Of the 418 high schools in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, only 106 made it through the 2022-23 school year without having a coach or athlete ejected from a contest.
Two of those schools are in Cumberland County: Gray’s Creek and Seventy-First.
While it is not the same as winning a state championship, county schools student activities director David Culbreth feels it’s definitely a point of pride to have two local schools on the list.
“We are tickled to death anytime a school is ejection-free,” Culbreth said.
Culbreth has a special appreciation for the recognition. In addition to his role as an athletic administrator, Culbreth is a former athlete and wrestling coach, and he currently serves as a high school wrestling official.
“We can’t play the game without officials,” he said. “We’ve had a shortage, and I think that shortage really made us focus in on how much officials are needed.”
Culbreth said officials have made it clear they don’t enjoy calling a game and being constantly harassed by fans or the athletes and coaches on the teams. Surveys have repeatedly shown a major reason for the decline in the number of available officials is many of them are tired of unsportsmanlike abuse from spectators, coaches and athletes.
Culbreth said it is important to have a clear message from top to bottom that officials have to be respected, and those who don’t respect them will face consequences.
“Do not stand for anything less” he said.
Ryan Stone and Travis Greene are the athletic directors at Gray’s Creek and Westover, respectively.
Stone said he meets with his coaches throughout the season and stresses the need to treat officials with dignity and respect. He also shares the same message in preseason meetings with athletes and their parents.
“Without the officials, kids and coaches, there is no athletics,” he said.
Currently in his first year with the Bears, Stone said he inherited a situation from previous athletic director Troy Lindsey in which the coaches are setting a high standard for their athletes.
“It’s what I call the gold standard,” he said. “It’s all about treating people the right way, taking care of your business. Doing what’s right.”
Like Stone, Greene is in his first year as athletic director at Seventy-First. He said the school prides itself not only on having athletes with outstanding ability but high character as well.
“When we have our meetings, we identify that our main objective is to be ambassadors for our schools,” he said.
While many people are aware of the winning tradition at Seventy-First, Greene said, it extends beyond the athletic fields to winning in the classrooms and hallways before any Falcon team steps on the court.
“We reiterate that we are looking at those high character values so if anything pops up, we deal with that,” he said. “Our standard is so high it will weed out anybody else.”