Lt. Nick Brantley Tournament begins today

Published 11:01 am Wednesday, November 28, 2018

AHOSKIE – The 2018 Lt. Nick Brantley Scholarship Tournament will begin today (Wednesday) at two locations, both here and in Merry Hill.

Ridgecroft School – Brantley’s alma mater – will host fellow Tarheel Independent Conference member Northeast Academy in a quartet of first round games beginning at 4 pm with the junior varsity girls followed by the jayvee boys tilt. After those contests are complete, Ridgecroft girls varsity hosts the Lady Eagles, with the boys squaring off in the nightcap.

Also today, Lawrence Academy will be hosting four first round games in Merry Hill at their gymnasium with Pungo Christian Academy’s junior varsity girls action beginning at 4 p.m. with the defending champion Raider varsity games following against the host Warriors.

Thursday – and for the rest of the tournament – all the action shifts to Ridgecroft with the junior varsity consolation games (girls, then boys) beginning at 4; the varsity consolation contests for third place will be tipping off after the early j.v. games are complete.

Joyce Brantley, mother of Lt. Nick Brantley for whom the Memorial Scholarship Tournament is named, receives a hug from Ridgecroft’s Mandy Spence prior to the girls varsity championship game.

Friday features the championship games at Ridgecroft beginning at 3:30 p.m. with the junior varsity girls followed by the j.v. boys title match-up around 4:45 p.m. The varsity girls championship will tip around 6 p.m. and the boys championship will finish the night of basketball action after the girl’s contest is complete.

The awards ceremony closes out the night with the announcement of the 2019 Brantley scholarship recipients, along with the naming of the All-Tournament teams, and the Sportsmanship Award.

Thomas Nicholas “Nick” Brantley, who grew up in the Center Grove community near Ahoskie, held the rank of a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, excelling as a pilot and flew both fixed-wing and rotary-winged aircraft. His skills would earn him the Seahawk Award as the top student in the Fleet Replacement Squadron, based in Mayport, Florida.

Lt. Brantley served as the Administration Officer for Detachment TEN “Killaz” in support of Standing Naval Forces Atlantic West aboard the USS Simpson in 2004. After deployment he earned the qualification of Helicopter Aircraft Commander.

But then came one fateful day…Sept. 24, 2005. It was then, during a training exercise off the North Carolina coast, that Brantley and two other crew members lost their lives when their Navy Seahawk helicopter went down.

Other than the immediate outpouring of grief for the Brantley family and close friends, was Nick Brantley to become an afterthought despite living such an enriched life full of joy, happiness, and military promise?

The answer is a resounding no!

Now entering its 13th year, the Lt. Nick Brantley Scholarship Tournament not only memorializes the life and legacy of this outstanding man, but also lifts the spirits of its youthful participants through competition and the opportunity to earn college scholarships.

“When they, Joe Murray (owner of the Ahoskie-based Joe Murray United Country Realty) and the (Roanoke-Chowan) News-Herald, came to us with this idea of putting on a basketball tournament in Nicholas’s memory, I was a little hesitate,” said Nick’s father, Keith Brantley. “Then, as it has progressed, this tournament has become more of what I was looking for.

“I remember telling (wife) Joyce when this thing first got started that I didn’t just want another basketball tournament. The scholarships given to these young people really make it much more than just about basketball,” he added.

Nick graduated from Ridgecroft in 1997 where he was valedictorian of his class. From there it was on to Virginia Tech, enrolled in their ROTC program and its prestigious Corps of Cadets. He received a ROTC Scholarship and earned additional financial assistance by being awarded an Emerging Leadership Scholarship.

“Nicholas received a full scholarship for all four years at Virginia Tech, to include tuition, books, and room and board; Keith and I didn’t have to pay for anything,” Joyce stressed.

The Hokie Bird monument in Nick Brantley’s honor, erected in 2005 through the efforts of his fellow Corps of Cadets, still stands today inside the Cadets Cafeteria at Virginia Tech. The back of the monument is a reflection of his life, to include an American Flag, a Navy helicopter, the Company he was assigned, a NASCAR flag, and a largemouth bass (in tribute to his love of fishing).

As a further tribute to the legacy of the late U.S. Navy Lt. Nick Brantley, all incoming Cadets at Virginia Tech are required to take a two-hour orientation on his life and to learn about the history of the famed Hokie Bird.

Brantley’s military history at Virginia Tech includes his service as the 3rd Battalion Cadet Sergeant Major his junior year. One year later he rose to the top step of the ladder – selected to command the entire 3rd Battalion.

After the unfortunate training accident that claimed his life, a scholarship was established at Tech in his memory. Each year, his former wife, Mary Ruth, returns to campus to award the scholarship that pays for room and board for one new Cadet. The scholarship was endowed in 2006 after his former classmates, fellow Cadets, friends and family raised $100,000.

The warm, caring family environment always present at the annual basketball tournament transforms itself into a sense that Nick Brantley is still alive. There are no tears, only happiness through the friendly competition.

“It’s like going to your family reunion,” Joyce observed.

The annual scholarships are awarded – typically three per year ($1,000 each) – based on two main levels of criteria: academic performance in the classroom, and the athletic effort and sportsmanship on the court that best exemplifies Nick Brantley’s style of play.

Each school participating in the annual tournament is asked to nominate a male and female senior for scholarship consideration. Those student-athletes are required to submit a complete transcript of their academic performance from ninth grade through the present, verifying a 90 or above cumulative grade, along with a 300-to-400 word typed essay describing how their character resembles that of the late Lt. Nick Brantley. They must also submit a letter of recommendation from an employer, mentor, pastor or other person not directly linked to their school nor from a family member.

Each candidate is interviewed (one by one) by the Scholarship Committee, that includes Keith and Joyce Brantley, and that group selects the three winners.

When this year’s scholarships are awarded, the tournament will have surpassed the $40,000 mark in college funding awarded to the student-athletes, thus keeping the flame of Nick Brantley’s legacy burning bright.

(Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald Editor Cal Bryant contributed to this story.)