Chansky’s Notebook: East Football Needs Creative Solution

This is today’s Art Chansky’s Sports Notebook as heard on 97.9 WCHL. You can listen to previous Sports Notebooks here.

It’s time for East Chapel Hill to drop football or merge its team with another school.

Here we are in July and less than a month away from prep football practice around the state. And East Chapel Hill High School has not officially named its new head coach. Supposedly, it is Ryan Johnson, the defensive coordinator on the Wildcats’ 0-11 team last season that had to forfeit three of its last four games due to a shortage of healthy players.

The team began last season with only 23 kids and was down to 16 when it forfeited the games that it would have lost anyway. Even the 35 who Johnson said showed up for the most recent spring workouts is not enough for a team that competes in the state’s largest-school category, 4-A.

Johnson will be at least the fourth head coach in the last 10 years at the prestigious high school that regularly produces state championships in soccer, tennis, golf, lacrosse and cross country. In fact, there is not another bad sports team practicing on the Weaver Dairy Road fields. Football, because so few kids go out for the team, has always been the exception for Wildcat athletics.

Since Bill Renner, Bryn’s father, coached East to a couple of winning seasons and built a respectable program, it has slid back into gridiron obscurity, where it will remain until more kids go out for football or the sport is dropped altogether. That would be unfair for those kids who want to play and play well. Drew Davis, son of Butch, threw for 4,000 yards on Renner’s teams and there is usually at least one Division 1 prospect on the squad.

Since proportionally fewer kids go out for football at all 3 Chapel Hill high schools, some sort of merger in the sport seems logical. Imagine how good a consolidated team would be, combining players from East, Chapel Hill and Carrboro High Schools. At the very least, if East were to drop football, its players should have the option to transfer to another school or, better yet, just be allowed to play for the Chapel Hill Tigers or Carrboro Jaguars.

That would save some money for the school system and actually improve the chances for the high schools off Homestead and Smith Level roads to post great seasons and go deep into the state playoffs. The traditional way of fielding a football team at East clearly is not working. It’s time for some creative thinking.

Confederate Flag Photo Sparks Big Turnout, Long Discussion at School Board Meeting

TV news cameras were squeezed into a packed room at Thursday night’s Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education meeting.

Many at Town Hall were outraged by a recent Instagram photo that has made national news. Two East Chapel High School students are shown waving Confederate flags, with the caption “South will rise.”

“The flag – the Confederate flag – there’s nothing cute about it, and how dare some of you try to whitewash it,” said NC NAACP Executive Director Michelle Laws as she spoke at the podium during Thursday night’s public comments.

She, like many others in attendance, was there to call for employees of the school system to better educate themselves on cultural sensitivity, so that they can pass those lessons on to students.

The Instagram photo, which has now become national news, was taken during an annual trip to Gettysburg, where East Chapel Hill High School students re-enact Pickett’s Charge, a disastrous battle for the Confederate Army.

One senior from East Chapel Hill High stood during Thursday’s meeting and gave her account of the Gettysburg re-enactment. She said the two students in the photo were simply the last left standing, as they were instructed.

Ron Creatore, the father of one of those students, had already defended his daughter on Wednesday, during a heated exchange with Laws at a news conference.

At Thursday’s meeting, he said that his daughter has been vilified and threatened for holding an object that never seemed to outrage the local community before.

“To my knowledge, there has never been any kind of uprising in the community about the fact that the Confederate flag appears three times in a book that’s being used in our school system,” said Creatore.

He also mentioned a piece in a 2012 issue of the ECHO – East Chapel Hill High’s student newspaper. It was titled “The Confederate flag is heritage, not hateful.” Creatore noted that the author of the piece suffered no consequences.

Greg McElveen, chair of the NAACP Education Committee, said the Gettysburg incident exemplifies the failure of the school system to teach in a “culturally relevant and equitable way.”

“Instructing students to make the charge … is almost like going to a concentration camp and asking the students to pretend that they are guards,” said McElveen.

Eighteen-year-old Taliana Tudryn, a senior at Carrboro High School, drew the night’s biggest ovation.

She spoke about the realities of being a student of color in public high schools, where AP classes are mostly white.

“We struggle with Ferguson, and Baltimore, and Durham, and Mike Brown, and Freddie Gray, and Eric Garner alone, in small groups” said Tudryn. “We may even go to marches and face riot officers and sound cannons, and witness others being beat by batons.

“Then, we come back into the classroom, and our white peers, our teachers, our administrators are silent.”

Tudryn shared some student proposals: annual assemblies at middle schools and high schools, with interactive presentations exploring systemic racism; and requiring teachers to attend Racial Equity Institute Workshops.

CHCCS Superintendent Tom Forcella concluded the discussion, first by noting that the school system needs to take a closer look at how social media affects students’ lives before they reach high school.

“First and foremost, I do believe our entire staff needs to take responsibility for addressing issues that seem unfair to any individual or sub-group,” he said.

