Wineka column: Cavs shouldered through

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 12, 2011

RALEIGH — As North Rowan High basketball player Pierre Givens’ family waited for him and the rest of the newly crowned state championship basketball team outside of Reynolds Coliseum, they told the story of the yellow shoes.
Givens had worn the yellow treads most of the year, and for the championship final he had scribbled on an important reminder.
His mother, Dionne Mitchell Chambers, said the shoes’ message was clear: “This is the Last Supper. It’s time to eat.”
In a remarkable comeback from a 14-point halftime deficit, the North Rowan Cavaliers scored a 64-57 victory over Pender County Saturday and brought the school its first N.C. basketball championship in 25 years.
Eat they did.
A deafening roar went up on the green-and-gold side of Reynolds Coliseum when Malik Ford’s basket with 4 minutes left in the game gave the Cavaliers their first lead.
And the noise didn’t stop over the nail-biting finish as players such as Givens, T.J. Bates, Michael Bowman, Sam Starks, Javon Hargrave and Jordan Kimmer refused to wilt under immense pressure.
In hindsight, no one should have been worried.
This was a team with broad shoulders whose coaches and players brought a community, a school and its alumni together for a magic season.
Whether they knew it or not, the young North Rowan High Cavaliers carried the hopes of two towns — Spencer and East Spencer — on those broad shoulders. Oldtimers who remember the days before integration, when it was the Spencer High Railroaders and Dunbar High Tigers — rooted together in the stands for this group of kids.
Those kids also carried the ghosts of that 1986 state championship basketball team, which had stars named Sifford, Kesler and Kitley. Many of the players and coaches from that team were mixed into the huge North Rowan crowd Saturday afternoon.
But maybe the biggest burden the 2011 state champions carried was for the school itself — a school hungry for success and deserving of it.
Because of declining enrollment, North Rowan had been forced into the 1A classification, which meant long road trips this season to far-flung places such as Moore and Chatham counties and no conference games against any other Rowan County team.
And whether we like to acknowledge it or not, the perception among parents from other county school districts is — or was — they did not want their kids to be sent to North Rowan.
The Cavalier family correctly resents that attitude, which has prevented redistricting from helping increase North’s student population.
The team’s broad shoulders carried a pretty big chip because of it.
Many “outsiders’ also questioned why Cavalier Coach Andrew Mitchell, who successfully guided the Salisbury High School girls to back-to-back state championships, would leave another loaded girls team to coach at 1A North Rowan.
His parents, Andrew Sr. and Geraldine Mitchell of East Spencer, said they were ecstatic that he did. “We kind of helped make his mind up,” Andrew Sr. said before the start of Saturday’s game.
Coach Mitchell was returning to his alma mater, where he played basketball, and he always wanted to coach the North boys team, his parents said.
“It was worth it — every mile,” Geraldine added.
Andrew Mitchell Jr. was one of Patti Secreast’s former students, and she also taught many of the 2011 team members in seventh and eighth grades. “A lot of good, smart students are on the team,” she said before Saturday’s tipoff. “This is a good morale booster for North Rowan.”
David Billingsley and his wife, Kim, had two children in the North Rowan pep band Saturday. Kim is a 1982 North graduate. The team meant a lot in bringing newspaper coverage to the school and uniting the towns and alumni all season, David Billingsley said.
Ralph Kitley, a member of the 1986 team and now principal at Northwest Guilford High, said, “Actually, there’s quite a few of us here.”
The frustrating part for him, Kitley acknowledged at halftime when North faced an uphill climb, was not being able to control anything from the stands.
But Lola Jones, a former North Rowan hoops star and now its girls junior varsity coach, said she knew the Cavaliers would make it a game in the second half.
“They have the talent to come back,” Dawn Bautista, the aunt of Pierre Givens, confirmed after the game, as if it were a given.
Bob Hundley, head coach of the 1986 team, wasn’t sure at halftime, but was all smiles after the game.
“It was real impressive,” he said of the Cavalier comeback. “You don’t see that very often.”
Yvette Bates, who had two sons on the team — Javon Hargrave and T.J. Bates — had watched her kids and their teammates long enough to know they had the character to put the first half behind them.
“I just told my sister they’re a comeback team,” she said.
And you have to believe, North Rowan is a comeback school with prouder glory days ahead.
What did this particular team mean to the community? “It meant everything,” Bates said.
Lisa Bowman, whose son Michael was a star freshman player, said she was proud of him and the whole team.
“North doesn’t get any respect in the Salisbury Post or anywhere else,” she added. But Bates wasn’t bitter — how could she be on a day when North Rowan had won such an important piece of hardware for its trophy case.
Pastor Martha Starks, mother of Most Valuable Player Samuel Starks, said she prayed with her son the evening before the championship final.
Truth be known, a lot of prayers went up during the week.
Starks credited God for giving the boys the skills they needed for a win that means so much to North Rowan.
This team with broad shoulders became an integral part of the community, Pastor Starks added.
Everyone came to the table in Raleigh for these North Rowan Cavaliers — black, white, young, old, students, alumni, Spencer residents and East Spencer residents.
They feasted on a team with very broad shoulders.
It truly was a Last Supper kind of game.