Commentary: A student and fan says thank you to his Northern Nash Knights
BY CHANCE PUCKETT
Special to the Telegram
Monday, March 4, 2019
Chance Puckett is a junior at Northern Nash High School, and has followed the Knights since he was 11 years old.
There’s a contingent of people who think high school sports are a waste of finances and time, as well as a distraction from what students, whether they be athletes, or just fans, should truly be focused on from the ages of 14 to 18. However, if you’ve ever been to a Northern Nash basketball game, especially a big one, you know that this ideology isn’t true.
The gym at Northern is a place that is consistently filled with loud, adoring, and passionate fans who treat basketball season as if it is a life-or-death issue. And while some may see this as silly or naive, to me, it's perfect. And it shows that while Rocky Mount may not be nearly as big as a professional or even college sports city, we can love our teams just as much as citizens of those cities can.
The most valuable lesson I’ve learned in my time as a Northern Nash student wasn’t about history or math, or some other subject. It was about community, and how while the only two relatives of mine in the gym are my mother and father — who attend most every home game — it was easy to find myself a part of a bigger family, one who eats, sleeps, and breathes Northern Nash basketball.
Over the years, Northern’s boys’ basketball team has been filled with a variety of fun-loving, exciting, and hardworking players who were more than just good athletes — they were genuinely likable people.
Lately, this has included the likes of Adam Renner, whose 2015 halfcourt buzzer-beater to beat Rocky Mount High for the first time since 2010 is still commonly talked about. Darius Spragley, the starting point guard on the 2016-2017 team, who finished his career with a 25-4 season which ended in a heartbreaking fourth-round loss to Eastern Guilford. Raymond “Goody” Bullock, another member of the 2016-2017 team, who currently plays at Averett University. And Da’Shawn Liggins, whose go-ahead layup against Rocky Mount High in 2018 capped a six-point comeback in the final two minutes of play, avenging the Nash County Christmas tournament loss to the Gryphons just two months before.
The list extends far beyond these few names, but it doesn’t stop with the players. Fifth-year head coach Henry Drake has a positively-contagious personality, and you can’t help but smile while he’s in your presence. Assistant coach Ashley Davis can make any situation funny, and will stop at no end to find ways to give somebody a laugh, even in situations where you don’t particularly want to.
The connection this group has with the school and community surrounding Northern Nash is unthinkable, and the group of seniors currently on the roster have pushed that to a new level.
A starting five full of seniors has captured the hearts of Knights fans all around Nash County. And, while there are no words that can explain the impact this group has on the Red Oak and Northern Nash community, it takes just two short, simple and easy words to show their worth.
Thank you for the 76 wins over the course of the past three seasons. Thank you for the seven losses where even when we came up short, you fought hard for four quarters, and maybe even overtime. Thank you for playing a major role in turning around a program that had been desperately struggling, and giving Northern Nash fans a reason to look forward to basketball season.
The pride and pleasure found in wearing green and gold around Nash County is stronger now than it has ever been, and it’s because of you.
To Sam Page, thank you for your kindness, humbleness, and reassuring smile. There is nobody more deserving of a WRAL Extra Effort Award than yourself, and this community was thrilled to see you finally get the recognition that you deserve.
To Davontae “Crank” Wiggins, thank you for being a ridiculously exciting player to watch on both the football field and the basketball court. The corny jokes cracked from time to time are a nice touch, too.
To Darquez Flowers, thank you for your insane commitment to basketball and your development as a player over the past few years. It has been ridiculously fun to watch you grow as a player.
To Joseph Cherry-Blue and TaRod Brown, thank you for being proud to wear “Northern Nash” across your chests, despite the criticism you may receive from your former schools or fans in the area.
To Coach Drake, thank you for being the lovable personality at the forefront of it all, and setting the example for how a head coach should represent a school and a town.
To the Red Oak and Northern Nash community, thank you for making game days fun, and creating a fantastic home game environment. The way this area has surrounded itself around this program and team has been infatuating to watch, and this family deserves just as much thank you as those competing on the floor.
Tonight, this group of seniors will play their final game in front of a home crowd at Northern Nash High School. There’s going to be a deafening student section, an outpouring of community support, and numerous younger students wearing their Red Oak League basketball jerseys, all of which are there to cheer on the Knights.
While it may be bittersweet, it is going to be a beautiful moment for this group of student athletes, and they deserve to have a passionate, loud, and cheerful crowd behind them. No matter what happens tonight, I, and the rest of this community, are going to be unbelievably proud of this basketball team. We love you, we thank you, and we wouldn’t want to cheer on any other group in North Carolina.
Let’s go win this game, for Northern, for Red Oak, for Nash County, and for yourselves — you guys deserve it, more than anything.