As for individual consequences and disciplinary measures within the school system, Forcella reminded the audience that those must remain private.

WCHL And Present The Chapelboro Cup

The Chapelboro Cup will be presented to the Chapelboro high school football team with the best overall record at the end of the regular season. Bitter rivalries have formed through the years between the teams of Orange and northern Chatham counties. Four of the six teams battle for a conference title each season now with Northwood and Cedar Ridge making the move to the 3A Big 8 conference.

Chapelboro Cup Standings

Orange made it deep in the 3A state title playoffs last season, but Chapel Hill may very well be the team to beat this season. And, you can’t count out Carrboro or East Chapel Hill to play spoiler in any matchup.


In the event of a tie, the following tiebreakers will determine a winner:

1. If two teams are tied, the winner of the head-to-head matchup will be awarded the Chapelboro Cup.
2. If more than two teams are tied, or the teams that are tied did not play each other, the best team’s record against other Chapelboro teams will determine the Chapelboro Cup Champion.

East Chapel Hill High Graduates Celebrate Achievements, Community Service

Proud family members spent the morning at the Dean Smith Center to cheer on 328 graduates of East Chapel Hill High School on Saturday.

There was a total of 26 Valedictorian speakers, and two of them were designated as Principal’s Choice.

One of those two, Ginna Manzanares, gave perhaps the most moving speech of the day.

Manzanares is a recipient of the Advancement Via Individual Determination Scholarship. She’s the first in her family to graduate from high school.

Soon, Manzanares will also be the first to attend college. She’ll be going to UNC.

In her speech, Manzanares recalled that, not long ago, she was a disadvantaged senior with no idea how to even apply for college.

But with help from friends and guidance counselors, she enrolled in college-track courses, and now she’s on her way.

Manzanares got emotional when she thanked the person most responsible for her success: her mother. She said her mom was never rewarded by a diploma on the wall for all her hard work – just aches and pains at the end of a long day.

“Today is the day …”

She paused, and started to cry, as the audience applauded in support.

“…today is the day that the walls of our household will be decorated with a diploma,” she continued. “It brings me immense pleasure to have the honor to be the one to accomplish my family’s long-awaited dream.”

The other Principal’s Choice Valedictorian, Jennah Jones, is the recipient of four scholarships, as well as Science Department & Club Awards.

In her 2014 Reflections and Remarks, Principal Eileen Tully told graduates that while she certainly hopes they retain at least some of the knowledge offered at the reputedly tough school, she really hopes they carry the school’s spirit of community service with them throughout their lives.

“What I want you to remember is how your peers responded when you saw others in need or struggling during these past four years,” said Tully. “Chances are, you remember the same things that I do: kickball tournaments that were actually fundraisers for those faced with significant hardship…competitions with crosstown rivals to see who could raise the most money for the Wounded Warrior Project…”

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Superintendent Tom Forcella was on stage congratulating Wildcat graduates as they received their diplomas.

CHCCS High Schools Graduation Preview

All three of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City’s high schools, East Chapel Hill High School, Chapel Hill High School, and Carrboro High School, will be graduating throughout the day on June 14th at the Dean Smith Center.

East Chapel Hill High’s ceremony begins at 9 a.m., Chapel Hill High’s ceremony begins at 1 p.m., and Carrboro High’s ceremony begins at 5 p.m.

East Chapel Hill will also be streaming their graduation event live on their website beginning at 8:30 a.m. until noon.

CHHS Wins Jersey Mike’s Challenge; Schools Raise $7K

Last weekend, Chapel Hillians gave nearly $7,000 to support programs at Chapel Hill and East Chapel Hill High Schools – two dollars at a time.

The occasion: a weekend-long promotion sponsored by Jersey Mike’s to celebrate the grand opening of their new location at Chapel Hill North. Customers received a free sub if they presented a coupon (printable on and donated at least $2 to either school.

Students, teachers and administrators from both schools competed all weekend long to raise the most money. (There was an incentive: Jersey Mike’s pledged to donate an additional $1000 to the winning school; the second-place school got an additional $500.)

In the end, Chapel Hill High emerged victorious, raising a total of $3,980.13. East Chapel Hill finished in second, with $2,992.76 raised.

Charlie Farris of Jersey Mike’s joined WCHL’s Aaron Keck on the Monday Afternoon News to reveal the winner.

Listen here.

Close Contacts Of ECH Student Who Died Being Monitored

The Orange County Health Department worked closely with East Chapel Hill High School and the school district shortly after finding out a 14-year-old student at East contracted meningococcal disease and later died.

“We have given prophylactic antibiotics to 14 contacts at this point,” said Orange County Health Department Director Colleen Bridger as she addressed the media Thursday morning. “Typically it’s going to be close family members that are the most exposed.”

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Superintendent Tom Forcella joined Dr. Bridger and said the student left school Tuesday after telling the school nurse he felt ill.

