GREENSBORO — It’s been two years since a Robeson County was represented in the North Carolina East-West All-Star games, but this year, there’s no shortage. The rosters include six athletes and one coach from county schools.
“We have seven representatives, more than twice as many as we normally get,” county athletic director Jason Suggs said. “It makes me proud for the kids in Robeson County and it just shows the level of athletes that we have.”
Lumberton’s Demetri Sheridan will join St. Pauls’ Shayron Jones and Red Springs’ Blake Greene in the football game. Lumberton’s Bradley Burnette and Madi Britt will play in the boys and girls soccer games and Fairmont’s Jarrod Neal will play in the basketball game, with coach Michael Baker leading the team from the East.
“This year’s class shows an array of talent,” Suggs said. “We will be represented in four separate all-star games.”
The 66th annual games are run by the North Carolina Coaches Association and pit the top graduating seniors from each side of the state. The boys and girls basketball games will be held at the Greensboro Coliseum on Monday, followed by the the soccer games on Tuesday at the UNC Greensboro soccer stadium, and the football game on Wednesday at Jamieson Stadium.
The last time Robeson County was represented in the games was in 2012 when St. Pauls’ Mike Ratley coached the East’s girls basketball team. The county’s last players were in 2011, when South Robeson’s Nicorie Sinclair and Red Springs’ Glenn Patterson Jr. played in the basketball games and Lumberton’s Damalia Brooks played in the girls soccer game.
It’s Baker’s second chance to coach the game, but the first time he was able to accept it.
“I had an opportunity earlier in my career, but couldn’t because of other obligations,” Baker said. “It’s an honor when you’re selected by your peers to coach a prestigious game like the East-West All-Star Game. It’s a pinnacle of a coach’s career.”
Baker will be joined on the court by Neal, who has been a key part of Fairmont’s playoff runs and recently accepted an offer to play Division 1 football at North Carolina Central. Neal is the school’s first representative in boys basketball since Jonathan Grissett in 1992.
The football game will have representatives from three different county schools.
Jones said he wasn’t he wasn’t expecting an invite but called it a perfect ending to his high school career. He’s the first Bulldog to make the football game since Channing Pone in 2003.
“I was shocked, because I have never received an honor this big,” Jones said. “It’s an honor. I want to go up there and play hard and make Robeson County proud.”
For Greene, it was a reward for four years of record-setting play. Though Red Springs struggled in his senior year, he still left as the state’s third best all-time producer of total offense, with 9,036 passing yards and 2,780 on the ground. He also finished his career with 151 total touchdowns, which included 102 passes, 47 runs and two defensively, third-best in state history.
“It’s a grind, it just something you keep working out for,” Greene said. “I never really thought about playing in this game, to be honost, but its big for me.”
He’s the school’s first football player to make the game since Victor McBryde in 1989, though the Red Devils had had nine basketball selections in those 25 years. The honor of going to the game isn’t one Greene takes lightly and he said it wasn’t just him doing to work to get there.
“Overall, it would be my teammates,” he said. “Without the players around you, you wouldn’t be able to be as successful.”
Sheridan, the county’s defensive player of the year, said he was honored by his nomination but was more focused on helping the Pirates improve.
“I really didn’t know anything about it,” he said. “I just tried to play, tried to do good for my team.”
He’s the first Pirate to make the football team since Jermaine Kesler Jr. and Jalaquon McNeill did it in 2010.
Sheridan has been focused this summer on getting in shape for his upcoming college career but looked at the game as an opportunity to have fun rather than trying to rack up stats.
“I’m out here with a lot of great players,” he said. “I have a chance to compete with the best.”
Ever since Britt’s season ended with a first-round playoff loss, the Lumberton striker has still had soccer on her mind.
She still spends plenty of time with her teammates, playing pickup games during the week.
“It still hasn’t hit me that it’s over,” she said. “I’m still constantly playing soccer.”
After a “sophomore slump”, Britt focused on constant improvement in her final two years. When she entered the season this spring, she had the all-star game on her mind.
“From the start of my season that was my goal,” she said. “it was a pretty remarkable feeling (to make it.)”
She’ll be at the soccer games with Burnette, a neighbor and close friend who will be playing defense in the boys game.
“Those are the best guys in North Carolina,” Burnette said. “I did not expect it at all. It was a complete shock.”
The Pirates’ defensive anchor, Burnette is the first boy from the school to make the game since Justin Strickland in 2001. Burnette credited his appearance in the game to both his teammates and a habit of training, even when others weren’t.
Neither soccer player will play varsity soccer when they go to college, with both opting to focus on education. As such, the game will mark their last varsity appearance.
“It’s bittersweet,” Burnette said. “It’s cool that I get to play in a game this prestigious but sad it’s the last time I get to play in a game that means something.”