West Charlotte High men’s basketball team will play for the 4A state championship in Raleigh on Saturday. The Lions face Winterville’s South Central, a team that has only lost one game this season. West Charlotte has lost six.
The championship game comes at a time when the team is recovering from a racial slur posted on social media by an opposing team member just before a critical playoff game.
This week, an appreciation dinner was held for the Lions at C N Jenkins where some of the players attend. When the players arrived at the church a team coach wanted to make sure they came in correctly. As they walked up the steps, he told them to make sure they shook hands with the greeters, smiled and said thank you, which they all did.
The team members showed no signs of nervousness about the championship game as they were welcomed by church members with cheers.
“I’m feeling great and ready to go out and play with my team one last time,” said senior guard Quinten Thomas. “We’ve been watching film on them and analyzing what we got to do and we’re confident we can get the job done.”
That’s the consensus of his teammates. They say they’ve become closer since a slur was posted about the Lions on social media by an Ardrey Kell white player, just before the two schools played in a state quarter-final game.
“Throughout that whole situation we just stuck together as a team and didn’t let it affect how we played and bonded with each other,” Thomas said.
Team Coach Jacoby Davis says he empathizes with the Ardrey Kell player, who was suspended from the team. He is also proud of how his players handled the situation.
“I really feel bad for the kid because kids make mistakes and I would pray that that’s not him,” Davis said. “But at the end of the day our kids could have taken it the wrong way and could easily have been at a game out of control and upset but in the locker room we said that is not us, we are a family and will stick together, get through this and we’ll make it work and that’s what we did.”
Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ director Warren Stukes, who played at West Charlotte when they won the state championships in 1991 and 1992, says he also talked with team members to help them stay focused.
“My message was keep your head up and understand what you’re dealing with and we have to talk about it,” Stukes said. “This is reality. You have to deal with things the way they are and it wasn’t just West Charlotte hurt but people on Ardrey Kell’s team were affected by it also.”
Point guard Cartier Jernigan says that kind of advice helped them to be open to receive the good that resulted in the end.
“It kind of pulled us closer together and to see the history of West Charlotte, to see how many different alumni came through and showed how they supported us, so it turned out for the better,” Jernigan said.
Many alumni supporters were at the dinner as well to celebrate the team’s success and show pride in their alma mater. West Charlotte was a stellar school when it was all black during segregation and afterwards when it was a racially diverse magnet school when students were bussed there. But over time, the enrollment has become predominately African American and low income. The school has a C grade from the state and has exceeded growth but many alumni say some people still look down on West Charlotte.
Tim Gibbs, the school’s alumni president says the Ardrey Kell incident has brought alumni out in large numbers to team practices and games, something he hopes will continue.
“The Lion has been awakened,” Gibbs said. “We knew alumni and the community were passionate about the school but never knew to this degree. The students now know we do care and are concerned about their well-being and want them to be successful. I’m hoping we can figure out a way to keep this going forward.”
Support that Coach Davis says they will welcome when the Lions play for the state championship. West Charlotte is considered the underdog, but Davis points out that they have played well throughout the year and against some nationally ranked teams. To win Davis said, “For us to be a state champion team, we have to be the best defensive team in the state. If we’re that Saturday, we will win.
West Charlotte last won the state championship in 2011. A win Saturday would be the school’s sixth. Game time is noon at N. C. State’s Reynolds Coliseum.