A sad goodbye

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 14, 2007

AHOSKIE – Perhaps the greatest Lady Bear of them all has stepped aside.

Joan McCullough, who was one of the best to ever play at Hertford County High School, stepped down as head coach of the program after six years at the helm.

McCullough has been a teacher and coach in the Hertford County Public Schools since the fall of 1997. She returned to the school district after earning a bachelor’s degree from Elizabeth City State University.

In January, McCullough was hired away from her position as a biology teacher at HCHS when Northampton County High School n East offered her a job as Assistant Principal.

“It was a decision I made that was purely a career move,” McCullough said. “I wanted to gain experience in administration after completing my coursework to earn a master’s degree.”

The teacher and coach gave that notice with full intention of remaining at HCHS throughout her 30-day notice and coaching the basketball team she has been a part of since her sophomore season.

“My intention was to stay and coach no matter how far they went,” McCullough said.

Unfortunately for the ultimate Lady Bear and her team, that wasn’t to be. HCHS Principal Jerry Simmons informed McCullough last Thursday that her last game on the bench and last day in the classroom would be Friday, February 9.

“I was very surprised,” McCullough said. “I was caught off guard, but I had to hide it for the sake of my team. I didn’t want them to lose focus on Friday’s game at Bertie and the chance to make the state playoffs.”

The coach said she was disappointed with the decision and that sharing the information with her team was a difficult task.

“There was silence in the locker room,” she said. “I was kind of chocked up myself having to tell them.”

The Lady Bears, minus their coach of the past six years, lost in the first round of the Northeastern Coastal Conference tournament Tuesday night.

Attempts to reach Simmons for comment about the decision to not allow McCullough to finish the season were unsuccessful.

Still, despite being disappointed in the way her career at HCHS ended, McCullough said she is thankful for the time spent teaching students at her alma mater.

“I enjoyed my time in the classroom and even reaching out to students I didn’t teach,” she said. “I enjoy the students at HCHS, period. There are some great things going on in that building people don’t know about.

“The students are not bad,” she said. “Children will be children, but they’re not bad.”

McCullough serving as the head coach of the program from which she graduated was something she would always treasure.

“It meant the world to me,” she said. “I felt like I owed it to the program I came from to come and give back.

“I was a product of that program and I attribute any success I might have had to God, my family and my experience at HCHS,” she said.

McCullough said she was thankful for the influence of Larry Holloman, who coached her at HCHS and whom she served with as a coach, and of Bears’ Athletic Director Charles Simmons.

She also expressed appreciation to her assistant coaches including Holloman, Derek Bryant, Sylvia Anthony and Rick Heckler.

“I appreciate their dedication, hard work and most importantly, their loyalty to me as head coach and the Lady Bears,” McCullough said.

In her tenure with the program, McCullough was twice named head coach at HCHS. The first came one year after she graduated college and the next came a year after she returned from a one-year stint as assistant women’s basketball coach at ECSU.

She said some of her fondest memories included playing in a tough Big Eight Conference and earning a playoff berth, as well as winning a conference championship in 2002.

Two of McCullough’s players n Chastity Vaughan and Sha’Tesha Sharpe n went on to play collegiate basketball.

“I feel that many times over the years we’ve had instances where on paper, the other team was better and we came out with the win,” she said. “I leave here with my head held high and feeling like we’ve done all we can to bring out the best in the girls.”