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Southern Nash a seamless addition to tourney field

Posted on June 5, 2021

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Southern Nash’s Darrin Bailey (1) shoots over Lamont Batts of Fike during a Feb. 5 game at Fike. The Firebirds are the newest addition to the Farris & Farris Holiday Tournament, rekindling some of the relationship with Wilson County programs torn apart by NCHSAA realignment.

Jimmy Lewis | Restoration NewsMedia

Southern Nash’s Darrin Bailey (1) shoots over Lamont Batts of Fike during a Feb. 5 game at Fike. The Firebirds are the newest addition to the Farris & Farris Holiday Tournament, rekindling some of the relationship with Wilson County programs torn apart by NCHSAA realignment.

jlewis@wilsontimes.com | 252-265-7807 | Twitter: @JimmyLewisWT

Jimmy Lewis

Jimmy Lewis

Although the 3-A Big East Conference as we know it is breaking up as a result of North Carolina High School Athletic Association realignment, the Wilson County triumvirate of Hunt, Fike and 2-A Beddingfield are making the effort to hang onto a key component of that relationship.

Despite losing the in-conference border battles with Rocky Mount, Northern Nash and Southern Nash, the Firebirds will now be mainstays in one of the highlights of the area sports calendar.

And it makes perfect sense all around.

Starting with the 2021-22 season, the Farris & Farris Holiday Tournament will welcome Southern Nash as the out-of-county guest in the three-day event as the restrictions caused by COVID-19 ostensibly lessen and we get back to full gyms over the holiday period. The tournament was one of many casualties during the pandemic-stricken season of 2020-21.

The Firebirds will replace Smithfield-Selma, which isn’t being removed from the field for some nefarious reason. Just as much as realignment ripped Southern Nash away from conference battles with Fike and Hunt, the periodic reshuffling of the deck chairs brought SSS into the 3-A Greater Neuse with the Warriors and Golden Demons.

Therefore, all parties involved had no desire to play an extra contest over the holidays in addition to the seasonal home-and-home affair that conference play brings.

The Firebirds, on the other hand? As soon as realignment was finalized, Southern Nash athletic director Robbie Kennedy — also the boys basketball coach for the Firebirds — was on the phone attempting to preserve nonconference scheduling partners. He was successful keeping the Demons on the pre-league dance card.

Hunt? Not so much. But, the FFHT might well take care of that.

“As soon as the conferences were finalized, I reached out,” Kennedy said. “I’ve always liked y’all’s Christmas tournament, and the paper does a good job of publicizing it. It’s always good crowds. Us and Hunt and us and Fike have had some really good rivalry basketball games. It was a win-win. We were looking somewhere to play because we’ve got 14 conference games. But the way the schedule is, it’s hard to get nonconference games. Really, after Christmas, if you can pick up two or three during the Christmas break — and I like the fact that it’s close. You only have to drive like 20 minutes to get there.”

When the tournament resumes its rotation in December, the venue should shift to Fike after Hunt hosted the proceedings in 2019. That should send Hunt up against Beddingfield in the boys and girls semifinals, while the Demons take on the Firebirds in their tourney debut.

During Smithfield-Selma’s seven-year run in the tournament, the Spartans didn’t win a championship, keeping the dubious streak for non-Wilson County teams at 27 years for boys programs and 26 for girls. Charles B. Aycock was the last team in both divisions to win championships from outside Wilson County.

But titles aside, the FFHT is notorious for filling gyms to capacity — particularly on championship night. Fearless upscale fashion statements — hello, sport coat — can dot the crowd.

That reuniting of fans in close quarters will be music to the competing schools’ coffers. As is tradition, Hunt, Fike and Beddingfield will split the gate receipts equally after the Firebirds secure their financial guarantee.

“We travel well,” Kennedy said. “Hopefully we can compete, boys and girls, and we’ll definitely bring a crowd with us!”

Incidentally, the Firebirds aren’t bidding farewell to the Big East name. Rather, they will take it into their new home in a split 2-A/3-A conference when they join Franklinton, Rocky Mount and Northern Nash as 3-A programs in the new conference. Bunn, Louisburg, Nash Central and Roanoke Rapids make up the 2-A contingent in the eight-team league.

“Southern Nash, they’re a first-class school and first-class people,” Wilson County Schools athletic director Jimmy Tillman said. “We’re just glad to have them. ... Getting them in the Christmas tournament was a big thing for us.”

Will Southern Nash break through and win a holiday tournament championship as a team from outside Wilson County? It’s certainly possible, given the random and often unpredictable nature of the two-day event.

However, barring a reunion in a conference one day in the future, this is that neighbor-from-next-door relationship that has the potential to last a good, long while and be beneficial for all involved.

Jimmy Lewis is assistant sports editor of The Wilson Times, a sister publication of The Enterprise. Reach him at 252-265-7807 and jlewis@wilsontimes.com.

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