It’s been a recurring tale of my life that things have always come full circle.
As I mentioned to someone just a few days ago, and have told many others around Surry County, I’d passed through Mount Airy probably a hundred different times, never imagining I would live or work here — until the day I did.
The last volleyball match I ever covered in my old job was when Princeton beat East Surry for the state title in 2014. My next volleyball match, nine months later, involved covering the Lady Cardinals in East Surry’s gym. They lost that day and the next two times I saw them; at one point East Surry was 0-4 in volleyball matches attended by me. I was glad when they won one and I knew I wasn’t a jinx on Coach Gilley.
There are many other examples, and another one is coming this Saturday afternoon.
Those of you who have found me on social media may have found the connection, but wouldn’t know enough to connect the dots.
There’s a photo on my Facebook of the beach at dusk, taken in the coastal town of Shalotte, dated December 3, 1993.
On that day, 24 years ago to the week, I was a rookie sports reporter for the Rocky Mount Telegram. I had spent most of the season covering one team in particular from their coverage area, which had been upset in an early-season game and then won 11 in a row. On Dec. 3, they were one win away from playing for the state championship, which is what brought me to Shalotte that night to see them play West Brunswick High School. Prior to the game, I drove out to the beach for a while, just for the heck of it, and shot some photos with an old-school 110 pocket camera.
The team I was covering lost the game, 21-13. It would be another five years and two more career stops before I was able to cover a team in a state football championship game.
The team that lost that night was Tarboro High School.
That was the only year I ever covered the Vikings, who were a 3A school in those days. In the summer of 1994, I accepted a job with the Henderson newspaper, and I’ve only seen Tarboro in a few playoff games since then, none in the last two decades.
When I took a glance at this year’s Tarboro roster, I saw a lot of familiar last names. I’d be willing to bet a few of them are the children of players who played in that game 24 years ago.
I still remember that year fondly, being the first of my professional career. Late in October, Tarboro won a game against Hertford County, with both teams ranked in the state top 10, that is still in the record books as the longest game in NCHSAA history. Down 28-14 in the fourth quarter, the Vikings rallied with two late touchdowns to force overtime, and then the teams traded touchdowns until Hertford’s kicker missed a PAT at the end of the sixth OT. Tarboro won the game, 70-69. I was one of only three media members to witness what I still believe was the greatest high-school football game in this state’s history.
The game ended so late that I had to call the Telegram office from a pay phone (I wouldn’t have my own mobile phone until ‘98) in Ahoskie and dictate my story over the phone to Sports Editor C. Jemal Horton, still in the business down in Concord today. At West Brunswick and at a few other road games, we filed remotely, using a TRS-80 Model 100 “laptop” with a 300 baud dial-up modem that was already a decade old in 1993.
110 film cameras, pay phones and TRS-80’s…if you’re under the age of 35, you have no idea what I’m talking about. You probably wonder how us Gen X’ers ever managed to survive.
After almost a quarter of a century, with stops along the way in Henderson, Warrenton, Garner, Fuquay-Varina, Princeton, Mount Olive and now Mount Airy, I’m finally going to see the Tarboro Vikings play for a state football championship. Too bad they missed their chance to have me on their side of the field.
Now, if I could just figure out a way to be 20 years old again…
John Cate, a part-time staff writer for the Tarboro bureau of the Rocky Mount Telegram in 1993-94, has been Sports Editor of the Mount Airy News since September 2015.