MOREHEAD CITY — It doesn’t take many guesses to pick the county’s top sports story of the year.
COVID-19 dominated every aspect of life in 2020, and athletics weren’t any different.
While the pandemic seriously limited the number of games and competitions, there were still plenty of notable events.
The top stories were dominated by sorrow. In addition to the coronavirus, the loss of a longtime coach-athletic director and student-athlete mired the past 12 months.
The Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament continued on and made its annual appearance on the list, as did Lonnie Chisenhall and Cooper Webb.
There were surprises, however, including a local coach making his mark on a national reality television show and the county hitting it big on the powerboat circuit.
High school sports also showed up on the list thanks to realignment, a noteworthy basketball season and a special senior class at Croatan graduating.
Here are the top 10 county sports stories of 20120 as voted on by the News-Times’ sports staff:
Coronavirus alters sports calendar
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on sports in 2020 were sudden and significant.
On March 12, the threat of the novel coronavirus prompted the N.C. High School Athletic Association to suspend interscholastic athletics beginning March 13 through April 6.
The tentative postponement was pushed back time and again, with the stoppage, covering all workouts, skill development, practices and contests, extending through the entire spring sports season and into the summer.
After just two weeks of spring play, the baseball, softball, boys and girls lacrosse, track and field, girls soccer, girls golf and boys tennis seasons were cut short. Programs had to get creative with senior night celebrations, including drive-thru events.
Among those hardest hit by the sports stoppage were teams with state championship aspirations.
The Croatan girls soccer team brought back nearly its entire roster from a team that went 21-4 in 2019 with its first conference title since 2014. The Cougars advanced to the fourth round of the state playoffs and ended No. 4 in the MaxPreps 2A rankings.
The East Carteret baseball team returned all but one player from its 1A/2A Coastal 8 Conference championship season. The Mariners went 16-7 and advanced to the third round of the playoffs where they fell 7-6 to a Rosewood team that ended up as the state runner-up.
The East Carteret girls track and field team brought back a talented group that fell only two points short of a 1A state title in 2019 with Murphy earning its second straight state crown with 49.5 points, followed by East with 47.5.
The NCHSAA was also forced to cancel the boys and girls basketball state finals and award co-championships to the east and west regional title teams. The state finals were scheduled two days after the stoppage announcement.
The NCHSAA’s decision came on the heels of major announcements by other sports organizations. The NBA suspended its season, the NCAA Tournament for men and women’s basketball was cancelled, the ACC canceled its basketball tournaments, the NHL suspended its season and MLB delayed its opening day.
The MLS announced a season suspension, NASCAR postponed races, the New York City Half Marathon was canceled and the Boston Marathon was postponed until the fall.
County road races also suffered, with spring races initially postponed until the fall before getting canceled altogether. Only one of the county’s major races, the Run Crystal Coast Half Marathon, took place because of its early March date.
Others such as the Emerald Isle Marathon, Lookout Rotary Half Marathon, Historic Beaufort Road Race and Twin Bridges Road Race were canceled.
Sports returned to the county during summer in the form of Little League baseball and other youth competitions.
Parks and Recreation departments put on programs like beach volleyball and high school kickball, Bobby Watson’s Carteret County Speedway held races and the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament partnered with the Town of Morehead City and the Morehead City Marlins for a Fall Baseball League, combining players from all county high schools, Swansboro and Havelock.
Over the summer, half of the N.C. Governor’s Cup fishing tournaments took place as planned, including the Big Rock, Boys & Girls Billfish Classic and Ducks Unlimited “Band the Billfish” Tournament. All captains meetings and awards ceremonies were held virtually.
At the end of the summer, the NCHSAA postponed the start of the fall sports season until October, with only volleyball and cross country, and later swimming able to start. Typical fall sports like boys soccer and football were postponed until 2021.
The rest of the sports calendar was adjusted as well. Basketball practice began in December, while boys and girls lacrosse, boys and girls golf, boys and girls tennis, softball, girls soccer, baseball, track and field and wrestling set to start in 2021.
