Restrictions Ease On Sports Venues, And Charlotte Makes 'SNL' As 'Gateway To Gastonia'
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s easing of COVID-19 restrictions will have a big effect on high school and professional sports. Meanwhile, there was lots of action in high school basketball this weekend, and the Charlotte Hornets took center stage in a "Saturday Night Live" sketch. Langston Wertz Jr., a longtime sportswriter with the Charlotte Observer, joins WFAE's Gwendolyn Glenn to talk about these topics and more.
Gwendolyn Glenn: So, Langston, this will, among other things, pave the way for a larger number of fans to attend sports events.
Langston Wertz Jr.: For outdoor events, you can have about 30% capacity. Indoors, if you have more than 5,000, you can hold 15% capacity. If you have less than 5,000, you can hold 250 people.
Glenn: OK. Now, officials with the Carolina Hurricanes say they will take advantage of that 15% capacity. Charlotte Motor Speedway folks are talking about having 30% capacity, as allowed, for outdoor sports at the Coca-Cola 600 race in May. That could be 30,000 people. But what are you hearing from the Charlotte Hornets?
Wertz: Well, the Charlotte Hornets are mum right now, Gwen. The state law would allow them to have a little over 3,000 fans at the game. They put out a statement alluding to increased levels of air filtration and purification in the gym and enhanced cleaning and disinfecting. Right now, Gwen, 14 of 30 teams in the NBA are allowing fans. The Hornets are not. The Hornets play Detroit on March 11, and hopefully between now and then, we'll get some more plans from them.
Glenn: OK, and since we're on the Hornets, man, they had a big comeback (Sunday) night.
Yeah. They were down eight in the last minute. Malik Monk had a game-winning shot. PJ Washington got 42 points.
Glenn: Yeah, and they were missing a lot of players.
Wertz: Yeah. They were down three of their top seven. Cody Zeller, Gordon Hayward, Devonté Graham were all out with injuries. That's a big win for the Hornets at 2-2 on a road trip. Right now, Gwen, they're in the playoffs. If the season stopped today they'd be No. 8.
Glenn: Well, Langston, getting back to the COVID restrictions being eased: In terms of public school sports, what are Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials saying about fan attendance? And private schools?
Wertz: Charlotte-Mecklenburg is going to follow the state rules for indoor sports. And right now, that's only basketball. We'll have wrestling coming up. The state has not said what they're going to do for the state championships coming up on Saturday, but I'm expecting for outdoor sports, most schools are going to follow the rules and allow about 1,200-1,500 people if you have a 4,000-seat stadium. Charlotte has said they're going to allow 300 fans on the home side, 200 fans on the visiting side. CMS doesn't have equal-sized facilities for all sports, so some schools could have a larger home field advantage if not.
Glenn: And before it was what? A hundred?
Wertz: It was 100 before, correct.
Glenn: Well, staying with high school sports: There was a lot of action this weekend in high school basketball. Give us an update. And were more fans in attendance?
Wertz: No. For the public schools, the rules don't go into effect until (Monday). Carmel Christian boys and girls won state championships, and four CMS teams advanced to the final four. So, it'll be a boys and girls CMS team in the 4A state championship. Providence is going to play the Vance girls on Tuesday, and Ardrey Kell's going to host North Mecklenburg's boys on Tuesday. The winners will go to the state championship game on Saturday.
Glenn: Well, what about high school football that kicked off this weekend? Any standouts?
Wertz: Well, it was a weird weekend because the rain forced the games to start Thursday and go into Saturday. Some people did play Friday, including the big high school football game between Vance and Mallard Creek — two national-ranked teams. Vance won the game 27-7. The star of that game was Daylan Smothers, a sophomore who has already been offered by Chapel Hill. Looked really, really good at 156 yards and two touchdowns. He's going to be a really good player.
Glenn: OK, college basketball. Rock Hill (South Carolina) native and South Pointe High School grad, all ACC cornerback Derion Kendrick is no longer with the Clemson Tigers. He's had some disciplinary issues in the past and missed games. Do you know what the story is there?
Wertz: I don't know what the story is there. You know, he allegedly had been in the doghouse with Clemson. He didn't play in three games this season. He started eight of the nine games he did play. You know, he really has a couple of options. He can try to transfer. It's rare for a big-time Power Five kid that's been kind of dismissed to go to another school. Or he could try to get into the supplemental draft.
Gwendolyn Glenn: And Langston former (Carolina Panthers) quarterback Cam Newton was in the news for a video that went viral this week at a camp he sponsored. Let's hear a bit of the exchange he had with a high school player and explained what happened and your thoughts on that teen's behavior.
RECORDING: [Teenager: You're a free agent. Cam Newton: I'm rich. Teen: You're a free agent. Newton: I'm rich. You're about to be poor. Newton: Where's your dad?]
Wertz: The teen was wrong. I almost kind of wish Cam would have walked away and just let it go. I did like the fact Cam came back later on and talked with the kid and, in his words, "squashed" it.
Glenn: And the teen apologized later, right?
Wertz: He did. Absolutely. He did apologize.
Glenn: And on a more positive and humorous note, Charlotte and the Hornets made "Saturday Night Live" this weekend. Here's a bit of a skit in which SNL star Kenan Thompson plays Hornets rookie sensation LaMelo Ball's dad.
Kenan Thompson (recording): He's playing for the most storied franchise in all of basketball, the Charlotte Hornets. Charlotte, North Carolina: The regional banking capital of the world. Gateway to Gastonia. He's got all the awards locked up. Rookie of the year — locked up. MVP — locked up. Prettiest hog at the Mecklenburg County fair — locked up.
Wertz: You know, it's nice to get some national headlines. I think LaMelo is bringing the national publicity Cam used to, and I think it's good to see.
Langston Wertz Jr. is a veteran sportswriter for the Charlotte Observer.