Drew Cook and Tripp Crayton grew up as neighbors on Lakeside Drive in Garner.
Friday night, they will be on opposite sides.
Crayton is the principal at Wakefield High and Cook is the principal at Garner.
Their respective football teams have hopes of winning a state championship, but must first get past the other in their N.C. High School Athletic Association 4AA second-round playoff game.
“We played each other in the playoffs last year in basketball,” Crayton said. “It was interesting to see some of the people I remembered. They didn’t know me, but I remembered them.”
Cook, 38, is six months older, but he and Crayton were playmates when they were young and later more serious competitors and teammates as they grew older. They regularly played pick up basketball, baseball and football games in the neighborhood. They even coached a recreation, youth softball team together when they were sophomores in high school.
Cook and Crayton were in Sue Hendricks’ third grade class and Sue King’s fifth grade class at Aversboro Elementary.
“I’m not surprised at all that they are both principals now,” King said. “You definitely could see leadership abilities even as fifth graders.”
King said her class that year was predominately boys and they loved to play basketball. “But they played so hard and so intensely that we couldn’t play basketball unless I refereed. I borrowed by husband’s whistle,” she said.
Crayton and Cook remember their pickup games with the other boys in the neighborhood. Sometimes it was hard to get up a crowd, but it seemed Crayton and Cook always had each other.
“We’d play baseball in his backyard,” Cook said. “It wasn’t a good place to play really, but we’d bounce baseballs off of the pine trees.”
They car pooled as sixth graders to Ligon Middle and were reunited at Garner High as sophomores when Cook left the magnet program at Enloe.
Cook hit a sudden growth streak about the same time and shot up from 5-feet, 11 inches and 135 pounds to 6--3 and 135 pounds in six months. He was 6-5 and 190 by his senior year when he played basketball for current Garner basketball coach and assistant football coach Eddie Gray.
“I joke around with coach (Nelson) Smith and coach Gray that if I could have waited just a couple of years I could have been a part of Garner football,” he said. “I was about 6-7, 220 by then. It just wasn’t meant to be, though.”
Crayton, who has been principal at Wakefield since 2010, and Cook, who has been principal at Garner since 2009, still talk regularly, bouncing ideas off each other and discussing problems.
“It is great to have a friend that understands your situation,” said Cook, who was the Wake County principal of the year in 2011. “Tripp is the smartest guy I know and I know the type of man he is. I’ve known him all my life. I have the utmost respect for him.”
Crayton said the two schools, Wakefield in north Wake County and Garner in the south, are different demographically, but that there are common goals and concerns.
“Drew is a great person and a great principal,” Crayton said. “I went to UNC and he went to Wilmington so we sort of drifted apart for a while, but the friendship and mutual respect was always there.”
John Williams, the Wake County Senior Director of High Schools, lived a few streets over from the two boys and was an assistant principal at Garner when they were in school.
“Both were great students,” Williams said. “From Garner, they gained the value of community and its relationship to achieving goals. I now see both leading the positive forces they gained from the past. Their tireless work is reflected in the excellence of all programs at both schools. “
Williams, who was principal at Garner for several years before opening Middle Creek, said he can empathize with Crayton on Friday night.
“Tripp may now have the problem I always confronted at a Garner versus Middle Creek game: I always wanted both teams to win,” Williams said.