The NCHSAA, in conjunction with Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order on Oct. 1, restricted indoor athletic event spectators to 25, and outdoor events were limited to 100 or 30 percent of the facility’s fire capacity, whichever is fewer. Players, coaches, officials and other essential personnel did not apply to the capacity.
Guidelines for schools to handle a positive COVID-19 athlete were also established in the October update. Players or coaches who test positive for the virus have to quarantine for 14 days, as well as any members of that team who have been within 6 feet of that person for more than 15 minutes.
East Carteret volleyball was the first county program to experience a positive test, with the team being forced to quarantine for the first two weeks of the season, and then later for two more weeks later in the schedule after another exposure. Croatan was also forced to quarantine at the end of the year going into Christmas break.
McClanahan, Crow deaths shock county
In a year already made difficult by COVID-19, two deaths rocked the communities at West Carteret and Croatan.
In June, Craig McClanahan, 59, died after a months-long battle with cancer. He was an educator for 34 years, as well as the head boys basketball coach at West for 21, the boys and girls tennis coach for 17 and the school’s athletic director for 15 before retiring in 2019.
The East Carolina alum and 1978 West grad became just the second boys basketball coach at the school to win a conference title, joining his former coach Billy Widgeon, who also led the program for 21 years, by directing the Patriots to the first league championship in 33 years in his final season.
The conference’s Coach of the Year in the 2006-2007 season, McClanahan led the Patriots to winning records in five of his last six seasons. The team went a combined 47-24 over those last three campaigns.
He hung up his whistle officially in July 2019, but a few months later, he was struggling to breathe during normal activities, and a few months after that, he was diagnosed with cancer. He is survived by his wife, Jacqueline, and son, Michael.
McClanahan and his family were caught off guard when his diagnosis exposed a lung-related illness. In a March interview with the News-Times, McClanahan remarked how shocked he was by his diagnosis seeing that he had never smoked, exercised regularly and taken care of himself his whole life. He was baffled that someone like himself could get lung cancer.
McClanahan played basketball and tennis at Mount Olive College for two years before graduating from East Carolina in 1983 with a health and physical education degree.
He got his start in coaching at Beaufort Middle School and then moved to Morehead City Middle under then-principal Gordy Patrick. The pair both went to West in 1997, where Patrick would later hire McClanahan as boys basketball coach and then athletic director.
Croatan lost one of its own last spring with the untimely death of junior Hayden Crow.
The 17-year-old unexpectedly died at home on March 28. He is survived by his mother Lynnette, father Rodney, and brothers Tyler and Jordan Cordero.
Crow was a two-sport varsity athlete, playing soccer in the fall and basketball in the winter. His impact was felt on and off the field and court.
Funerals were limited during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Crow’s family was able to hold a small dockside memorial service, while fellow student-athletes and classmates adorned the Croatan school sign with mementos and tributes.
On the basketball court, Crow averaged 2.8 points, 1.1 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 0.8 steals per game for a team that posted the most wins (nine) for the program since the 2012-2013 season.
On the soccer pitch, the junior ranked third in scoring for a squad that finished 14-6-2 overall and 12-2 in the 1A/2A Coastal 8 Conference to advance to the second round of the 2A state playoffs. Crow scored 11 goals and added three assists.
Jordan, Pelagic Hunter II highlight record 62nd Big Rock tourney
Despite concerns over the global coronavirus pandemic, the 62nd annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament turned out a record $3,343,975 purse, as well as a bonafide celebrity appearance.
The second-smallest blue marlin of the tournament produced the biggest moment when Catch 23 boated a blue marlin and arrived at the weigh station with owner and NBA legend Michael Jordan on board. The Charlotte Hornets owner embraced his friend, tournament official and World Golf Hall of Famer Curtis Strange, and waved at a huge crowd before posing with his crew and their catch.
The competition was also a strange one considering the changes due to COVID-19. The tournament made its in-person events virtual and discouraged crowding at the docks with a barrier pushed 30 yards away from the scales. Security posted at the barrier encouraged spectators to disperse after fish were weighed.
