have been doing this now, and I have been doing this for the past few years in softball,” she said. “If I know the jayvee baseball team will be playing at the same time, we get on the same bus.”
Another complaint at North is the long trips will hurt athletes’ grades. The female Cutshaw is quick to point out, “Our athletes just have to budget their time and plan ahead when they know that they will not have as much time during the week due to games. What I don’t want is to give them or their parents an excuse if they do not do their homework or fail a test.
“Besides,” she continued, “most kids end up leaving with their parents after a game. There have been many times I’ve left this school with 20 kids and returned with two.”

So, there you have it. The only question left is whether the parents will drive 84 miles to Chatham Central and drive their kids home.
Let’s hope so. The fans at places like Chatham Central have gotten used to it.
“You know,” Ruby Cutshaw reminds us, “the funny thing is, the other schools have to make the same trip.”
So suck it up people and go support the Cavaliers. And enjoy that ride to Bear Creek.

Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4287 or rgallagher@salisburypost.com.

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