To say the athletics programs at South Edgecombe and West Edgecombe High Schools did not like each other back in the 1960s and 1970s, would be an understatement.
“They threw bricks at our bus, that’s how bad it was,” former West Edgecombe basketball guard Chester Sampson recalled of a particular trip to South Edgecombe. “It wasn’t love at all. We did not love them, but we built some relationships over the years.”
Although the schools had a Hatfield-and-McCoys relationship on the basketball court, each reached the pinnacle of success.
The South Edgecombe Dragons won the Class A boys’ state title in 1972 against Waccamaw, 54-51, and West Edgecombe followed suit with a state title of its own in 1973, defeating Orrum, 50-46.
Tonight, members of both teams will be in attendance as SouthWest Edgecombe – the school formed when the rival schools merged in 1978 – honors the championship programs from 40 years ago.
“They were rivals, and the communities were deadset against South and West becoming one,” SouthWest Edgecombe athletics director Sandra Langley said. “Athletics is what brought them together. They had small gyms with not a lot of seating capacity, but people were there on Friday nights to see them play. It was a big deal. If they couldn’t go to games, they listened to them on the radio.”
Langley, a 1970 graduate of South Edgecombe, said that the boys’ games took on a bigger significance back then because the girls could not compete for state championships until the mid-1970s.
The teams competed in a conference with teams from Wilson, Wayne and Johnston counties.
South Edgecombe’s 1972 standouts included guards Douglas Bynum and Dennis Eason.
The thin-framed Eason iced the state championship against Waccamaw with four free throws in the game’s final 18 seconds.
South Edgecombe fared well in its first year of full integration.
“We got hot at the right time,” Eason said. “Everything we did went our way. After we won our first game, coach (Keith) Pittman said, ‘I wouldn’t put anything past these boys.’ We played hard. Coach Pittman was one the best coaches in Eastern North Carolina.
“You did it his way, or you hit the highway.”
West Edgecombe’s 1973 title was a bit of a shock.
The Wildcats, led by a backcourt of Donnie Smith (a walk-on at North Carolina) and Richard Battle (Atlantic Christian), finished fourth in the conference before going on a state championship run in coach James Lamm’s first season.Sampson, who now lives in Garner, spearheaded tonight’s reunion.
He contacted Langley in the spring to see if there was a date both teams could come together. With plenty of outside help in acquiring contact information for players, a date was set.
Many of West Edgecombe’s players still live in the area and across the state, but Sampson found that a fair share of South Edgecombe players had moved out of North Carolina. Many roads have been traveled by the players since, and tonight will serve as a reunion for former players and a history lesson for current athletes.
“It’s going to be great,” Sampson said.
Jessie H. Nunery can be reached at 407-9959 or firstname.lastname@example.org