Capt. John Cruise III and his crew aboard the Pelagic Hunter II from Sneads Ferry rocked the weigh station on day five of the tournament with a 495.2-pound blue marlin reeled in by Riley Adkins of Wilmington to capture first place in the competition.
Cruise captained his 35-foot Contender, becoming one of an extremely small group of Big Rock winners with a center console boat. The first competitor to do it was Dr. “Doc” Leroy Allen in 1962 on Sea Hag. Allen singlehandedly caught a 487-pound fish and towed it home alongside the boat to win that year’s event, which was known then as the Fabulous Fisherman’s Blue Marlin Tournament.
The Pelagic Hunter II beat out two other boats with less than a pound separating the entire podium. Sea Striker of Morehead City weighed a 495-pound blue marlin on Saturday, reeled in by two-time Big Rock winner Capt. Adrian Holler and angler Jon Henry. On Monday, Predator of Hatteras grabbed an early lead with a 494.2-pound fish reeled in by Capt. Chris Barnett and angler Gene Olmo that wound up placing third.
Big Rock offered up a record $3,343,975 purse, but the payouts to podium boats differed greatly. The tournament is comprised of different levels, each with their own entry fee and payout. Level I is required, but the rest are voluntary, save for the Level IX Outboard division, which is mandatory for outboard boats.
To enter all levels a year earlier, boats paid out a whopping $27,500 in entry fees.
The mandatory Level I entry fee was $2,500 with a payout of $25,000. It was also $2,500 to enter Level II, which paid out $162,563 to first place. Level III required a $5,000 entry fee and paid out $303,875 to first place, Level IV required a $5,000 entry fee and paid out $603,500 to first place, and Level V required a $5,000 entry fee and paid $531,250 to the first boat that weighed a 500-pound marlin. Levels VI through VIII concerned gamefish and releases, while Level IX required a $1,000 entry fee and paid out $9,775 to first place.
Pelagic Hunter II was only entered in Levels I, II, VI and IX, giving it a payday of $223,263. Second-place Sea Striker, which was registered in all divisions, walked away with $1,056,138 in prizes, and third-place Predator cashed in on $273,750.
The bite all week was active with 14 blue marlin coming to the weigh station and a tournament-record 180 releases, eight more than the previous record of 172 set in 2007.
The other boats to weigh an official tournament marlin were Hatter-Done with a 488.1-pounder, Dancin Outlaw (470.4), Bill Collector (453.7), Hammer Time (450.2), Reel Steel (450), Catch 23 (442.3) and Double B (419). There were also marlin brought to the scales by Tail Gunner, Reel Country, Game Changer and April Mae, but all four failed to meet tournament minimum standards of 400 pounds or 110 inches in length.
There was a 15th blue marlin in play when Moon Dancer boated one late on Saturday, but the boat blew an oil pump on the way back to port and eventually conceded the tournament with measurements concluding its catch would very likely not make the leaderboard.
The crowd at the weigh station never got its marquee Fabulous Fisherman’s moment, with the “big check” worth $552,500 ever-present at the docks. That didn’t mean the money went unclaimed, though.
Ft. Pierce, Fla.-based Lo Que Sea, the weekly release division leader with 2,250 points and captained by Garrett Yarbrough, was already going to walk away with a tidy sum of $151,937 in weekly release prizes, in addition to the $47,813 it pocketed for the Tuesday daily release prize.
However, tournament rules dictate that if the Fabulous Fisherman’s prize goes unclaimed, the boat entered in the Level V division with the most release points takes home the payout. That means Lo Que Sea earned a whopping $752,250 in total prizes.
Sea I Sea finished in second place of the weekly release division with 1,600 points for the release of four blue marlin, earning it a payout of $91,162 in weekly release prizes. Post Call placed third with 1,325 points for the release of three blue marlin and one white marlin for a weekly release prize of $60,775.
