Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, December 6, 2017, 12:10 p.m.
The news around here hasn’t been the best.
I was away for most of 20 years, though not technically. I was home on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for three quarters of those years, and the rest of the time I was chasing stock cars, a futile task. On January 4, it will mark five years since the newspaper in Gastonia, North Carolina, eliminated my job. Since then, I’ve been making a living, not much of one in terms of security, by writing novels and stories mostly about local sports.
Hell broke loose this year in a variety of ways. In Laurens, the county seat, a campaign to get a new high school built failed miserably, and the folks up there, on both sides, are still mad about it. County Council has been fighting. A new sheriff defeated the incumbent a little over a year ago. Then Presbyterian College decided to stop giving football scholarships, and it caught a lot of people by surprise, and anyone who thought PC wasn’t important in these parts was dead wrong because people ask me about it everywhere I go. The school needs money, and that means it’s having to save a lot of it at the same time it’s trying to make more.
We could use something to perk things up. The Blue Hose men’s basketball team just might be it. Dustin Kerns, formerly an assistant at Wofford College in Spartanburg, has breathed life into a team that only won five games in the last of Gregg Nibert’s 28 seasons as head coach. He won more than 400 games.
The team has won five this year already, four of them in a row. The latest victim, South Carolina State, fell 88-77 at Templeton Center, where 459 fans, most of them in recovery from football shock, watched. This is football country. Folks hardly notice basketball until after the holidays. Folks are going to notice this team. They upset UNC-Greensboro and North Carolina A&T on buzzer beaters last week. The record, 5-5, is a bit better than it seems because the losses are to Tennessee, North Carolina State, Charlotte, Virginia Military and Nicholls State. The Blue Hose will almost surely rise above .500 when they host Toccoa Falls on December 14.
It’s fun the way winning always is. Every varsity football team in Laurens County – PC, Laurens, Clinton and Laurens Academy – had losing records this year. The Raiders and Red Devils made the playoffs in their classifications, but that was about it. On the other hand, all the basketball teams are pretty strong. Basketball looks better in contrast to football that isn’t so hot.
Last night it was almost a coin flip for me. Clinton High’s boys advanced to the Class 3A upstate finals last year, and they were also at home against Emerald. I was not assigned to write about it, so I decided, on my website, I would rather write about the Blue Hose. The Red Devils, who defeated the Vikings, 66-45, play Laurens on Friday night.
At Templeton, one of the four PC seniors, Reggie Dillard, scored a career-high 26 points in spite of being sidelined for a while after taking a blow in the area of the male anatomy most likely to produce short-term pain. After each home victory, Kerns lines up the team to sing the alma mater. As best I could tell, Dillard was no longer singing soprano by then.
Junior Francois Lewis scored 23. Presbyterian outrebounded the Bulldogs, 40-31, outshot them, 49.2-44.6 percent, and out-deadball-rebounded them, 3-2, but the last is unimportant.
I watched from behind the bench, exchanging jokes with a former player, Danny Charles, and it wasn’t too tense or too safe because the Blue Hose led for all but the 11 seconds when it was 6-6. It wasn’t a runaway – South Carolina State was within three at halftime – but no one bit any nails.
The crowds will improve as word gets around. PC fans are still sorrowful about the impending football diminution, but they’re looking for something that excites them. Speaking for myself, this basketball team is going to fill that bill.
Most of my books — non-fiction on NASCAR and music, collections that include my contributions, seven novels, and one short-story collection — are available here.
Three novels — Cowboys Come Home Home, Lightning in a Bottle and Life Gets Complicated — can be purchased in uptown Clinton at L&L Office Supply and Emma Jane’s.