Gallagher column: NCHSAA throws party for Romar, Rowan

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 5, 2011

CHAPEL HILL — What’s tougher than running the football around end with three burly linebackers staring you in the face?
Walking onto a stage wearing a tie to accept an award.
“I was nervous,” said Salisbury’s speed merchant Romar Morris on Thursday during the NCHSAA’s annual meeting. “I never walked in front of a crowd that big.”
Morris had just climbed the five steps to a large stage set up in the Dean E. Smith Center.
“Getting an award is way harder than playing football in front of a thousand people,” Morris said, shaking his head.
Morris wasn’t the only Rowan County celebrity to walk across that stage and receive awards. But he was the only one to get a standing ovation.
Standing ovations are reserved for people being named North Carolina Athlete of the Year, an award he shared with East Bladen basketball-volleyball-track star Courtney Melvin.
“It’s the best feeling ever,” Morris said after being interviewed by Channel 14 news.
Over in the corner was North Carolina football coach Butch Davis watching his future Tar Heel accept the state association’s most prestigious award.
A bigger story on Morris will appear in Sunday’s Post. By then, it will have sunk in just what happened on Thursday.

A couple of weeks ago, I told Salisbury athletic director and football coach Joe Pinyan that we were naming Hornet senior Darien Rankin the Rowan County Athlete of the Year.
It was a no-brainer. Rankin was a first-team all-state player in football. He was the county player of the year in basketball. And he had just won several events in the county track meet. Like Morris, he had received a football scholarship to North Carolina.
We both looked at each other and said, “What about Romar?”
A few days later, Morris was named the NCHSAA’s top athlete.
“There’s enough awards to go around and share with all the athletes,” Pinyan said of Morris and Rankin. “I think it’s great. They’ve always played together and been on every team together. And they’re going to follow each other to Chapel Hill. The stories are not over yet.”
Morris thinks its special, too.
“We feel like a duo getting all the awards in the county and state and going to school together,” Morris grinned. “It’s a great thing.”

The NCHSAA might as well have thrown a big Rowan County party yesterday. Time and again, someone from here was introduced for academic and athletic excellence.
Rowan County not only wins on the field, but it’s pretty good in the classroom. Salisbury was recognized for its the state’s GPA in girls cross country and girls swimming.
But it wasn’t just all Salisbury. Is that South Rowan girls basketball coach Jarrod Smith being called up?
Yes. His Raiders had the state’s best GPA (3.810) in that sport — many of the same girls who play volleyball and softball.
“It’s easy to lay my head down at night knowing I don’t have to worry about my girls making grades,” Smith said. “It shows the quality of girls we get to play basketball. It’s very impressive. It’s like their own state championship.”

Is that associate superintendent Walter Hart and Pinyan unfolding a banner on stage?
Yes. Salisbury again was called up for winning the NCHSAA’s Exemplary School Award for having the most well-rounded school in academics and athletics.
Later, as he nodded toward Morris, a giddy Pinyan appeared humbled by it all.
“He’s the state player of the year from the state program of the year,” Pinyan said. “I mean, there’s things every coach and administrator dreams of and that’s to be the best you can be academically and be the best athletically. To accomplish all that in one day is hard to fathom.”

There was one more award to go to a Rowan County celebrity. Is that my buddy Mike London walking up to the stage to receive the Tim Stevens Media Representative of the Year award?
I think it is.
Pinyan grabbed a pen and pad and began asking me for Mike’s life story.
“Well, it all began in a log cabin in Mooresville. …”
OK, OK, it didn’t. We all laughed. Everyone felt good to say they were from these parts on this day.
“Rowan County has won 27 state championships since 2000,” the NCHSAA’s Rick Strunk told the large audience. “Mike has been there to cover most of them.”
And when the NCHSAA meeting had ended, Mike did what all sportswriters do. He headed up the stairs to the Dean Dome walkway.
There was free food waiting.

The best school? The best athlete? The best students in the classroom? The best sportswriter? Yep, it’s been a very good year to be a part of sports in Rowan County.
And the best part? It’s not over.

Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4287 or