Singularis lasted the week with the winning dolphin weighing 55.2 pounds, reeled in by Zac Yarbrough on Tuesday. The hefty fish earned the boat a $395,250 payout.
C-Escape ran away with the heaviest wahoo division with a 75.2-pounder from angler Randy Britt to earn the boat $5,000 in prizes.
There were no tuna weighed throughout the week.
Croatan’s Sutton places second in Titan Games
When Croatan agriculture teacher Will Sutton was chosen to participate in NBC’s The Titan Games last summer, he called it the “opportunity of a lifetime.”
The 26-year-old Trenton native, who was later named the Cougars’ varsity boys basketball coach in August, placed second with a close loss to Central Region champion Matt Chan, a firefighter from Denver, Colo. Sutton was the Eastern Region winner.
Sutton championed the phrase “Country Strong” during the competition, looking to draw inspiration from a childhood spent on his family farm. Standing only 5-7 and weighing 180 pounds, he outlasted a range of bigger athletes, each with their own advantages, including UFC Fighter Tyron Woodley.
Sutton appeared to get better at the 10-stage “Mount Olympus” obstacle course each time, going through certain stages a hair faster and maintaining the level of strength needed to finish. It was not uncommon for contestants to fail to even finish the course, whether because of injury or exhaustion.
The course saw contestants climb and crawl under the “Starting Gates,” flip heavy boxes three times in “Box Flip,” use two reverse-locking grips to lift themselves up an incline in “Iron Ascent,” lift a 200-pound pillar up a steep incline in “Log Lift,” lift five weights totaling 120 pounds off a pillar to release the “Sky Bridge,” rotate the “Crank Down” to release the second half of the bridge, crawl through an angled, three-layer cage in “Cage Crawl,” descend the quick-release steps in the “Drop Zone” and pull the 300-pound “Ball & Chain” to the “Titan Tomb,” where they used a sledgehammer to crack through two layers of concrete to the awaiting “relic.”
Sutton squared off against Chan and Western Region champion Noah Palicia, an Air Force instructor pilot from Yokota Air Base in Japan, in the penultimate episode.
The trio first competed in a competition called “Hammer Down,” which Chan won and earned an automatic berth to the final Mount Olympus run for the crown. Sutton finished third in the event, which saw competitors hammer pins into long poles to release them. The third poles had to be climbed to pull a lever and win.
After struggling a little in “Hammer Down,” Sutton absolutely smoked Palicia in the “Herculean Pull,” finishing off his victory in the blink of an eye to earn a spot on Mount Olympus alongside Chan. “Herculean Pull” had contestants pull two long horizontal poles out their holes and then compete tug-of-war style to pull the third one out. Sutton cleared his third pole before Palicia could even approach it.
It all came to a head on Mount Olympus, where two wrinkles were added for the finals, including two solid walls the contestants had to kick through to access the “Cage Crawl” section. It was a difficult task for all four contestants (including the two female competitors), but the 5-7, 180-pound Sutton had a distinct disadvantage against 5-9, 217-pound Chan.
Sutton and Chan were neck and neck until the “Cage Crawl,” when Chan broke through his wall earlier and gained a solid lead. Chan was the oldest contestant in the show this season at 42 but never slowed up on the final “Ball & Chain” task, all with Sutton on his trail.
The show filmed its second season episodes in early March before the rise of COVID-19. Then the Croatan junior varsity boys basketball coach, Sutton had to keep his incredible second-place finish a secret for five months. The male and female winners of the competition each got $100,000 in prize money.
Sutton is a 2012 graduate of Jones Senior High School, where he played baseball and basketball. After attending Methodist University and playing baseball for one year, Sutton transferred to N.C. State to pursue a major in agriculture business. He also played for the club baseball team at the school.
Realignment raises eyebrows at East
As if the year didn’t provide enough surprises, the end of it offered two more head scratching moments with the N.C. High School Athletic Association’s realignment releases.
In early December, the NCHSAA released the classification realignment that will begin in 2021 and run for four years, and while Croatan was confident it was moving up to 3A to join West Carteret, East Carteret had no idea it was getting bumped to 2A.
