Editor’s note: As with every calendar year, Bladen County athletics boasted of numerous highlights during 2015 that could easily fill a few sports pages with recaps. But focusing primarily on the varsity level of high-school sports, the staff of the Bladen Journal narrowed the list of the best sports stories down to a subjective top five. Those stories from the past year follow …
1. Abby Norris honored
The 2015 East Bladen High graduate had a senior year to remember.
On the surface, Norris was a top-notch performer with the Lady Eagles volleyball, basketball and softball teams — all while maintaining her No. 1 position at the head of her class, a spot she held from start to finish during her four-year high-school career.
And while she managed to garner a number of team and conference accolades along the way during her senior year, the kudos aimed at Norris were barely beginning.
On April 29, representatives from the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the U.S. Army visited East Bladen High and, during a school-wide assembly in the gymnasium, saluted Norris as one of only 20 students across the country to be a finalist in the Award of Excellence program.
“This award not only celebrates not only this outstanding student-athlete, but also her family, her school and her community,” said Sgt, David Irby of the U.S. Army.
Norris was presented with her finalist award by Joe DeLamielleure, an NFL Hall of Fame member from the Buffalo Bills.
“I’m proud to be here for this ceremony,” DeLamielleure said. “Abby is a hard worker, there’s no doubt about that. She is a leader with strong dedication.”
With her selection as a nationwide finalist, Norris earned a trip to Canton, Ohio in August for a whirlwind of activities, including the NFL Hall of Fame game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings.
“She is truly a unique student-athlete,” said East Bladen Athletics Director Patty Evers, who coached Norris in basketball and softball. “The biggest stat for Abby is that she never once missed a practice or game in four years. And the academics speak for themselves.”
The academics, which weighed heavily in Norris’ selection as a finalist, included a 4.90 weighted GPA, membership in the National Honor Society, making the Principal’s List every grading period, National Senior beta Club member, 2015 UNC-W Woman in Science Award winner, numerous awards in Science Olympiads and more.
In June, Norris was again recognized with a top accolade — this time as the Mountaire farms/Civitas Media Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” Norris said of her selection. “Of all these great athletes here, it feels pretty good to be on top.”
Norris completed her high-school career in June and began her collegiate career at The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where she is majoring in biology.
“My biggest goal was to get in (at UNC), which is basically the reason I did everything I did,” Norris said. “I wanted to increase my chances of getting in there and, once I got in, I didn’t want to stop there. I wanted to be the best I could.”
Nobody can debate that she did.
2. Patty Evers’ 400th
Evers knew at an early age that athletics and coaching would be a big part of her future. She wrote in a journal at the age of 9 that she wanted to be a PE teacher and a coach — and that helped set a course that, on Feb. 12, brought Evers her 400th coaching victory in a career that in some ways seems to have just begun.
Evers began her coaching career at Tar Heel High, where she amassed a 73-42 record prior to consolidation. After becoming the head coach at East Bladen, Evers put together a record of 327-68 that included No. 400 on Feb. 12 against West Bladen — a 57-20 win.
If there is one word to describe Evers’ style of coaching, it would be defense. But there have also been numerous other parts to her success. First and foremost may be the caliber of players she’s had — including the likes of Kristal Troy, Dorothy Corbett, Ja’Toya Kemp, Jazmine Kemp.
During her run to No. 400, Evers has taken her teams to three straight state championship games, won numerous conference titles, been ranked No. 1 in the state several times and currently has her Lady Eagles 12-0.
3. Kemp sisters’ No. 20
Same last name, same high school, same college, same number — same honor. That’s what Ja’Toya Kemp and her younger sister Jazmine can look back on after the ceremony on Dec. 21 at East Bladen High when their No. 20 was retired.
“Our program was very fortunate to have both of them,” said Evers, who coached both sister. “First and foremost, they both were very dedicated and loved their teammates. It was never about them.”
But Dec. 21 was.
The two sisters, who played at different times for the Lady Eagles, combined to score 2.,986 points in high school. They also combined for 1,550 rebounds, 542 steals, 435 assists and 172 blocked shots.
Ja’Toya and Jazmine each went on to play at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, where they also put up solid numbers for the Lady Braves.
4. West Bladen baseball
Winning a championship isn’t easy. Defending it twice is nearly impossible under any circumstances — especially in high school, when the names and faces on the roster continually change.
But that’s what the West Bladen Knights did, winning a summer league state championship in Dixie Youth Pre-Majors.
In 2015, the Knights earned a third straight trip to the Dixie Youth Pre-Majors World Series by knocking off Duplin County, 5-2 — giving the West Bladen boys a 16-5 record for the summer.
The Knights traveled to Guntersville, Ala., in late July and compiled a 2-2 record against all-star teams from throughout the southeast. West Bladen’s season concluded at 18-7.
5. Players of the Year
East Bladen and West Bladen high schools each put a pair of awards in their respective trophy cases in 2015.
For the Lady Eagles, junior Lacey Suggs was tabbed the Player of the Year in basketball and followed it up with a Player of the Year honor in volleyball after her senior season.
Suggs , who was selected for her second straight POY award in basketball, averaged 22.2 points per game for an East Bladen squad that finished 26-1. In volleyball, Suggs recorded 159 kills, 107 blocks and 20 percent of her serves were aces for the 12-9 Lady Eagles.
At West Bladen, senior Rahu Purdie was tabbed the Player of the Year by Four County Conference coaches for a Knights team that finished 22-5.
During the season, Purdie averaged 18 points per game — including 54 percent from the floor, 45 percent from three-point range and 78 percent from the free throw line. He also had 3.5 assists per game. Those stats earned him a scholarship to Lander University, where he is now flourishing as a starting point guard.
Also earning a POY award in 2015 was junior Alanna Ludlum, who went 12-0 in the Four County Conference as the Lady Knights’ No. 1 tennis player.
Ludlum was 13-5 overall at No. 1 singles and, playing at No. 1 doubles, she was 15-2 overall for a Lady Knights team that was 12-6 overall in the fall.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.