Champions are crowned in different ways

Published 5:40 pm Friday, March 15, 2024

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First off, I need to give a big “shout out” to the Bertie High School varsity boys basketball team for an outstanding season.

As I write this on Sunday afternoon (March 10), the Falcons are in Winston-Salem this week where they are among the four Class 1A schools remaining in the NCHSAA Men’s Tournament. I’m hopeful they can bring home the state title, but even if they come out on the short end of the scoreboard, winning 26 of 30 games thus far is an amazing accomplishment.

Their chance at winning it all got me thinking about “champions” of the past. I turned to our online archives (available through and found some interesting tidbits from years gone by.

In June of 1982, championship caliber players gathered in Ahoskie where the town’s Chamber of Commerce hosted the North Carolina Open Checker Tournament.

The event, held at the Tomahawk Restaurant, was sanctioned by the North Carolina Checker Association and the American Checker Association.

The front page article in the News-Herald was based on information supplied by Merle Vaughan, an avid checkers player. He said the tournament consisted of eight rounds among players competing in two categories – major or minor, depending on their level of skill.

Among those participating in the event were the reigning state champions from North Carolina and Virginia as well as the legendary Ed Scheidt, former Commissioner of the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles who held the state title 15 times.

State championships are not just associated with athletics or board games. I found an article, written in February of 1977 by Shelby Howell – the former Editor of the Gates County Index – that featured J.S. Hill of Sunbury.

It seems that Mr. Hill knew a thing or two about raising peanuts. Up until that time, Hill had been crowned as the Gates County Peanut Production champion on 11 occasions; won the state title five times; and was the Virginia-North Carolina champion twice.

His first county trophy came in 1965 where he had an average yield of 4,271 pounds of peanuts per acre. He followed that up in 1966 by earning both the county and the state titles by producing 4,007 pounds per acre. He won another county and state title in 1968 with a whopping 5,381 pounds per acre and repeated both in 1969 (5,249 pounds per acre) and 1970 (5,306 pounds per acre).

His fifth state title came in 1975 with 5,216 pounds per acre.

I found another agricultural related story about a state champion in the Oct. 5, 1970 edition of the News-Herald. James Slade of the Mt. Moriah 4-H Club in Hertford County was crowned as a state champion in the flue-cured tobacco demonstration held at the 1970 North Carolina State 4-H Congress held in Raleigh.

He attended the awards ceremony held at NC State University where he received a $75 award from the North Carolina Flue-Cured Tobacco Farmer Magazine.

One year earlier at the 1969 North Carolina 4-H Congress, Slade was the state champion in the category of cotton utilization.

Also in 1970, the Ahoskie Cougars won the state Class 2A football title, defeating Allen Jay High School, 28-12. Rency Eley scored three touchdowns for Ahoskie on runs of 5, 10, and 94 yards. Jerome Newsome added a 46-yard TD run.

Twenty-five years later, the Dec. 11, 1995 edition of the News-Herald told the story of Bertie High School’s first-ever state football championship. Coach Roy Bond and his run-until-you-stop-me Falcons defeated High Point Central, 38-34, inside Kenan Stadium on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill.

In that game, Bertie ran the ball 67 times (that’s not a typo) for 427 yards. Andre Burden scored on runs of 3 and 4 yards; Christshawn Gilliam struck paydirt on runs of 2, 15, and 76 yards, and Shawn Ricks scored the game-winning touchdown on his 1-yard run with 3:47 left in the contest.

How stout was Bertie’s offense? They punted only once.

One year earlier, Northeast Academy was in the midst of a string of NCISAA State Softball titles. In 1994, they defeated Pungo Christian Academy, two games to one, in the championship series played in Charlotte.

In the deciding game of the series, the Lady Eagles built was seemed to be a comfortable 7-2 lead by the sixth inning thanks to timely RBI hits earlier in the game by Shearin Overton, Lindy Warmack, and Paige Bridgers.

Pungo rallied and got to within 7-6, but the possible game-tying run was out at the plate on a perfect relay throw from Warmack (at shortstop) to Wendy Pope (pitcher).

That win gave Northeast its third state championship trophy in four years. Over one stretch (the 1991 and 1992 seasons where they won back-to-back state titles), the Lady Eagles only lost one game in 35 outings.

Before the close of the century, Northeast added two more state softball titles (1997 and 1999).

My search of the archives found that champions can also be crowned in spelling.

The “Hertford County Herald” reported in its May 1, 1952 edition (a little over one year before I was born) that the following students were Spelling Bee Champions at public schools in Bertie County:

Mary Alice Bell – Aulander (4th Grade)

Kenneth Britt – Colerain (5th Grade)

Clara Belangia – Merry Hill (6th Grade)

Sheldon Congleton – Roxobel-Kelford (7th Grade)

Bobbie Pruden – Roxobel-Kelford (8th Grade)

Ann Rhea – Merry Hill (9th Grade)

Thelma Sanford – Windsor (10th Grade)

Mildred Brown – Roxobel-Kelford (11th Grade)

Woodrow Howard – Aulander (12th Grade).

And, finally, Ruth Stallings of Hobbsvillle and Sidney Riddick of Gatesville were the 4-H Club Health Champions selected to represent Gates County in the district contest to be held in Tarboro, according to a photograph and caption in the June 8, 1939 edition of the Hertford County Herald.

I’ll continue my search of interesting stories in the archives of the News-Herald in a future column.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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