A week later, the NCHSAA released the conference realignment draft and East found itself in a split 2A/3A league that included just one other 2A program in Southwest Onslow. The 3A part of it included West, Swansboro, White Oak and Dixon.
The draft put all three county teams in the same conference for the first time since Croatan came on the scene in 1998. East and West haven’t been in the same conference since 1980 when East was last a 3A school. East dropped to 2A in 1981 and remained there until 2006 when it fell to 1A due to dwindling enrollment.
“I don’t think anybody fathomed we would end up in a split 2A/3A with West Carteret and those teams,” East Athletic Director Daniel Griffee said at the time. “It’s hard to swallow when you have half the enrollment of a lot of the schools. Give us 250 more kids – we’re still a long way from some of those schools if you do – and we’re good to go in that conference.”
The average daily memberships of those schools have West with an enrollment of 1,130 followed by Swansboro, 1,086; White Oak, 1,057; Dixon, 891; Croatan, 874; Southwest Onslow, 706; East, 534.
The NCHSAA typically uses ADMs to figure realignment every four years, but this year used a formula that saw enrollment count 50% with Wells Fargo State Cup and Identified Student Percentage each counting 25%.
The Wells Fargo State Cup recognizes high schools that achieve the best overall interscholastic athletic performance within each of the state’s four competitive classifications. The Identified Student Percentage is the percentage of students at a school that receive government assistance as established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“It’s unbelievable,” Griffee said. “I’m thinking about some particular sports, and it is a loaded conference. Take soccer for example, and volleyball as well, just to name a few. We’ll just have to hope for those golden years when the talent cycle comes around and you have a special group of players. And those don’t come around too often. Other than that, it would be difficult for us to win conference championships.”
Griffee said East plans on appealing the program’s 2A reclassification.
Schools have until this Friday to submit concerns or requests for changes to the classification first draft. A second draft will be issued Jan. 14, with a second set of appeals from schools due Jan. 21. A third draft will be issued Feb. 4, with final appeals due Feb. 10.
The NCHSAA Board of Directors will vote on the final realignment plan in March.
The increase in split leagues jumped off the page with the conference realignment release. There are currently 10 split conferences, but the realignment produced 33.
“The number of ‘split conferences’ in this alignment draft represents the Realignment Committee’s desire not to limit those,” said NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker in a press release. “It also takes into consideration the protection of natural rivalries and strongly considers geography and travel time. Of course, this means the way of getting into the playoffs must be reviewed and updated. That will come later.”
Chisenhall retires after productive MLB career
Lonnie Chisenhall could really swing a bat during his days at Newport Middle School, and he kept that smooth lefty swing until his Major League Baseball career was done.
He returned to his alma mater in February to have his jersey retired after calling it a wrap on his nine-year career.
“I’ve only played 29 games in the past two years,” Chisenhall said during a Q&A session with students at the jersey dedication. “So, between that, and I have three kids at home, they are all in school, traveling around the country wasn’t practical anymore. It was a pretty easy decision.”
After eight years with the Cleveland Indians, he signed a one-year deal in November 2018 with the Pittsburgh Pirates who originally drafted him when he was a senior at West Carteret, but he never saw the field due to continuing calf injuries.
Chisenhall, who turned 32 in 2020, was on fire at the plate during the previous two seasons but struggled to stay on the field.
He was hitting .305 in mid-July 2017 with eight home runs and a team-leading 55 RBIs at the all-star break when he suffered the type of calf injury that would plague him during the final three seasons of his career.
He led the team with a .321 average in 2018 when he went down after 29 games with another calf injury.
He began 2015 as the Indians’ starting third baseman but floundered at the plate and was optioned to Triple A Columbus where he ended up giving new life to his career by transitioning to right field.
Following a near two-month stint in the minors, he returned to Cleveland as the calendar turned to August and proceeded to produce one of the best months of his career, hitting .403 with two home runs, 14 RBIs and four doubles while sporting a .474 on-base percentage and slugging .552.
