As with most everything else in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic had a major impact on sports in Jackson County.
High school and college sports were shut down in March and didn’t resume until November.
Western Carolina played three football games late in the year with the rest of the season postponed to spring. The high school football season was postponed to spring.
Even so, there were several other stories throughout the year. Following is a month-by-month look from the Herald sports pages:
Smoky Mountain’s men’s and women’s basketball teams opened the conference portion of their schedule with wins at Pisgah by scores of 54-48 and 52-40, respectively.
WCU moved into first place in the Southern Conference men’s basketball standings with a 79-71 win over Mercer at the Ramsey Center.
Baylor Coach Matt Rhule, a former WCU assistant, was named coach of the Carolina Panthers.
Natalie Parris scored 24 points as SM rallied for a for 51-48 women’s basketball win at Tuscola.
SM’s Charlee Haney and Chandler Hall were named most valuable at the conference swim meet.
SM’s Dustin Stephens won the conference wrestling title at 160 pounds.
The historic Jackson County Courthouse and the Rotary Club of Sylva’s Flags for Heroes were featured in a segment titled “Ragged Old Flag” that aired on Fox prior to the Super Bowl.
SM lineman Clayton Frady signed to play football for Gardner-Webb.
Former SM star Zebby Matthews was the winning pitcher in his WCU debut as he went six innings in a 14-4 victory over Chicago State.
SM’s Sam Hudson placed fourth in the wrestling regionals at 120 pounds to qualify for the state tournament.
SM athletes who participated in the state indoor track meet included Anna Morgan in the women’s 500-meter dash and Manuel Herevia in the men’s shot put. Morgan was joined by Maia Wilde, Becky Pechmann and Lindsey Stack in the women’s 3,200 relay.
SM’s Noah Hinton signed to play college soccer at Brevard.
Former WCU star and NFL player Clyde Simmons was named to the Catamount coaching staff.
Alex Gary, a senior associate athletic director at Oregon State and a former WCU baseball player, was named WCU’s athletic director.
SM’s Madison Broom signed to play college golf for Erskine.
Kennedy Stewman hit a home run in SM’s first softball game, a 12-2 win over Hendersonville.
Concerns over COVID-19 caused the N.C. High School Athletic Association to suspend all sports at 11:59 p.m. March 13 through at least April 6. The Southern Conference also suspended all athletic events.
WCU’s Mason Faulkner declared for the NBA Draft but maintained his collegiate eligibility by not hiring an agent.
The N.C. High School Athletic Association officially canceled spring sports due to COVID-19.
Mason Faulkner withdrew from the NBA Draft and announced he was returning to play basketball at WCU.
Lisa Kearney filed a lawsuit against WCU and the University of North Carolina System. She was hired as WCU’s women’s basketball coach in 2018 but the school’s Board of Trustees refused to approve her contract.
The N.C. High School Athletic Association allowed sports workouts to resume on a limited basis amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wayne Tolleson, a two-sport athlete at WCU in the 1970s and a former Major League Baseball player, was chosen for the Southern Conference Hall of Fame.
Former SM standout Cal Raleigh was included in the 60-player pool for the Seattle Mariners as Major League Baseball teams prepared to begin their seasons.
The N.C. High School Athletic Association delayed fall sports practice until at least Sept. 1.
Scotts Creek School rising eighth-grader Zeb Mathis was included in a Chevrolet commercial promoting Major League Baseball. The clip showed him throwing a baseball from an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The late Steve Streater, a Sylva-Webster High star and 1977 graduate, was named one of the top 100 football players of all time at the University of North Carolina. He was chosen All-Atlantic Coast Conference as a defensive back and punter in 1980.
The N.C. High School Athletic Association and the Southern Conference postponed fall sports. The NCHSAA said volleyball and cross country would be the first sports to start Nov. 16. Football was postponed until Feb. 26. The Southern Conference moved most fall sports to the spring semester.
SM junior Kennedy Stewman committed to play softball for WCU.
SM announced schedules in several sports under the revised N.C. High School Athletic Association calendar.
Sylva native Joe Love, a former football player, was selected for the WCU Athletic Hall of Fame.
The Southern Conference announced plans to move cross country back to the fall from the spring.
Jackson County voters approved a bond referendum to build an indoor pool at the Cullowhee Recreation Center. Supporters said it could be used by high school and county swim teams.
WCU played the first of three football games scheduled for the fall with a 58-14 loss at Liberty.
High school sports returned as SM’s volleyball team topped Pisgah with players wearing masks to protect them and others from COVID-19.
SM’s Ella Gamble signed to play volleyball at Carson-Newman.
WCU’s men’s basketball team opened its delayed season with a 98-76 win over UNC-Wilmington at UNC-Asheville.
WCU concluded the fall portion of its football schedule, losing 49-9 at North Carolina. UNC quarterback Sam Howell played only the first half and threw for 287 yards and two touchdowns. He is the great-nephew of the late Babe Howell, the legendary football and baseball coach at Sylva-Webster High.
The N.C. High School Athletic Association announced SM would move to 3-A under realignment starting in August. An initial draft of the proposed new conference has the Mustangs in a league with Franklin, Pisgah, Tuscola. East Henderson, West Henderson and North Henderson.
Kiley Hill, WCU’s women’s basketball coach, picked up his 300th career win, 63-44 over Newberry.
SM’s Ashley Clark signed to cheer in college for Tusculum.