LUMBERTON — Athletic events in Robeson County are on hold as recovery efforts continue in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.
The storm swept through the region over the weekend, bringing record rainfall and an onslaught of flooding, prompting the Public Schools of Robeson County to cancel school through the rest of the week as thousands of people remain displaced from homes.
“At the moment we are focusing on the safety and welfare of our students and families,” said Jeff Fipps, the county’s director of athletics. “As soon as a timetable has been outlined for the opening of schools, athletic decisions can be made.”
With tentative plans moving forward, the near future of the fall sports season is in jeopardy. Mackie Register, Lumberton’s director of athletics, said the Southeastern Conference has decided to cancel its volleyball and soccer conference tournaments.
As for football, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association held its weekly meeting on Tuesday and representatives were faced with the possibility of extending the schedule.
“As part of (Tuesday’s) meeting, we discussed the flooding and the potential impact on the upcoming playoffs,” said Que Tucker, Commissioner of the NCHSAA. “We will continue to monitor what is happening in the various communities in the flood areas. At the appropriate time and if necessary, any changes to the playoff picture will be discussed with the members of the Board of Directors.”
Though county games have yet to be officially moved from Friday night — with the exception of Richmond at Purnell Swett — to an undetermined future date, it’s highly unlikely any of the area teams will be suiting up this week. The Robesonian will post updates of football game schedules online as they become available.
Several of the county’s schools are being used as shelters, including Purnell Swett, Red Springs, South Robeson and St. Pauls. As of Tuesday evening, 620 people were being housed at Purnell Swett, with 219 at South Robeson and 200 at St. Pauls.
Ernest King, who is in his first year as head football coach of the Bulldogs, called the experience “eye-opening.” His first order of business after the storm was checking on the well-being of his players and coaches.
“A lot of my guys sent me a text message to let me know they were alright,” King said. “That’s the biggest thing. It’s not about games, wins, championships or the playoffs right now. It’s about coming together to make sure everyone is OK.”
King said he hopes people that have the means will use this time to volunteer and help with relief efforts. He lives in Fayetteville, but made it a point to get to St. Pauls on Tuesday to see how he could help.
“You don’t realize how blessed you are to continue to have your home,” he said. “You have people here (at the shelter) who don’t have a home, clothing or food. It made me come home and turn around to see what I can give.
“Anyone that wants to volunteer, I encourage them to do that. When I went out today I just tried to give them (people at the shelter) a word of encouragement: Stay positive.”
King added that the aftermath of the storm made him realize it’s not just about St. Pauls.
“We have ‘We are St. Pauls’ on the back of our (football) shirts, and that’s who we are when it comes to helping too,” he said. “But it’s not just us though, it’s Lumberton, Red Springs, Bladenboro — wherever there’s trouble. We’re here to help.”
Rodd Baxley can be reached via email or on Twitter @RoddBaxley.