He continued to produce in 2016 as the Indians advanced to the World Series, hitting .286 with eight home runs, 25 doubles and 57 RBIs in 126 games.
Chisenhall showed his future star power on the diamond in his early days at Newport Middle School.
He had more doubles than singles and more triples than singles as well. He hit .634 and also performed well as a pitcher, throwing a perfect game with 16 strikeouts against Broad Creek and a no-hitter with 11 K’s against Arapahoe.
Chisenhall went on to star at West Carteret where he was named the N.C. Gatorade Player of the Year and a second-team All-American.
In 2008, the Indians took him with the 29th pick in the first round out of Pitt Community College. He made his big league debut in 2011 and hit .244 with 23 home runs, 74 RBIs and 36 doubles in 203 games during his first three seasons.
In the 2013 American League Wild Card Game, he went 3-for-4 in a 4-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.
He had a breakout campaign in 2014, setting career highs in games played (142), home runs (13), RBIs (59) and doubles (29) while hitting .280 with a .343 on-base percentage and slugging .427.
He was the talk of baseball on June 9, 2014 in a 17-7 win over the Texas Rangers.
He went 5-for-5 with three home runs, nine RBIs, three runs, a single and a double. The Boston Red Sox’s Fred Lynn was the last player to have at least three homers, five hits and nine RBIs in a game on June 18, 1975. Lynn was the AL MVP and Rookie of the Year that season.
Chisenhall, who was hitting .385 on the season at that point, was just the fourth player since the RBI became an official stat in 1920 to have a five-hit, three-homer, nine-RBI performance. Besides Lynn, the other two players to do it were Hall of Famer Gil Hodges on Aug. 31, 1950 and Walker Cooper on July 6, 1949.
Chisenhall ended his career having appeared in 688 games, batting .268 in 2,159 at-bats with 578 hits, 64 home runs, 296 RBIs, 132 doubles, 10 triples and 20 stolen bases.
He also paid back to those who have helped him along the way, providing a large donation to help fund an impressive 5,000-square feet, $170,000 indoor athletic facility at West Carteret, known as the Chisenhall Hitting Facility.
Webb takes runner-up spot in Monster Energy Supercross season
Cooper Webb was just a few points shy of repeating as the Monster Energy AMA Supercross 450 class champion.
A fantastic finish wasn’t enough to get it done for the county native after earning more podium finishes (13) than any rider in the series, including eight straight at one point, but he fell 25 points behind Eli Tomac for the top spot.
The Red Bull KTM Factory rider needed a motorbike miracle to capture the title in the finale after entering the race 22 points back, but he didn’t receive it, finishing eighth at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah.
If the 25-year-old had won the race, Tomac just needed to score a minimum of four points, which means he needed to finish at least 19th.
If Webb finished second, Tomac needed to score just a single point to capture the 450SX crown. To score only one point, Tomac simply needed to qualify for the main event, as even last place (22nd) provides one point.
Tomac ended up taking fifth, and Webb claimed eighth to break a streak of eight consecutive podium finishes.
Webb had a good jump off the start, but he got tangled with another rider in the first turn and went down. He was able to rally from the back of the pack to 14th by the end of lap one, and from there, he put his head down and charged through the pack.
His effort helped him hold off Ken Roczen for second in the season standings. Roczen started the race trailing Webb by six points as the two had switched second and third over the previous few races. Roczen placed seventh, and ended up five points short of Webb in the final standings.
Webb won his first 450SX championship during the previous season in his third year in the premier class by outlasting Tomac by 18 points. Webb took 13th and ninth in his first two 450SX campaigns.
Tomac’s seven-year career had followed an “always a bridesmaid never a bride” path as the Monster Energy Kawasaki rider had finished as the runner-up in four of the previous five seasons, as well as posting a third-place finish. At 27, he became the oldest rider to win his first 450SX championship.
