Sterling Atkinson and Michael Stott’s paths never crossed on the baseball diamond during the 2015 high school baseball season. Stott’s North Johnston Panthers and Atkinson’s West Johnston Wildcats had highly successful seasons with the two players taking on similar roles.
Both players helped their teams win conference championships with their play on the field. Just as important was the role they played off the field for their teams: the calming, veteran presence always willing to help out a teammate.
On Wednesday the pair came together to accept the Sam Narron Baseball Award, which goes to a Johnston County baseball player who best exemplifies the determination, dedication and sacrifice it takes to be successful in the game. Members of the Johnston County native’s family present the award annually. This is the second time the award has gone to two individuals.
Both were surprised by the award, which comes with a college scholarship.
“It was a complete surprise,” Atkinson said. “I didn’t have any idea I was up for it and I didn’t have any idea how big of a deal it was until the ceremony.”
“I’ve been fortunate to get some other awards this season from school and the conference, but this one is special in a different way because of what it stands for and the history behind it,” Stott said. “To be considered for an award like this is an honor, to win something like this feels really good.”
The pair was certainly award worthy with their play on the field. Atkinson, the son of Will and Annette Atkinson, hit over 400 for the second straight year (.412 in 2015, .449 in 2014) for the Wildcats and played 53 varsity games at first base during his career.
Stott, the son of Ray and DeeDee Stott, led North to the Eastern Plains 2A Conference title and the third round of the playoffs, going 8-2 with an earned-run average of less than one.
“My defense was great all year,” Stott said. “I’m not a pitcher that gets a lot of strikeouts so the guys have to catch the ball behind me and they were excellent at that all year. They got us plenty of runs as well.”
He didn’t give up a run to a conference opponent all season.
“I didn’t have any idea even though I thought I hadn’t given up any earned runs, but I didn’t know I didn’t give up any runs at all until Coach (Brian) Ford came up to me in the bullpen one day,” Stott said. “He told me I’d done something he’d never seen before in all of his years of coaching.”
Their contributions to their teams off of the field were just as impressive.
They are both known for coaching up teammates, showing younger players the ways of their program.
“He is always coaching up players who are having bad games,” Ford said of Stott. “He has the innate ability to relate to and embrace diverse individuals. Michael has a constant and positive impact on those fortunate enough to be around him.”
When Stott was struggling at the plate, he offered to move down in the batting order if it helped his team produce more on offense.
Atkinson has played sports while treating his Type I Diabetes since kindergarten. His Wildcat teammates thought nothing of seeing him give himself insulin injections in the dugout during games or on bus rides to and from games.
“From a baseball standpoint, it got harder as I went along,” Atkinson said. “You’re dealing with a high level of competition. You’re trying to manage it and make sure my blood sugar level is staying where it needs to be.
“The issue I deal with is how quickly I can get my blood sugar level back up.”
Atkinson, however, didn’t let that or a broken bone in his hand affect his contributions to the team.
“He was our DH for a while before moving back to play first base,” said West coach Joey Worley. “He would play with a brace until he stepped to the plate where he would take the brace off to hit. Sterling took every day as an opportunity to get better. He would work on his footwork around the bag, hit off of the tee and throw front toss to others.
“Sterling is very humble in what he does and works hard to make an impression on our younger players.”
As for their immediate futures, Stott wants to go into welding and is still pondering his college decision.
“I’m excited about finding somewhere that gives me a chance to play baseball and the chance to get ready for my career,” he said.
Atkinson has realized his dream of playing college baseball. He’s joining the program at Brunswick Community College.
“You have to put in the hard work,” Atkinson said of the game. “It’s a game of failure and learning how to deal with failure, learning how to deal with success when you have it.
“Baseball teaches you so much about life.”
Previous Sam Narron Baseball Award Winners
1998: Clay Brown, Clayton
1999: Davey Johnson, South Johnston
2000: Ken Joyner, Princeton
2001: Dennis Blackmon, South Johnston
2002: Joey Creech, North Johnston
2003: Travis Holloman, Smithfield-Selma
2004: Chris Johnson, South Johnston
2005: Ben Deese, Smithfield-Selma
2006: Zach Johnson, Smithfield-Selma
2007: Colin Parker, Princeton
2008: Kris Richards, West Johnston
2009: Kyle Sanders, North Johnston
2010: Dylan Brown, Smithfield-Selma
2011: Bret Corbett, North Johnston
2012: Ben Youngblood, Smithfield-Selma & Matthew Parrish, West Johnston
2013: Lane Johnson, South Johnston
2014: Josh Stikeleather, South Johnston
2015: Sterling Atkinson, West Johnston & Matthew Stott, North Johnston