I’m a sucker for Thanksgiving traditions. Our family always spends the week at Topsail Beach, and the holiday is invalid unless it includes the following: a Macy’s parade, mashed potatoes, squash casserole, pecan pie and a nap in front of an NFL game. A Bonesville Thanksgiving column doesn’t qualify as a requirement, but this year seems like a good time to start something new, so here goes.
A handful of athletes (and one tall building) within the world of East Carolina Athletics who have inspired gratitude in me this year:
• Junior Josh Spare, who placed 50th in the 10K at the NCAA Cross Country Southeast Regional in Charlottesville two weeks ago. Spare finished in 31:15.5 just two weeks after placing 13th in the 8K at the American Athletic Conference Championships, a result that earned him all-conference honors.
• The new press box at TowneBank Tower. As a part-time columnist I have only covered one game up there this season, but after a decade of covering games in the old one (and always wondering if this was the time the elevator would breathe its last with me riding on it) I am grateful for the luxury my ECU media friends now enjoy every game day.
• Football freshmen. The more of my own children I send to college, the better I understand the seismic change that happens when an 18-year-old transitions from Mom’s cooking and his bedroom upstairs to the independence and responsibilities of college life. The fact that athletes like wide receiver C.J. Johnson, defensive back Ja’Quan McMillian and running back Demetrius Mauney have managed all of that and still achieved enough to be at or near the top of key Pirate statistical categories is both laudable and promising for ECU’s gridiron future.
• Sophomore golfer A.J. Beechler, who helped ECU finish its fall slate on an upswing with his first career top-five finish at the Intercollegiate in Innisbrook, FL. Beechler’s 54-hole score of 208 was the lowest of his collegiate career.
• Junior Kim Sanford, who was a rock for the soccer squad all fall even when injuries kept the team from meeting its preseason goals. Sanford played a team-high 1,672 minutes at center back and never came off the field in the final 14 matches. “I thought Kim was one of the best center backs in the conference this year,” head coach Jason Hamilton said when Sanford was named to the All-American Athletic Conference Second Team. “It just so happens to be one of those positions where players are very rarely recognized unless they get on the stat sheet with a goal or an assist.”
• Volleyball’s right side hitter Bri Wood, who like Sanford made such a difference as a junior to earn Second Team All-Conference honors. Wood’s kills per set (3.27) were tenth in the conference, and she tied for second among all AAC players with 16 double-doubles in the regular season.
• Freshman diver Rodrigo Romero, another entry in the category of brand-new college students making their mark quickly, has garnered two AAC Men’s Diver-of-the-Week honors, and the season won’t even end until February. Romero was lauded first for winning the 1-meter competition and coming in second from 3 meters against North Carolina in early October, and again at the end of the month when he won first place from both heights against UNC-Wilmington.
• The members of the Pirate Nation — the most steadfast college fans, with the highest capacity for hope, that I believe can be found anywhere. These are fans who deserve all good things as a new decade dawns, starting with a fifth football win, some signature basketball victories and the excitement of the first 2020 pitch in Clark-LeClair Stadium.