Winningest programs in Cleveland, Gaston counties share similar paths, pasts

By Richard Walker

Whether Shelby and South Point win or lose in Friday’s Western N.C. regional finals, the fan bases of both schools have to enjoy what has continued a longtime tradition for both schools this season.

It’s because, for yet another season, both continue to establish their dominance in an area that has provide them with with many challengers.

Shelby, the state’s winningest program, has dealt with this longer than most but has stayed at or near the top of always-competitive Cleveland County for years, even as Burns, Crest and Kings Mountain also have had championship success.

South Point shares that distinction in Gaston County where five other county teams are Big South 3A Conference rivals of the Red Raiders.

On Friday, Shelby hosts East Surry for the Western N.C. Class 2A title while South Point visits Greensboro Dudley in the Western N.C. Class 3A championship game.

Shelby enters the game with a state-record 828 documented victories for its football program that began in 1910. South Point, which opened in 1969, can count 555 total victories if you include the win total for its forerunner Belmont High School that began football in 1923.

And the two schools, who have spent many years as league rivals, have enjoyed their success for the same reasons.

Here are four reasons why each has been so successful:

1. Each school used integration to add talent and create ever greater success that it had enjoyed before.

Local public schools began integrating in the early 1960s with athletic teams in both counties were full integrated by the 1967 football season.

Since that time, Shelby has a 577-132-8 overall record, has won 31 of its 40 league titles and 17 of its 18 state titles and Belmont/South Point has a 442-198-11 record, has won 22 of its 23 league titles and all five of its state titles.

Each school featured African-American stars immediately after integration as two of Shelby’s first stars of integrated teams were record-setting halfbacks Marcus Mauney and Tommy London and South Point’s early teams featured tailback-linebacker Scott Crawford and two of their first three teams started an African-American quarterback (Bill Hannon) who later returned to the school as Red Raiders’ basketball and track coach.

2. When each school was forced to change league affiliations, each quickly found ways to be successful and thrive in their new classification (Shelby) and new conference (South Point).

Shelby was a longtime Western Conference and Southwestern Conference member until waning enrollment dropped the Golden Lions into Class 2A in 1997. The drop to the lower classification has certainly benefitted Shelby as it has gone 292-70-1 since becoming 2A with 16 conference titles and a sparking 84-15 playoff record.

Like Shelby, Belmont and later South Point also were longtime Southwestern Conference members until enrollment changes in the late 1990s led to the creation of the Gaston County-based Big South Conference in 2001. Since then, the Red Raiders are 213-66 with 12 league titles and have a 43-15 playoff record.

3. While many will say, ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” each school has been brave enough to abandon years of offensive strategy in order to enhance what their players could and would be successful with.

South Point in 1997 had its first NFL player, Koren Robinson, setting records in the school’s highly-successful I-formation offense. When the Red Raiders went 5-6 and failed to make the playoffs, the coaches decided to change their offense to the “Red Bone” that was modeled after the spread option attack Paul Johnson used at Georgia Southern at the time and later at Navy and Georgia Tech.

At Shelby, the school had run the Delaware Wing T employed by legendary coach Gerald Allen since the 1960s when coach Lance Ware, a former lineman himself, recognized his program wasn’t developing the kind of size that helped that offense run smoothly. And since 2011, the Golden Lions have turned short-range passes into a de facto running game while setting every imaginable passing record in school history.

4. Finally, while every school has its share of armchair coaches either in the grandstands, the press box or even sitting at home listening on the radio, Shelby and South Point have always valued continuity within their program and have created long-lasting coaching tenures.

Both schools have made few head coaching changes in their history and have almost always hired a new coach after he’s spent many years learning the “Golden Lion” or “Red Raider” way of doing things.

At Shelby, the Golden Lions have had only six head coaches since 1936 – and Ware was the “short-timer” with eight years as a head coach before he returned (and still remains) an assistant his college alma mater Appalachian State. And all Shelby coaches since 1936 except Casey Morris, a Gastonia native, spent time on the Golden Lions’ coaching staff before being promoting to the head coaching position.

At South Point, the Red Raiders have had five head coaches since 1969 with four of them spending time as a Red Raiders’ assistant before becoming head coach. Only the school’s inugural head coach, Jim Biggerstaff, didn’t coach in Belmont before becoming head coach. However, Biggerstaff was a homegown talent as he had played on Belmont’s lone conference championship team in 1953 before beginning his coaching career elsewhere.