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National recognition for Walston, Chargers

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Ayden-Grifton turf manager Tommy Walston, left, and football coach Paul Cornwell unveil a banner recognizing the school's football field as a Pioneer Athletics Field of Excellence on Sept. 15, 2017.

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By JORDAN ANDERS
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

National recognition for field excellence is nothing new for Tommy Walston.

As head groundskeeper for the Kinston Indians, he was named Class A baseball’s Sportsturf Manager of the Year in 2003 for his work at Grainger Stadium, which was recognized that year as one of the best fields in the nation.

These days, Walston is responsible for taking care of the football field at Ayden-Grifton High School, and that field was recognized by field paint manufacturer Pioneer Athletics as a “Field of Excellence” for 2016. The school unveiled a banner acknowledging the achievement at halftime of Friday’s football game against North Pitt.

The Chargers’ field was one of 85 honored across the nation at the high school, collegiate and recreational level.

“That speaks volumes of what we’ve achieved at Ayden-Grifton, to do something at our scale to get national recognition among some of the best high school fields and other fields in the country,” Walston said. “We feel like we’ve achieved something.”

Walston is in his fifth year tending to the field at Ayden-Grifton. He spent 13 years as head groundskeeper at Grainger Stadium, where he won multiple Groundskeeper of the Year awards in the Carolina League, in addition to the Class A award in 2003. 

When the Kinston stadium was recognized, Walston said the Indians were the smallest full-season team in America to earn that award. He said that situation bears a lot of similarities with Ayden-Grifton, a 2-A school without the resources of some larger schools.

“Here’s a little school of just about 700 kids,” he said, “You have so many folks in the community that are part of this award that have made little donations here and there, but they take so much pride in saying, ‘This is our community school and what can we do to help?’ It’s a challenge of showing that you don’t have to be Mallard Creek in Charlotte, or Butler or Independence (or) some of these big 4-A schools to have a safe and nice-looking athletic field.”

Walston gets a small bit of assistance from coaches and students when it comes to painting the field, but he is essentially solely responsible for maintaining the well-being of the grass, which he said is a year-round job that includes mowing it two or three times a week. It’s labor he said is worth it for the pride the Chargers’ players and coaches can take in their playing surface.

“It’s a child and you have to raise it like a child,” he said, laughing. “It’s something for the kids. To see our guys over the last two or three years as our field has matured and become nicer, we’ll go to other places and come back, and they’ll make comments like, ‘Coach Tommy, this is awesome. We’re so glad to be back playing on our field.’ That’s our pat on the back right there.”

Win No. 1

J.H. Rose was the last Pitt County school to pick up its first win of the year, topping Franklinton 41-20 on the road last week.

The Rampants put the brakes on an 0-4 start by showing some strength on defense. Rose gave up just one offensive touchdown to the Rams, who got the rest of their points on an interception return touchdown and a pair of field goals.

The 41 points were a season-high for JHR (1-4), which kicks off Eastern Carolina 3-A/4-A Conference play by hosting a 4-1 South Central team on Friday. Despite that, head coach Dave Wojtecki said his offense is still not where it needs to be for JHR to be as strong as he desires.

“(We had) a lot of mistakes still, lot of penalties still,” he said before practice Monday. “ ... Offensively, we’re still making little stupid mistakes and not maintaining drives. We have to do a better job with those things. If we can get (the offense and defense) firing at the same time, we’ll be pretty good.”

Offensive answers

North Pitt may be searching for a win in the midst of a four-game losing streak, but coach Garrett Wingate appears to have found the best way to utilize the weapons he has on offense.

Wingate and the Panthers shifted receiver Izarion Blango to quarterback a couple of weeks ago and are building a flexbone offense around him and running back Tyren Jenkins. In Friday’s 24-14 loss at Ayden-Grifton, Blango rushed for more than 150 yards and both of NP’s touchdowns, using his speed to find the edge and break off touchdown runs of 39 and 31 yards.

The change didn’t pay off in a win against the Chargers, but Wingate seemed pleased with the way his squad has acclimated itself to the adjustments the staff is trying to make.

“That’s the whole reason for the offense,” Wingate said after that game Friday. “We’re in the flexbone now and (Blango) is the reason. That’s what we’re staying with. ... We feel like we’ve got a good quarterback, we’ve got a good fullback, and we’re just trying to build that offense around that.”

Contact Jordan Anders at janders@reflector.com, 252-329-9594 or follow @ReflectorJordan on Twitter. 

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