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Gallagher column: A Cavalier goes to the enemy

By Ronnie Gallagher
Salisbury Post
This would have never happened twenty-some years ago when Fred Campbell was lighting up Rowan County gyms for Salisbury and Andrew Mitchell was doing the same for North Rowan.
A Salisbury Hornet recommending a North Rowan Cavalier for a job at Salisbury?
No way.
“It probably wouldn’t have happened,” Campbell chuckled Wednesday afternoon. “But as you get older, you get out of that mode.”
We can thank Campbell for forgetting his prep days and the hostilities between next-door neighbors. He was the one who first contacted Mitchell about the girls basketball job at Salisbury.
Campbell heard of the opening and then saw it on the school Web site. He knew Mitchell was coaching in Kentucky and his family wasn’t with him. He knew his buddy wanted to come home.
“And I also felt he was the perfect fit for that job,” Campbell said. “He can get the best out of them. So I encouraged him to apply.”

Applying was Mitchell’s first hurdle.
The second was meeting with Salisbury principal Windsor Eagle.
As soon as they sat down together, Mitchell immediately saw the high school version of Jerry Jones, the outspoken, hands-on owner of America’s Team.
“I’m a big Dallas Cowboys fan,” Mitchell laughed, “so Jerry Jones is one of my favorite people. I had to make sure I was being interviewed by Dr. Eagle and not Jerry Jones.”
Jerry Jones, huh? Finally, the perfect comparison for the iconic Eagle.
Like Jones, Eagle is a trailblazer. He knows what he wants, and he isn’t the type who beats around the bush.
Eagle’s first question directed toward Mitchell was, “What kind of defense do you run?”
And then, “What kind of offense do you run?”
And then, “Who calls your plays, you or the point guard?”
And then, “Do you have set plays or continuity plays?”
Mitchell realized he was not talking to an ordinary principal.
“I really had to sit up and be on my Ps an Qs,” he said. “I knew he understood the game. He knew what he was looking for. That was very exciting and intriguing to me. I wanted the job, but he made me interested and really, really want it. I could feel his support.”

But a Cavalier coming to Salisbury?
Mitchell reveals the two schools never came together in anything.
He vividly remembers a football game 25 years ago when he made a crushing hit on Hornet back Larry Miller.
“My bell was ringing,” Mitchell said.
He barely heard the official yell, “No. 10, you’re out of the game.”
Not only was Mitchell tossed, but North lost.
At the time, Burger King had a Cheerwine Special: a Whopper, fries and drink for 99 cents. Nobody ever missed it. But his friends couldn’t persuade a depressed Mitchell to get out of bed.
“I cried and cried,” Mitchell said.
But he also made a vow to himself: “I said then ó Salisbury won’t beat us in basketball.”
He was proven correct. Four straight wins against Salisbury helped him win the county player of the year award.
During Mitchell’s ó and Campbell’s ó time, North and Salisbury played intense matchups.
Intense might be putting it mildly.
“Back in those days, you couldn’t sleep when you got ready to play Salisbury the next day,” Mitchell said. “You could play Salisbury on a Friday night and have a mental letdown against the Dallas Cowboys the next week. That’s how much it meant.”

So that’s why all Cavaliers and Hornets everywhere can smile at Mitchell’s hiring at Salisbury.
Mitchell can finally admit, 25 years after high school, that deep down, he was always impressed with Salisbury’s program.
“Salisbury has always had a lot of prestige,” he said. “To beat Salisbury in anything was great. Now, to be coaching here is awesome.”
Mitchell will see friends everywhere in the Rowan gymnasiums, including a guy named Mike White, who happens to coach the girls teams at his alma mater. That should be fun to watch.
But, as Campbell pointed out, as you get older you mellow out.
Mitchell is living proof. The once proud Cavalier is now a Salisbury Hornet.
And what does that mean?
Mitchell smiled, and said, “I look forward to beating North Rowan four times.”

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

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