Chapel Hill: Sports

For Pappas, “the sky’s the limit”

Cedar Ridge’s Clay Jones, who coached Pappas on the Red Wolves’ football team as well as the basketball team, says they have a ‘love-hate relationship.’
Cedar Ridge’s Clay Jones, who coached Pappas on the Red Wolves’ football team as well as the basketball team, says they have a ‘love-hate relationship.’ PHOTOS BY FABIAN RADULESCU

Anyone could have knocked down the game-winning shot for Cedar Ridge on Tuesday night and it would have seemed perfect.

The Red Wolves played Orange, a team they haven’t defeated in boy’s basketball in three years. In fact, CRHS has lost four straight in basketball, baseball AND football to Orange.

Until Tuesday night.

Until Peyton Pappas’ running one-hander bounced off the back of the rim and dropped through the net with :01 remaining, sending the students and fans from west Hillsborough into hysteria.

The fact it was Pappas who hit the shot wasn’t just dramatic. It perfectly encapsulated everything the Pappas family has endured over the past five years at Cedar Ridge, all packed into a 32-minute display of drama, rivalry and triumph that makes small-town prep rivalries feel more purely emotional than any other level of sport.

Peyton, a junior at Cedar Ridge, is the fourth Pappas to represent the school since it opened in 2002.

In the early days of CRHS, it was Jim Pappas who was the straw that stirred the Red Wolves’ drink. He was athletics director and boys basketball coach for the first 10 years of the school. His zenith came during his final season in 2010, when Cedar Ridge went 26-3 and reached the NCHSAA 2A basketball state quarterfinals in Greenville.

His oldest son Josh was Cedar Ridge’s first all-state football player and also played basketball and tennis. He later graduated from UNC-Charlotte.

The next in line, Cam Pappas, threw for 1,985 yards and 18 touchdowns as the quarterback of the Red Wolves in 2010 on it way to a 12-3 record. Pappas led the Red Wolves all the way to the 2AA state semfinals, where they lost to Elizabeth City Northeastern.

No one knew it at the time, but that game represented the end of a dominant era for Cedar Ridge. Cedar Ridge football has gone 10-37 since that night.

In November 2010, Jim Pappas would be forced to resign as athletic director and boys basketball coach because of a racially insensitive remark made to a student during a gym class. Despite the ouster, Jim Pappas remains a fixture at CRHS games.

Cam, only a junior, responded by transferring to Northwood. However, Peyton was undeterred and decided to attend Cedar Ridge.

Peyton has been a starting quarterback and basketball point guard for two years. He once thought he would follow in the footsteps of his older brothers and play for his father, but reality intervened.

Now the role of Peyton’s athletic mentor is played chiefly by Clay Jones, who fills the position by being Cedar Ridge’s head coach in football and boys’ basketball.

Needless to say, Jones and Peyton have grown very familiar with one another.

“We have a love-hate relationship,” said Jones with no hesitation. “It’s very different from anybody I’ve ever coached. He and I work well together. We don’t always agree. But I trust him and he trusts me. That’s how we’ve evolved into the relationship we’ve got.”

Cedar Ridge’s leading scorer with 29 points per game, Pappas was handcuffed Tuesday by foul trouble against Orange, limited to three points in the first half.

Just as he started to get into the flow of the game with two field goals in the third quarter, Pappas was whistled for a technical foul. Nonetheless, Pappas played the final 8:09 with four fouls, finishing with 13 points – and the game-winning basket for his first ever victory against Orange in any sport.

“I’ve missed a few shots like that,” said Peyton. “But that was a shot I was to get – especially against Orange. I had a tough game until the end, and I just wanted to finish it off.”

The emotions of the victory spilled over into the postgame handshake, or lack thereof. Several Orange players weren’t as forthcoming as the Red Wolves about offering congratulations, leading to both teams being ordered to the locker rooms before tempers worsened. Cedar Ridge was forced to take a different route out of the gym to avoid the Orange locker room altogether.

Success for Peyton Pappas hasn’t come as bountifully for him as it did for his two older brothers, party because circumstances are different these days. However, for now, he can fall asleep smiling about a shot that others only dream about – against an arch-rival, to boot.

“I’ve thought about it before. To hit a shot against Orange in their own gym. The sky’s the limit for us now.”