Up & Coming Weekly

June 23, 2020

Up and Coming Weekly is a weekly publication in Fayetteville, NC and Fort Bragg, NC area offering local news, views, arts, entertainment and community event and business information.

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WWW.UPANDCOMINGWEEKLY.COM JUNE 24-30, 2020 UCW 15 HIGH SCHOOL HIGHLIGHTS From his high school days playing football for legendary coach Herman Boone to taking the disaster that was the Westover girls' basketball team and turning it into a state champion, Gene Arrington enjoyed one of the most amazing athle- tic careers anyone could dream of. Now, after listening to the urging of friends and family, he's written a book about his experiences. "Rise of the Wolverines: The Making of a Titan and Beyond'' tells Arrington's story from his days under Boone at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, to his years turning the Westover girls basketball team into the best in the state. Arrington's sister, Ethel Delores Arrington, actu- ally did the writing, as Coach Arrington sat down with her and dictated the story of his life. "My sister had written a book before and she got right in there with me,'' Arrington said. When Arrington took over the Westover girls' program, then Wolverine principal John Smith said everyone warned him it was a dead-end job and had the record to prove it. At the time, the Wolverine girls were mired in an 87-game losing streak. "Westover had been kind of labeled as a non- productive type of school,'' Arrington said. "I wan- ted them to know Westover could do anything any other school could do and win, and they did.'' Arrington's formula for success wasn't anything complicated. "Confidence,'' he said. "Those girls were confident they could beat anybody.'' He said his guidance as a coach came largely from the legendary Boone, whose story was featu- red in the 2000 film "Remember the Titans,'' star- ring Denzel Washington, which shared the story of Boone's 1971 T.C. Williams team and the challen- ges he faced coaching at the height of public school integration. "He was my mentor,'' Arrington said. "He was my buddy. Most of the things I did were a mirror of him.'' Boone, who died of lung cancer last December, wrote the foreword for Arrington's book. Arrington snapped the Westover girls' losing skid in his first season there with a win over per- ennial Cumberland County girls' basketball power Pine Forest. In his 15 seasons at Westover, Arrington only had three teams with losing records. From 2004-10, his teams won 20 or more games every season, winning or sharing the conference basketball title six times. Health reasons led him to retire before the 2013 season. The Wolverines had their best season in 2008, when they went 30-2 and defeated West Charlotte 58-53 at N.C. State's Reynolds Coliseum for the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 4-A girls' basketball title. Along the way, they knocked off a 30-0 Raleigh Wakefield team in the semifinal round. In the title game against West Charlotte, Arrington recalled taking a timeout with about five minutes to play and his team trailing by eight points. Arrington said he usually did the talking during timeouts, but he recalled a moment remi- niscent of one of the final scenes in the famed high school basketball movie "Hoosiers." Linda Aughburns, one of the stars of the state title team, looked at Arrington in that huddle and said to her coach, "We got this,'' he recalled. In January of 2015, Westover paid tribute to Arrington's outstanding career by naming the gym at the school in his honor. Arrington said his hope for people who read the book is they will get a simple message from it. "I hope they'll realize perseverance, building confidence, faith in each other and believing are the keys to success,'' he said. The book is not available in stores. For informati- on on purchasing it, go to www.coachgene.net. The cost is $17 plus $5 for shipping and handling. To place orders for multiple copies, email etheldelo- res@gmail.com. Arrington tells Westover story in new book by EARL VAUGHAN JR. EARL VAUGHAN JR., Sports Editor. COMMENTS? EarlUCWSports@gmail. com. 910-364-6638. There's an old cartoon that shows a couple of vultures sitting on a branch, scanning the horizon for carrion to eat and finding nothing. One vulture turns to the other and says, "To heck with patience, I'm going to kill something.'' That sentiment isn't too far off from the frustrati- on high school coaches and athletes around North Carolina and the Cape Fear region are feeling as they wait for the COVID-19 restrictions to be lifted so they can return to practice. The North Carolina High School Athletic Association finally opened the door to the return to off-season workouts recently, using guidelines established both by the National Federation of State High School Associations and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. But many of the state's larger school systems, including Cumberland County, decided to hold off and delay the start of practice until Monday, July 6. A conversation I had recently with Bill Sochovka, the dean of Cumberland County's head football coaches, had me agreeing with the county's plan to wait. Sochovka had the same opinion, for a simple but solid reason. He wanted the county to take its time and see what happens at other schools that open up, examine what practices are in place, what works, what doesn't and how to safely open the doors for the athletes and coaches in the safest manner possible. Vernon Aldridge, the student activities director for the Cumberland County Schools, is also in the corner for caution, but for some different reasons. Aldridge wants to take time to make sure each of the county schools will have supplies on hand that they wouldn't normally stock, things like hand sanitizer and other materials to make sure everyo- ne stays as germ-free as possible. With recent spikes in new cases since some COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, it's clear everyo- ne needs to take this illness seriously and continue to do everything possible to flatten the curve. Nobody wants to see a return to practice and games more than I do. But I also don't want to see an early return lacking proper precautions causing further spread of COVID-19. Instead of copying the vultures, let's adopt the philosophy of one of my favorite Clint Eastwood characters, Gunny Highway from the movie "Heartbreak Ridge." As Gunny Highway said, let's improvise, adapt and overcome, and make practice and play as safe as it can possibly be. It's a good time to make the vultures impatient by EARL VAUGHAN JR. Bill Sochovka Vernon Aldridge

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