06/07/04 — The whole Hawk program deserves a hand

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The whole Hawk program deserves a hand

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on June 7, 2004 1:56 PM

One set of clapping hands turned into thunderous applause and led to a standing ovation Sunday afternoon at the Walnut Creek softball complex.

Teary-eyed and disappointed from a heart-breaking loss to one of the state's premier programs, the praise coming from the North Lenoir fans was certainly in abundance. Frowns quickly turned into wide smiles, especially on the face of Hawks athletic director Wayne Barwick.

Although the Eastern Plains Conference Wachovia Trophy won't return to LaGrange for a third consecutive season, the North Lenoir athletics program enjoyed perhaps its finest year of sports in recent memory.

Barwick positively couldn't have been more pleased.

An athletic staff full of young, energetic, bright and enthusiastic coaches has turned the Lenoir County school into an eastern power in volleyball, basketball, girls soccer and softball.

Seven teams advanced to the postseason this season.

* The softball team capped an outstanding year with an eastern regional championship -- the first in any girls sport -- and followed it with a runner-up showing in the state title game against East Bend Forbush. The Hawks set school records for regular-season victories (27) and playoff wins (5).

Most of those softball players helped lead the Hawks to an eastern regional runner-up finish in volleyball. That was the furthest any female athletic team had advanced until this weekend's appearance in the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 2-A softball final four.

"Heather (Humphrey) has grown as a coach," Barwick said. "She's coming along and doing a great job."

* The varsity boys and girls basketball teams each won the regular-season and tournament titles in EPC play. The boys advanced to the eastern regionals for the second consecutive season.

* The varsity football team collected eight wins and a second-place finish in the conference -- two feats that hadn't been accomplished in two-plus decades. They participated in the playoffs for the second consecutive year, which is a first in school history.

* The girls soccer team, in its third season, repeated as conference champions. They amassed a program-best 17 wins and finally claimed a postseason victory.

* Boys tennis finished second and advanced to the NCHSAA dual-team playoffs. Two doubles teams and singles standout Alex Mills also qualified for individual play in the eastern regionals.

"We've had a great athletic year," Barwick said. "We've got great coaches and we've had the talent. You have to have all the ingredients to get where you need to get (to be successful)."

"I might have to float a loan to buy equipment for football players and that's a rarity."

Every coach diligently works in the offseason to improve their respective program. Barwick said that more than 100 players have turned out to participate in offseason football workouts in the weight room. He attributes that to the Hawks' recent gridiron success.

Veteran basketball coaches Charlie Stevens, Wayne Floyd and Anthony Lofton spend considerable time with their players. They're constantly teaching the game and developing the fundamentals, two factors which make the Hawks a steady playoff contender each year.

Soccer has endured a steady change of coaches the past three seasons, but Barwick is confident Dan Amodeo will return next season. Amodeo has instilled some discipline into the program and adds a strong knowledge of the game.

The addition of soccer in the middle schools should spur the interest and help create a good feeder program for the Hawks.

Of course, the success of each athletic team has generated tremendous support from the community. Parents and friends of the Hawks filled the stands and overflowed onto the walkways surrounding the fields this past weekend. Not an open space could be found just behind the fence where fans sat in their comfortable chairs and cheered for the Hawks.

"You look around here, the football playoffs and who had the biggest crowd at the (basketball) regionals -- it was North Lenoir," Barwick said. "I've got folks that have never supported North Lenoir athletics that made the trip to Raleigh to see this.

"People like a winner and follow a winner."

Now it's just a matter of keeping that winning tradition intact.