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Gallagher column: Awards the athletic banquets might forget

Wednesday at Catawba, some of us wanted to shed a tear during the all-county photo shoot as we looked around Goodman Gym at all of those seniors.
Special seniors.
Darien Rankin and John Knox of Salisbury. Sam Starks and Javon Hargrave of North. B.J. Sherrill of West.
Don’t forget Salisbury’s Olivia Rankin, Ashia and Ayanna Holmes and Jessica Heilig.
They have wowed us in football and basketball for the past three seasons and Wednesday may have been their last glorious time together.
Over the past three years, those nine have given us five state titles in basketball, four in football and two in track. They have led Rowan County to the top of the high school world in North Carolina.
“It’s a strong senior class,” Starks understated. “Everybody’s an athlete.”
And the best part about those nine seniors? They are simply great kids, who not only competed against each other, but enjoyed every minute of it.
“I’ve played against them since I was yay-high,” Rankin said. “You never had to worry about trash talking. It was all fun.”
“It’s a great athletic county,” Sherrill said. “There’s a bunch of championships coming out of this county.”
Knox and Sherrill joked about playing at West Rowan Middle School together. Knox was the quarterback, Sherrill a running back. Knox then went to Salisbury.
The quarterbacks rooted for each other on Dec. 12 when Sherrill and West won a football title in the afternoon and Knox and Salisbury won one at night.
“It was fun to see those guys do good,” Sherrill smiled, “except against us, of course.”

So in a fond farewell to the most talented senior class to ever come through Rowan County, here’s some basketball honors the athletic banquets might forget:
Most Famous Street: Wonder if the people who live on Proctor Drive realize how famous that road is. North coach Andrew Mitchell lives there. Across the street is West football coach Scott Young. Both have three straight state championships.
“My wife said we were competing to see who is the king of the neighborhood,” Mitchell chuckled.
Dunk of the Year: In a win over South in the Moir Christmas Classic, Salisbury’s Corey Murphy flipped a pass off the backboard to Rankin, who flushed. Which leads us to …
Best Dunker: It was North’s Starks, who probably led the county in rim-rattling stuffs.
Best Newcomer: Salisbury’s 6-7 Jarrett Rivens moved in from Virginia and dominated inside.
Best Debut: To Mitchell, whose first game as a boys coach was an 86-22 win over South Stanly.
Diaper Dandy Award: As good as the seniors are, the freshmen are pretty tough, too, none better than Salisbury’s Brielle Blaire, the MVP of the Hornets’ state title win over East Bladen.
Most Inspirational Win: Hours after visiting Mallory Drew, who broke her leg in a car accident, East Rowan’s girls upset West 60-58.
Ugliest Win: South’s girls made 34 turnovers, missed 27 of 42 free throws and still beat Central Cabarrus 49-45.
Mr. Clutch Award: South Rowan’s Qua Neal hit a corner 3 in the final seconds to beat Cox Mill 56-55.
• Carson’s Nick Houston drilled a 3 to force a second overtime and then hit two free throws with four seconds left to beat South 68-66.
• After South Davidson took a 61-60 lead, North’s Starks took the ball the length of the court for a three-point play and the win.
Most Photogenic: Rankin had his photo in the paper 25 times, edging out South’s Johnathan Gaddy (24) and West’s Keshun Sherrill (23).
The top girl was Salisbury’s Ayanna Holmes with 21.
North’s boys coach Mitchell was the most photographed leader on the bench with 15.
Best Fans: A late-season surge gave this award to North Rowan.
Best Student Section: Carson will have to win its title back next season. West Rowan’s kids showed up in force, all wearing the same color.
Gut-Check Award: Because of bad weather, North Rowan’s boys played four games in four days. They went 4-0.
“We’re tired, man,” said Hargrave.
The Windex Award: For cleaning the glass, Carson’s Rik Heggins, who said after one game, “Whenever I see a ball come off the rim, I automatically know it’s mine.”
Most Talented Manager: East Rowan’s Hank Delaney, who scored against South.
And finally …
Pep Talk of the Year: To South boys coach John Davis, who reminded his 5-12 Raiders beforehand that it didn’t matter what Carson’s record was (it was 8-12) when the rivals met at South, which resulted in a Raider win:
“I don’t have to motivate you for anything. You know what’s at risk. You know who’s here. You’ve got a gym full of people in there. There’s going to be a lot of screaming and hollering on both sides. Let’s go out there, play some basketball and have some fun.”
Man, I’ve got cold chills — from Davis’ pep talk and thinking about the best senior class of athletes I’ve ever seen.
Thanks for the memories.

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

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