In some way or another, Sarah Ann Knott has been a part of Mount Airy High School athletics almost non-stop since her teen years.
Since Knott, a Health and Physical Education teacher at MAHS, first enrolled at the school as a freshman student in the fall of 1988, she has spent less than five years anywhere else. The school’s first-ever 12-time letter winner, five-time all-conference performer and state championship MVP’s only hiatus from Bear country came after high school, when she spent a few years earning her degree at Surry Community College and Appalachian State before returning to her alma mater as a teacher.
For her achievements as a Mount Airy student-athlete and later as a coach, Knott will take her place in the Greater Mount Airy Sports Hall of Fame this afternoon.
“(Mount Airy Parks and Recreation Director) Catrina (Alexander) called my house on March 4 to tell me I had been selected,” Knott said. “I found out after I talked to my mom. I was shocked. It’s a huge honor.”
A fitting one, however. There’s a lot of hardware in the MAHS trophy case that Knott played a role in.
Her greatest achievements as a MAHS student-athlete came on the volleyball court. During an era when the Lady Bears reached five consecutive 2-A state championship matches, Knott was a member of the last three of those squads. Her teams finished as state runners-up in 1988 and 1989 before finally breaking through in 1990.
In all three of those championship matches, the Lady Bears faced the same opponent — Louisburg High School. The Lady Warriors were in the middle of a historic run in which they reached eight state finals in 22 seasons, and were at their peak during Knott’s high school years. In her freshman year, Louisburg completed a perfect 37-0 season by beating the Lady Bears in a five-set thriller that went to 16 points in the final set. A year later, Mount Airy won two of the first three sets before running out of gas. The Lady Bears lost set four 15-13 and then were swamped 15-5 in the finale. By a grand total of six points, Mount Airy had missed out on back-to-back titles to the same foe.
“One of those matches was the longest state championship match ever played,” said Knott. “Back in those days, it was side-out scoring, which meant you could only score if you held serve, and you never knew how long it would take. We were very evenly matched with Louisburg, and it was always fun to play them.”
However, it was more fun when you beat them, and 1990 was the Year of the Bear. Coach Sandy George’s team lost just two matches during the regular season and marched through the West Regional for the fifth year in a row, only to find the Lady Warriors waiting once more. Louisburg won the first set of the championship 15-10, and it looked like another year of disappointment was in the offing. But the Lady Bears, led by Knott, dominated the rest of the match for a 10-15, 15-12, 15-6, 15-5 victory. Knott, who had already been named Northwest Conference Player of the Year, was named the MVP of the state championship match.
“We all thought ‘here we go again’ after the first game, but Coach George sat us down and gave us a pep talk,” Knott said. “She told us we were capable of beating them and not to give up.”
Knott, who had admittedly not played up to par in the first set, was surprised to be named MVP.
“I was shocked when they said I’d won it, because I knew hadn’t played well in the first set,” she said. “I kind of had some first-game jitters and then settled down.”
Mount Airy wasn’t able to return to the state finals in her senior year, but Knott ended her time with the Lady Bears by claiming another conference Player of the Year award. She was named to the all-conference team in each of her last three seasons.
When it came to sports, Knott didn’t take any time off, either. She was a member of the school’s varsity basketball and softball teams in all four years of high school. At the time of her graduation in 1992, she was the only student-athlete in MAHS history who had earned 12 varsity letters at the school.
In her junior and senior seasons of basketball, she was named to both the all-conference and all-tournament teams.
Knott said she only played softball because her first volleyball coach, Ginger Ashley, also coached that team and asked her to play, but loved her time on the court.
“Volleyball and basketball were pretty much neck and neck for me,” she said. “My favorite depended on which one I was playing at the time.”
Ashley had moved on to Catawba College after Knott’s sophomore year and wanted her to play for the Indians after graduation, but her father had been diagnosed with cancer that would ultimately take his life, and she chose to stay close to home.
“She offered me, but I didn’t go because my dad had cancer,” she said. “It was God’s plan for me to be at home.”
After graduating from ASU, Knott returned to MAHS as a teacher, spending two seasons as the school’s JV volleyball coach and seven as the varsity mentor before stepping down in 2009, citing burnout and more health issues in her family. She also did a two-year stint as the school’s JV basketball coach in the late 1990s, has worked as a referee in both sports, and currently serves as the concession stand operator at Bear basketball and volleyball games.
“(Working the concession) is a way for me to talk to people and still be involved in basketball,” she said.
With that said, Knott is still younger than most active coaches, and possesses a wealth of knowledge in various sports that many would envy. Would she ever consider a return to the sideline?
“Maybe, when the time is right,” she said. “I have a four-year-old niece, and if she asked me, I’d certainly be pulled back in.”
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.