Tomac, who put up 12 podium finishes, had to fight off a relentless charge from Webb over seven races at Rice-Eccles Stadium heading into the finale. Each race was held in Salt Lake City with tight coronavirus protocol restrictions over three weeks with three races on Wednesdays and four on Sundays. The series previously underwent an 85-day break due to the pandemic.
Webb outscored Tomac during the seven-race stretch (162-158) thanks to three wins on Wednesdays to go with three runner-up finishes on Sundays, but it wasn’t enough to overcome a 29-point deficit he started with following the race at Daytona, Fla. on March 7.
Two races proved the biggest difference in the 2020 season with Tomac scoring a combined 45 points at St. Louis, Mo. and Arlington, Tex. with Webb putting up a combined 22 points in those events.
At St. Louis on Jan. 11, Tomac took fourth while Webb fought off a chest infection to place 12th. At Arlington on Feb. 22, Tomac captured the overall win in the triple-crown event with two triumphs and a fifth-place finish.
Webb took second in the first main event but suffered a scary crash in the second, resulting in a 17th-place finish, followed by a 21st-place finish in the third, which he wasn’t able to compete in following the crash.
He catapulted off the track in the second main, landing hard on his back on the concrete and had to be helped from the track by medical staff. He was immediately transported to a local hospital for X-rays and evaluation where it was discovered he amazingly escaped with no broken bones but instead a deep bone bruise and hematoma on his pelvis and sacrum.
Webb later sat out most of the 2020 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship after compounding the ongoing back injury in the opener.
He was later diagnosed with three herniated disks, a torn nerve and bone contusions on his sacrum and both iliac joints.
Webb got healthy in the offseason and also got married. He will return to the Monster Energy AMA Supercross circuit in a few weeks.
Powerboat world championships come to Morehead City
During a month when downtown would normally be crawling with N.C. Seafood Festival visitors, the OPA World Championships did its best to replicate a tourist bump in October.
Close to 60 teams of drivers, throttlemen and crew for the Offshore Powerboat Association event descended on Morehead City for the second time in a month, thrilling onlookers aboard dozens of boats in Bogue Sound.
Morehead City became the site of the OPA World Championships when the Englewood Beach Waterfest in Florida declined to host it due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The world championship race was the second OPA event to take place in Morehead City, following the 42-boat Crystal Coast Grand Prix in September at Jack’s Waterfront Bar, which represented OPA’s first race of the season. The Grand Prix, organized by Jack’s owner Jeff McCann, hadn’t taken place since 2012.
The return of the Grand Prix snapped an eight-year stretch without it in Morehead City. Between 2006 and 20212, the Crystal Coast Grand Prix, a three-day event that hosted the country’s most competitive powerboat racers, drew big crowds and generated huge revenue.
Miss GEICO was one of 10 division winners at the world championship event. The boat, driven by extreme sports star Travis Pastrana and American Powerboat Association Hall of Champions inductee Brit Lilly, won the Class 1 category against just one other boat. The throttle was handled by boat racing legend Sir Steve Curtis.
Other division winners at the world championships were Knucklehead Racing in the Vee Extreme class, Jackhammer in Super Stock, Sun Print in Modified Vee, Done Deal in Stock Vee, Team Woody in Class 3, Tsunami in Class 4, Reindl Powerboats in Class 5, Rum Runner in Class 6 and Evil Ways in Class 7.
There were also changes to the Morehead City races due to the novel coronavirus.
In the past, the N.C. Port served as the primary viewing area for onshore spectators, but COVID-19 concerns kept the facility closed to the public. That left less than a handful of spots along the waterfront where onlookers could catch a glimpse, making boaters the only true spectators along the water.
Basketball season proves noteworthy
There were no state titles or even regional appearances, but this past hoops season proved to be one of the best in recent memory.
Three teams – East Carteret boys, West Carteret boys, Croatan girls – each won league titles while accumulating at least 20 wins thanks to long winning streaks, while the East boys and Croatan girls also captured conference tournament crowns and advanced to the third round of the state playoffs.
The West boys finished 21-5, due in large part to a 16-game winning streak, and earned 20 victories in a season for the first time in 35 years.
