written by R.L. Bynum
Hillsborough Sports offers diverse mix of high school sports content
Imagine the traditional small newspaper sports section that covers local high schools much more extensively than larger media outlets and has the advertising support of local businesses.
Convert that concept into a website and add play-by-play broadcasts, video and photo galleries and you have Hillsborough Sports, a website that produces in-depth coverage of sports at Orange and Cedar Ridge high schools. And it’s not just basketball and football, but practically every sport.
Jeff Hamlin, a radio veteran and an Orange High grad who grew up in Hillsborough, started the site in 2015. It provides a rare mix of content types.
Matt Stradley first had the idea for that sort of site in Orange County in 2010, covering all five Orange County high schools. That site ended after about five months because Stradley moved to Asheville. Then, when Hamlin got laid off from the “Financial Safari” radio show, he decided to try a similar site but with the focus only on Orange and Cedar Ridge.
“I feel like, for the sports scene in Hillsborough, the coverage has always been a little lacking. So that’s the void that I’ve tried to fill with the website,” said Hamlin, who was sports editor of the News of Orange for a year before being laid off in May 2019.
During the heyday of the Chapel Hill Herald and The Chapel Hill News, and before the sports staffs of The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun merged, there was much more coverage of Orange and Cedar Ridge. But it was rarely at the level Hillsborough Sports delivers. And these days, Hamlin rarely sees another reporter at games.
Many newspapers have video content, and other sites focused on high school sports have that element in addition to stories. Few, including Polk Sports, have all of that in addition to play-by-play.
On Hillsborough Sports, there are sometimes two web broadcasts of games at the same time, with Hamlin calling one game and Syracuse student Curran Campbell, a Cedar Ridge alum, calling the other. Campbell is in the area this school year because he’s only taking online classes.
“It’s morphed into more of a visual website than I first anticipated,” Hamlin said. “I didn’t know that I’d have so many parents willing to give me photo galleries.”
All of the contributors to his site are volunteers, which is another part of the community support for Hamlin’s mission.
As coverage of high school sports continues to level off at most larger newspapers, the best preps coverage generally comes from sites such as HighSchoolOT.com that have an extensive coverage area.
There aren’t many places to look for consistent coverage of your favorite school unless it is on a site such as Hamlin’s.
A crucial part of the mix is that Hamlin — like writers such as Nick Stevens, J. Mike Blake, Kelly Snow, Chris Hobbs and Tim Hower — has a passion for high school sports and doesn’t see it as a steppingstone to becoming a college or pro sports beat writer.
Hamlin is happy to give coverage to athletes who might not otherwise get as much attention, such as Tori Dalehite, a former three-sport star at Cedar Ridge now playing softball at UNCG, or Jamar Davis, who was a three-sport star at Orange and now competes in track and field at N.C. State.
Hamlin, 47, is also an anchor for WPTF and the North Carolina News Network, as well as an IMG host for the East Carolina Pirates Sports Network. He also has worked with the Blue Devil Sports Network.
He says that when working in college sports, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle.
“That’s what I found,” Hamlin said. “And with high school sports, it’s not that way. You’re one of the few who do it. And I don’t mind doing it at all. I don’t mind working a little harder at night to write those stories about swimming and track and field. I find the athletes a lot more forthcoming and a lot of them enjoy the coverage.”
When it’s kids in your community winning a title, it just means more.
There was no better example for Hamlin than when Orange won the 2017 state 3-A softball title. Kacie Chamberlain, the daughter of one of Hamlin’s childhood friends, died in a 2013 car accident. Her younger sister was on that championship team.
“I got to cover a lot of different things during my time at WDNC in Durham,” said Hamlin, who grew up a Duke fan. “I got to watch the 2001 Duke national championship team. But watching that state championship for Orange? That one holds a special place in my heart. It really truly does. I don’t know how corny that sounds. But that one just was so special for that community and for that town and for those people. It was just a wonderful thing to be a part of. And a friend of mine from high school wound up being the head coach of that team.”
That coach was Eddie Davidson, whose daughter Mia was a star on the title team. She is a senior catcher at Mississippi State, a two-time All-SEC selection and already is the program’s all-time career home-run leader.
“That’s what I enjoy most about the website,” Hamlin said. “It’s not only championships. It can’t only be that. It’s the relationships.”
Hamlin got his start covering sports as a senior at Orange for the News of Orange, and, at age 18, covered high school football and basketball games starting in 1991 as a stringer for The Herald-Sun.
“That part of me has never left. I still gravitate toward picking up the Saturday morning paper and seeing high school box scores and photographs,” said Hamlin, although few newspaper readers get that joy these days. There is no Saturday print edition for The N&O or Herald-Sun.
“That part of me just has never left,” he said. “For better or for worse, it may not be profitable, but it’s still something that I get a kick out of.”
