High school football: New season, new challenges

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 17, 2023


By Mike London

SALISBURY — Another high school football season begins in Rowan County on Friday night.

For me, personally, it will be the 29th one at the Salisbury Post. Yes, I’m old. I wasn’t all that young when I got here.

My first football assignment for the Post as a stringer was covering an A.L. Brown game at Forest Hills in 1995. The sports department had six guys available for Friday night duty then, four full-time and two part-time, so the Post was able to do exotic things like covering the Wonders at Forest Hills.

Coach Bruce Hardin’s A.L. Brown squad got crushed 35-14 that night, but the freshman running back — Nick Maddox — well, he looked like he might have a decent future. I was covering that game while standing on the A.L. Brown sideline, and Maddox got hammered into the mud on one punt return and landed a few inches away from me.

Times change.

On May 31, 1997, Ronnie Gallagher, who had joined the Post in 1996, was elevated to sports editor. His first act in office was to recommend me for promotion from part-time to full-time sports reporter. Not too many months after that, Maddox became the teenage king of North Carolina high school sports and I was being invited to spaghetti suppers with the Wonders and covering their state-championship victory in Chapel Hill.

Post sports went everywhere in those glory years. I can recall covering a North Stanly football game at Trinity — it wasn’t easy convincing the guy policing the front gate that the Salisbury Post was really covering the Comets on a road trip — and I can remember Bret Strelow driving to a Mooresville-South Iredell opening night tilt.

One summer, I covered a Stanly County vs. Concord American Legion playoff series. Every game. Webb Field and Don Montgomery Park. By the end of the week, I was treated like a long-lost family member by both teams.

But much has changed since those high times, not only at the Post, but at every newspaper in the world.

The news department, the sports department and all other Post departments down-sized steadily, as information, including scores, became instantly available for everyone who had a mobile phone and demand for printed newspapers plummeted.

As far as full-time sports personnel, the Post quietly declined from four to three.

A few months after Gallagher passed away on a solemn football Friday morning in 2013, the decision was made to try to get the job done with two full-timers in sports.

When COVID hammered the economy in the bleak spring of 2020, the Post staff was cut drastically one last time, with sports editor Dennis Davidson transferred to advertising sales. The last Post photographer left the building at that point, and the full-time sports staff was reduced to one person.

I’ll turn 68 in a few weeks — knock on wood.

I once had planned once to retire at 66, so I had to debate with myself about sticking around and trying to help the Post deal with another school year of athletics.

I’m not a sports editor, never have been and never wanted to be. I’m just the last sports guy in the building. That’s all I am. They officially call me the “sports director” now for what it’s worth. That didn’t mean a raise.

I’ve done the calculations, and the difference in continuing to work or retiring and drawing social security is roughly $5 a day for me. That doesn’t make me a hero and hopefully it doesn’t make me a complete idiot. It just means I’ve enjoyed doing what I’ve been doing here for a long time. The Post gave me a job when it didn’t have to and the Post kept employing me when it could have let me go, so now maybe I can give something back before I head out the door for the last time.

There are some reasons to stay on a little longer. There are special young men who have a chance to break school records at Salisbury and North Rowan this football season, and I want to be around to document those statistics and let our readers know when it’s time to shout congratulations.

But I realize another school year is a huge undertaking. That means not just football, but cross country, volleyball, tennis, golf and soccer — and that’s just the fall.

As we plunge into another high school football season on Friday, we’ll count on the world’s greatest stringer Dave Shaw to cover football’s Game of the Week every week and for Hall of Famer Wayne Hinshaw, who was a star at the Post for many decades, to take pictures of it.

The Post still produces five editions each week, but Wednesdays and Fridays are electronic only. The three printed editions appear on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.

The Post is printed in Winston-Salem and is delivered by the U.S. Mail. That complicates things for the weekends. Since the Sunday paper must be delivered on Saturday, it has to be in the hands of the postal service on Friday night.

Our deadline on Friday is set at 7 p.m., the same time that the earliest high school football games are starting. That means there won’t be any football results or stories or photos in that Sunday print edition.

The good news is all of those things will be provided by the Post online. You’ll start seeing high school scores from around the state late on Friday night, as soon as they’re available from the Associated Press, and information from the local games will flow on Friday nights and Saturdays as quotes and stats are accumulated.

Since there are no print editions between the one that is completed on Friday and the one that appears on Tuesday, you won’t see “game” stories from the weekend in the Tuesday Post. Friday’s game will be pretty cold news by Tuesday. The plan is for columns or features  — “Friday Night Heroes” — rather than game stories.

A lot of this is new, and it will be a learning process, as we all adjust to changes in sports coverage.

The only thing we can promise is we’ll continue to give it our best for as long as we can.

• Previews of Friday’s games this week will be online and in Friday’s electronic edition.