Southern Wayne standout Kevin Wise passes
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on February 18, 2012 11:11 PM
MOUNT OLIVE -- The Wayne County high school baseball community mourned the stunning loss of one of its most-respected players, dear friend and teammate early Saturday morning.
Kevin Wise, a senior at Southern Wayne High School, passed away in his sleep. He was 17. The Wayne County Sheriff's Department said Wise's body was taken to Chapel Hill for an autopsy.
"It's just tragic ... a somber, somber atmosphere around here," David Lee, athletics director at Southern Wayne said. "Everybody loves Kevin. Everybody looks up to Kevin. He was a great kid, a great player and (his death) is hitting everybody hard."
Funeral arrangements have not been completed.
Wise's passing shocked his teammates who gathered for practice Saturday morning at the Doyle Whitfield Athletic Complex.
"I don't honestly know what God's plan is in all of this," Southern Wayne head baseball coach Trae McKee said to the team. "There is going to be a lot of hurt, a lot of pain. We're going to get through this as a community. Like I told our baseball team, God's plan has something good to come out of this, although we can't see it right now."
The news of Wise's death quickly spread among the county's well-knit baseball fraternity. Players from Eastern Wayne and Greene Central met at the pitcher's mound before their scrimmage and said a prayer for the Wise family. Charles Davis, head baseball coach at Charles B. Aycock, said players who were good friends with Wise "are taking it pretty hard."
A sweet-hitting and smooth-catching center fielder, Wise had a great infectious attitude and passion about the game he loved with all his heart. He always demanded the best from himself, which rubbed off on his teammates who strived to work harder on and off the baseball diamond.
"Kevin was a first-class young man," McKee said. "Not only was he a leader on our baseball team, he was a leader in our school, he was a leader in our community, he was the model of what a student-athlete is supposed to be.
"His character is above reproach. Everything that he achieved, he worked for. I can't tell you how much that young man affected my life and how much better I am as a person for coaching him, and that his teammates are better players for playing with him."
A three-year varsity starter, Wise enjoyed a breakout season in 2011. He anchored the Saints' lineup as they advanced to the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3-A playoffs and had a sterling American Legion campaign with Wayne County Post 11.
The play that best personified Wise's ability occurred during the Area I East Division playoffs against nemesis Rocky Mount Post 58. With his team trailing 4-2 in the seventh inning and Post 58 threatening to break open the game, Wise raced toward the fence, laid out and made a diving over-the-shoulder catch that sent his Post 11 teammates into a frenzy.
"That catch was probably my best ever," Wise told the News-Argus after the game. "I got a good jump on it and I was extended as far as I could. And the best part was, it kept another run off the board."
Post 11 eventually secured the Area I East and Area I titles, and finished runner-up to Cherryville in the 2011 N.C. American Legion State tournament.
Wise entertained several college scholarship offers, but signed a national letter-of-intent to play baseball at the University of North Carolina -- the place where he had wanted to play all along. He was a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the National Honor Society and the Science National Honor Society.
Terry Jones, head varsity boys' basketball coach at Wayne Country Day, built a strong relationship with Wise through Fusions Student Ministries at Jones' church. Wise had often told Jones that he was appreciative of the church and how much FCA influenced his life.
Jones immediately drove to the family's house when he received the sobering news.
"He was a great young man, a class act," Jones said. "Put it like this, if I had a daughter, I would let her marry him. To me, it doesn't get any better than that. He was an awesome guy. This situation has caught everyone by surprise and hearts are definitely heavy.
"He was just a giver and gave to whomever was in need. Kevin always thought of others over himself."
A soft-spoken individual whose actions spoke volumes, Wise was co-winner of the Jerry Narron Award during the sixth annual Wayne County Hot Stove League banquet held just three weeks ago. He was also the reigning News-Argus Baseball Player-of-the-Year and earned a spot on the 2011 N.C. Baseball Coaches Association All-State 3-A team.
"I will remember that night forever," McKee said. "Kevin wanted to thank his Lord and savior Jesus Christ as he stood before them to receive that award. He's not hurting any more ... whatever hurt he was going through."