Prep Basketball: Cavs celebrate titles at Geraldine's

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 29, 2011

By Mike London
EAST SPENCER — North Rowan’s 1A basketball champions have been honored at exotic venues this season, but they probably got as big a kick out of Saturday’s informal cookout at the Mitchell residence on East Spencer’s Grant Street as they did being introduced at Time Warner Cable Arena at halftime of a Bobcats game.
The Cavaliers haven’t received their championship rings yet, but it’s a festive moment in history for a school that feels, with good reason, that it turned the athletic corner during the 2010-11 school year.
“It’s a beautiful time,” said Geraldine Mitchell, the hostess of Saturday’s soiree and the mother of boys basketball coach Andrew Mitchell.
North’s boys outdoor track team also won a state title, with several basketball players contributing. Girls track was state runner-up. The wrestling team made a serious run. The football team won the conference. The baseball team reached the third round of the playoffs, and the girls soccer and softball also were in the 1A playoffs this spring.
“I think the whole atmosphere is good right now under (principal) Darrell McDowell,” Andrew Mitchell said. “Good sports teams are very good for school morale.”
Green and gold were everywhere. That was the color scheme for the tablecloths, the balloons, the cups, even the napkins. The fried chicken, potato salad, barbecued beans, slaw, hamburgers and hotdogs weren’t green and gold, but they were tasty.
While the gala began strictly as a celebration of the school’s hoops heroes, invitations were eventually extended to other North sports teams and even to the Salisbury girls basketball squad.
New faces streamed in steadily to the affair, keeping Robert Bowman, father of young basketball standout Michael Bowman, hopping on the grill.
“My mother actually does this a lot,” explained Coach Mitchell, who was joined by five siblings and a small army of nieces and nephews. “When she cooks, she welcomes the whole community.”
The towering rented water slide got a workout from excited youngsters, although the slide no doubt trembled at the arrival of muscular senior Javon Hargrave, a basketball and track standout who will play his best sport — football — at South Carolina State. At some point, Hargrave has sacked just about everyone in western North Carolina.
“If Hargrave slides, that might be the last slide of the day, “quipped basketball assistant coach Tim Bates.
“Hollywood” Hargrave is one of North’s double state champions, a sweet place to be after he toiled on a 7-17 basketball unit in 2009 and a 2008 football team that didn’t taste victory on the field.
“We went through it all to get these state championships,” Hargrave said. “There were years of losing where we didn’t even make the playoffs.”
Another double state champion is still uncommitted super senior Sam Starks.
“It’s unbelievable to win two state championships, and I can appreciate it because it’s a feeling most people never get to experience,” Starks said. “It means a lot, especially getting to do it with guys I’ve known all my life. I’ve known these guys since we were so small that we just ran around without a ball.”
Football star and basketball role player Amani Bates didn’t have much luck defending Hargrave on the 8-foot goal in the Mitchell’s driveway — without officials, pretty good flops go unrewarded — but he’s thankful he had a chance to be part of something very special his senior year.
“Football didn’t turn out quite as well as we hoped, so I had to find another way,” Bates said. “We were able to win a basketball championship by playing defense and having faith in Coach Mitchell’s system.”
T.J. Bates, North’s defensive stopper and Western Regional MVP, couldn’t resist picking up one of the half-dozen basketballs lying within reach, and he was soon dueling with 7-year-old R.J. Johnson, a shooter who looks like he could carry the Cavaliers to several more titles, starting in about 2019.
Johnson was hard to stop shoeless and shirtless. He was on fire after switching to his LeBron James jersey.
A large banner proclaiming “Welcome State Champions” hung from the carport, and as each Cavalier proudly autographed that streamer with bold statements such as “T.J. Bates, No. 23, MVP,” it was apparent the comebacks, the cardiac-attacks and camaraderie of last March won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
Obviously, it’s been an incredible school year in the county with seven state titles already in the books, and with East Rowan softball capable of bringing home No. 8 next week.
North, seemingly on the ropes not long ago, has been a leader in that glorious charge.
“ We’ve come through a lot,” Hargrave said. “It really has been an amazing year.”
Cavaliers slowly trickled into Saturday’s celebration, giving Coach Mitchell a chance to get in the last word.
“These guys are never early for anything,” he said with a laugh. “Except the gym.”