The Patriots also went 10-0 in the 3A Coastal Conference to win their second straight title and go undefeated in league play for the first time in 36 years. They also won their first playoff game in six years with a 64-38 triumph over Cleveland in the first round.
The Croatan girls went 25-3 to fall just one win short of the school record that was set in 2007-2008 with a 26-2 record.
They captured 21 wins in a row at one point and earned their second consecutive 1A/2A Coastal 8 Conference championship with another 14-0 mark. Croatan has a 35-game winning streak in the Coastal 8 going back to the 2017-2018 campaign.
The veteran squad won its first league tournament title in 12 years and advanced to the third round of the state playoffs for the first time in 11 years after beating Midway 53-11 in the first round and Beddingfield 57-39 in the second.
The Cougars fell 62-55 in overtime in the third round to a Kinston team that ended up advancing to the regionals.
The East boys went 22-4, thanks to an 18-game winning streak, and put up a 13-1 record in the Coastal 8 to share the conference crown with Pender.
The Mariners won both conference regular season and tournament titles for the first time in four years.
The three county teams went a combined 68-12 overall and 37-1 in league action.
The Croatan boys didn’t put up impressive numbers like those three but added to the noteworthy season by enjoying its best campaign in seven years with a 9-15 mark and a playoff spot.
Croatan hadn’t won nine games and qualified for the playoffs since 2012-2013.
Special senior class at Croatan graduates
Not only is the senior class of Kelly Hagerty, Savannah McAloon, Ally Roth and Natalie Show the best in Croatan history, it’s also one of the best the county has ever seen.
Some combination of that quartet helped the Cougars go undefeated in five consecutive conference seasons, including their junior seasons of volleyball, basketball and soccer, and their senior seasons of volleyball, and basketball.
Croatan would have likely also gone undefeated in the 1A/2A Coastal 8 Conference soccer season last spring if the campaign hadn’t been canceled by the coronavirus pandemic.
Those three programs went a combined 110-17 overall and 63-0 in league play during those five title runs. In conference play, they finished with a 35-game winning streak in basketball, a 25-game winning streak in volleyball and an 18-game winning streak in soccer.
Hagerty and McAloon played all three sports, while Show played basketball both years and one year of volleyball, and Roth played both years of basketball and soccer and one year of volleyball.
While playing basketball during the winter as a senior, Roth also helped the swim team win the inaugural Coastal 8 Conference championship as a member of two winning relay teams. She was also a key part of two cross country conference championship teams, as well as outdoor and indoor track and field league title squads during her career.
In the fall of their junior years, the volleyball team lost a month of its campaign from the effects of Hurricane Florence.
Croatan won the league with a shortened schedule, going 13-4 overall and 7-0 in the Coastal 8 with a trip to the third round of the playoffs. The club played the remainder of its home matches at West Carteret after the Croatan gym was severely damaged.
The team repeated as the conference champion in their senior seasons, going 21-3 overall and 14-0 in the Coastal 8 with another trip to the third round of the playoffs.
The Cougars registered a 20-3 record and a 14-0 league mark to win the conference title during their junior seasons in basketball, and then as seniors, the quartet produced one of the best seasons in school history.
It included a 25-3 record, a 21-game winning streak, a regular season conference championship, the first conference tournament title in 12 years and the first trip to the third round of the playoffs in 11 years.
Hagerty was named the News-Times Player of the Year after averaging 15.0 points, 10.5 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.6 blocks.
The quartet started as freshmen for a basketball team that went 5-17. They went a combined 66-11 during the next three seasons.
In the spring of their junior years, the soccer team went 21-4 with its first conference title in five years thanks to an unbeaten 14-0 run through the 1A/2A Coastal 8 Conference. The Cougars advanced to the fourth round of the state playoffs and ended the year No. 4 in the MaxPreps 2A rankings.
McAloon received an all-state honor for her defensive play.
The majority of that team returned this past spring with the goal of getting to the state championship, but the season was canceled by the pandemic after just four games.