It all came down to Randolph County gyms

Revisiting 2021 basketball title games held at Providence Grove, Wheatmore

With another high school basketball season ramping up for many schools this week, it comes full circle for a couple of Randolph County schools.

That’s because when North Carolina High School Athletic Association basketball left off from the 2020-21 school year, it concluded at Providence Grove and Wheatmore.

Those were schools selected to hold the NCHSAA championship games as part of the revamped season, which had been shortened because of the pandemic.

So suddenly the goal for teams across the state had been to make it to Randolph County.

“It was a lot of work,” Wheatmore athletics director Rick Halo said. “It was neat to kind of showcase our place to the whole state. Just about everybody in the state knows where Wheatmore High School is now.”

Providence Grove athletics director Calvin Brown said it was good for schools not familiar with Providence Grove to check out the facility. Across the state, Wheatmore and Providence Grove became more identifiable.

“As soon as they asked me, I was all for it,” Brown said. “Just for our school and our community to get some exposure.”

It also became a major undertaking for personnel at the schools.

“I thought it went great,” said Wes Luther, the boys’ basketball coach at Providence Grove. “We had all our coaches involved. There was a lot that went into it.”

Indeed, the schools called upon many of their resources in order to pull it off.

“I had to get a lot of people to help,” Brown said. “People not even involved with basketball were willing to jump right in.”

Randolph County School System superintendent Stephen Gainey said it was a good situation for the schools selected to serve as hosts.

“It was a big deal,” Gainey said. “They didn’t have to ask me twice.”

The NCHSAA made the move to secure high school venues for the 2021 championships, announcing the selection of Providence Grove and Wheatmore in early February. College facilities that normally had been used weren’t available because of COVID-19.

It was the first time since 1980 that high school venues were used for NCHSAA basketball title games.

NCHSAA commissioner Que Tucker said the goal was to make the “state championships a truly memorable experience for everyone involved.”

The people involved at Providence Grove and Wheatmore were part of that.

“It was crazy to see what went on in that gym in 24 hours,” Luther said. “It was wild.”

Luther said the transformation went from having physical education classes in the gym one day to seeing the facility prepared for the championships. For instance, that meant cables and wiring needed for the games to be televised.

“The toughest thing was meeting all the COVID protocols,” Brown said.

The games – for both boys’ and girls’ basketball — were held March 6. Class 2-A and Class 3-A games were assigned to Providence Grove. The championships for Class 1-A and Class 4-A were contested at Wheatmore.

Providence Grove’s gym seats about 1,500 spectators, but capacity was limited to about one-sixth of that because of the guidelines established. That was the case at Wheatmore, which seats about 1,600, as well.

So even though Asheboro’s girls’ team, which was in the Class 3-A title game, was among the participants at Providence Grove, that factor didn’t generate a huge crowd as it would normally if a team was playing for a state title in its home county. The only benefit for the Blue Comets, who lost to Carson, was that they didn’t have far to travel for the game.

While the game-day route for the Blue Comets was relatively simple, those from other schools probably had to check for directions.

“To have it at little Providence Grove out in the middle of nowhere, that’s a pretty good deal,” Luther said.

Gainey said he was proud that Providence Grove and Wheatmore could be part of providing the championship-level experience.

“It really worked out quite well,” Brown said.

Wheatmore pulled double-duty during the last school year. The school also was the site for the Class 2-A wrestling state tournament in another case of alternate venues being used.

“Hopefully, we get a little breather now,” Halo said.

By Bob Sutton

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