The news that Kestrel Heights was losing its high school could not have come at a worse time for its boys basketball team.
It is having its best season ever and is a win away from playing for an N.C. High School Athletic Association 1A championship — the Hawks’ remaining goal for the season.
Kestrel Heights coach Lenell Wallace said his players were shocked by the decision made by the State Board of Education on Thursday to pull the school’s high school charter for at least three years.
The school’s internal investigation found that 160 of Kestrel’s 399 graduates since 2008 didn’t meet the state’s course requirements for a high school diploma.
Wallace has coached the varsity at Kestrel Heights since the 2008 when the school also sponsored a prep-school-level travel team.
“We set lofty goals,” Wallace said. “We still have goals. This team has met all but one. They’ve stayed focused, remarkably focused.”
Wallace’s team practiced on Thursday as it had since the season started in October.
“Practice is the one time that we can get together and not think about what is going on with the school,” Wallace said. “We went in and shot around, did our scouting reports and took our minds off everything else. Once we got into our drills, it was practice and it didn’t show if it was bothering them.”
Kestrel Heights is 30-1 and will play on Saturday in Fayetteville in the 1A East final. The Hawks will play Williamston’s Riverside High at noon at Methodist College. The winner will advance to play in the state championship on March 11.
“We want them to go out with everything we can give them (as coaches),” Wallace said. “And if they did everything they’ve showed us they can do, we would all reap the rewards of a great year.”
Kestrel Heights ran through the regular season unbeaten, winning its first conference title in any sport since joining the NCHSAA with an 18-0 mark. The team’s only blemish came in the tournament championship finals when the Hawks fell to Voyager Academy 90-82 in overtime after winning the first 26 games to start the season. The team has won its first four playoff games.
Last season, Kestrel Heights fell in the fourth round to Robersonville’s South Creek High, the same team that knocked it out in the first round of the 2015 state playoffs. In 2014, the Hawks made it to the second round, losing to Whiteville.
Eight of Kestrel Heights’ 12 players are seniors and they’re led by 5-foot-9 point guard Javier Rogers. He scored a team-high 26 points and had seven assists in Kestrel Heights’ 74-69 fourth-round win over Whiteville on Tuesday night.
“Of the eight seniors, four or five of them have been with us the whole time through JV and varsity, and one or two of them have been on the varsity the whole time,” Wallace said. “I have a hand in with the JV team and so they’ve grown with us. They’re a fun group of guys. We really want the best for them.”