Without cable television growing up, he relied on radio to follow a lot of games.
“This is a wonderful area to have play-by-play men at that stage of your life because you had Woody Durham, Bob Harris and you had Wally Ausley and later Gary Hahn,” said Hamlin, who later worked with Harris and Ron Stutts as news director of WDNC.
A 1998 Communication and Media Studies graduate of Appalachian State, he worked at WCHL as news and sports director for nearly seven years until 2009 and did play-by-play there in 2015.
There are plenty of outstanding athletes in Orange County to cover.
“It is a pretty prosperous time for high school sports around that area because there were some very good athletes who went on to do and are still doing big things,” Hamlin said.
Bryce Wilson, who started a National League Championship Series game last season for the Atlanta Braves, and his brother, N.C. State linebacker Peyton Wilson, both played at Orange.
“I covered him when he was freshmen,” Hamlin said of Bryce Wilson. “Those crowds were as large as I’ve seen and I started going to that ballpark when I was 15. Seeing all those major-league scouts there line up with the radar guns every night that he pitched was something to behold. You almost grew desensitized to it.”
Who will be the next Orange or Cedar Ridge star to make it big? Whoever it is, you can bet that Hamlin will have been one of the first to report about them, as well as the athletes who don’t make it big.
McClatchy hires former Boston Herald sports editor
McClatchy has hired Justin Pelletier as a regional deputy sports editor, replacing Todd Adams, who left in November. Pelletier’s first day was Monday.
Once he moves from Maine, he’ll be based in Raleigh. He coordinates high school sports coverage in addition to being the assigning editor for Carolina Hurricanes coverage.
Jessaca Giglio, The N&O’s sports editor and a regional deputy sports editor, will be the assigning editor for college sports. Matt Stephens, regional sports editor and sports editor of The Charlotte Observer, will be the assigning editor for pro sports other than the Canes.
Pelletier was sports editor of the Boston Herald for nearly two years before he was one of several laid off in April. Previously, the Boston University graduate and New England native was managing editor and sports editor of The Sun Journal in Lewiston, Maine.
Adams is a content manager for the USA Today Network Ventures and works remotely from his home in Bloomington, Ill.
— Emmanuel Morgan, who grew up in Charlotte and is a 2019 Elon journalism graduate, is leaving the Los Angeles Times next month to cover the NFL for The New York Times. Morgan joined the L.A. Times in October 2019 as a general assignment reporter, then moved on to covering the NFL. Previously he was a reporting intern for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in the summer of 2019 and was a correspondent/intern for The Charlotte Observer from 2015 to 2018.
— Victor Hensley, a 2020 UNC journalism graduate, became sports editor of the Chatham News + Record earlier this month. He previously was a reporting intern at the High Point Enterprise before his senior year and was a correspondent for the News & Record of Greensboro. He replaced Chapel Fowler, who left to cover recruiting for the Fayetteville Observer and North Carolina’s Gannett newspapers.
— The SB Nation Carolina Hurricanes-focused website Canes Country has a new site manager, with Andrew Schnittker taking over duties from Brian LeBlanc. LeBlanc, who still expects to write some for the site, announced the change Tuesday. LeBlanc had been the site manager since Bob Wage left the position in 2016.
— Disney is developing a movie about David Ayres, the Carolina Hurricanes’ emergency goalie who helped them win a game at Toronto just over a year ago.
— Legendary poet and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti died Monday at the age of 101. A minor blip in his impressive career but worth mentioning in this column: the UNC graduate started his writing career as a sports writer at The Daily Tar Heel after his tryout for the basketball team didn’t work out.
— The National Sports Media Association has moved this year’s awards weekend in Winston-Salem from June to July 24–26.
North Carolina-related sports stories of note
Ahead of the Daytona 500, Scott Fowler in the Charlotte Observer looked back at Dale Earnhardt’s North Carolina roots 20 years after he died in a last-lap crash at Daytona.
In The Athletic, Jeff Gluck wrote about the enduring influence of NASCAR’s Mike Helton.
In The Baltimore Sun, Childs Walker remembered Len Bias’ signature 35-point game in an overtime victory over North Carolina in the Smith Center 35 years ago.
In The Daily Tar Heel, Ryan Wilcox wrote about North Carolina’s Stephanie Watts, the rare player who transfers out of a program and then later transfers back and returns to their original program.
In a Q&A with Awful Announcing’s Michael Grant, Bob Valvano talked about his health challenges, announcing during the pandemic and his memories of his brother Jim and N.C. State’s magical 1983 NCAA title run.
In the North State Journal, Brett Friedlander wrote about how N.C. A&T’s Randolph Ross is sprinting out of his dad’s shadow and toward national championship and Olympic medal goals.