“The nurse advised the family to seek medical attention,” Dr. Frocella said. “He thought maybe he just wasn’t feeling well. The nurse contacted the parents and advised them to seek medical attention, and the family did go see either their doctor or a clinic.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms of meningococcal disease include nausea, vomiting, photophobia (increased sensitivity to light), and an altered mental status (confusion). It is spread through the transmission of respiratory and throat secretions like saliva.

“Meningococcal disease is a generic term that encompasses the different types of illnesses that you can get if you are infected with the bacteria,” Dr. Bridger said. “You’re most commonly, probably, familiar with meningitis, which is when the bacteria gets into the spinal fluid and the brain of the infected individual; that would be meningitis. We believe we are dealing with a blood infection in this particular case, which is why we’ll be referring to it a little bit more generically.”

Dr. Bridger said it’s impossible to trace where the student picked up the bacteria.

She said the disease is most commonly seen in adolescents.

“I think 10-15 percent of people who are infected with a meningococcal disease will die,” Dr. Bridger says. “Another up to 50-percent will suffer life-long consequences of the disease if they do recover. So it’s a very, very serious disease. The good news is it’s very, very hard to get.”

Anyone experiencing symptoms should contact the Orange County Health Department or your personal physician immediately.

For more information about how East Chapel Hill is handling the situation at the school, click here.

14-Year-Old East Chapel Hill Student Dies Wednesday

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools spokesperson Jeff Nash says a 14-year-old male student of East Chapel Hill High School died Wednesday, presumably from meningococcal disease.

Nash says at this time it has not been confirmed whether or not he had meningitis at the time of his death. He says the school worked closely with the Orange County Health Department to make sure other students are safe.

East Chapel Hill principal Eileen Tully sent a message to parents informing them of the situation. She shared a letter from health director Colleen Bridger, which included more information about the disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms of meningococcal disease include nausea, vomiting, photophobia (increased sensitivity to light), and an altered mental status (confusion). The disease is spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions like saliva. Anyone experiencing symptoms should contact the Orange County Health Department or your personal physician immediately.

Principal Tully plans to meet with students in the morning, according to Nash, and counselors will be available for students.

The health department worked to find a list of close friends of the student and called their families Wednesday night.

Something Wicked This Way Comes: “Macbeth” At ECHHS

CHAPEL HILL – Though last week’s snow pushed back opening night by a day and made for a difficult tech week, the curtain went up Friday on East Chapel Hill High School’s production of “Macbeth.”

To make a Shakespearian play about kings and royalty intelligible to a young American audience, guest director Tom Marriott says he reimagined it as a story about fathers and sons. Marriott says he hadn’t set foot in a high school in decades—but he was impressed by the students in his cast and crew.

“I have no kids of my own, so I was like, ‘what am I going to do with kids?'” he says. “(But) I went in there–and they are so incredibly wonderful. I absolutely love them–these kids are so focused and so centered and so disciplined. I am absolutely amazed.”

“Macbeth” continues at East Chapel Hill High for one more weekend; shows are 7:30 on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Advance tickets are available for $10/person at; for the Friday and Saturday shows, you can also purchase a preshow catered dinner along with the play for $20.

Hold Your Hat And Hang Onto Your Soul: “Little Shop” At ECHHS

My first play in high school was “Little Shop of Horrors.” I was a sixteen-year-old junior, still in the midst of breaking out of my shy-nerd shell—and “Little Shop” pretty much completed the process. (Though playing Seymour, it helped to keep that shy-nerd persona around. My director/drama teacher told the local paper she instantly thought “Seymour!” the first time she ever saw me, and I’m still not sure whether that’s a compliment or an insult.)

It was a terrific experience.

But because it was my first play, I feel a sense of ownership over “Little Shop” that I don’t feel with any other show. Which means my relationship with “Little Shop” is a love/hate thing: it’s absolutely my favorite musical, no question (I’m one of those annoying people who lip-synchs along with all the songs), but I also have a really specific idea in my head for how I think the show ought to go—so invariably I end up walking out of the theater going, “Man, I loved that! But gee, if only they’d done this, and this, and this…”

(It’s a blessing and a curse.)

So. They’re doing “Little Shop” at East Chapel Hill High School, now through Saturday, 7:30 p.m. every night. Y’all should go.

Of course I was there for opening night. How did ECHHS’ version stack up to my imagined ideal?

Pretty well, actually, all things considered.

I was impressed as soon as I walked into the theater: the preshow soundtrack is all doo-wop music from the 50s and 60s, and they project a loop of old B-movie trailers against the curtain. Nicely played. I had a lot of fun just sitting there watching those.

As for the show itself. If you don’t know, “Little Shop” too is a takeoff of a B-movie horror flick, with songs inspired by early-60s doo-wop. It’s the story of a nebbish named Seymour Krelborn (played here by John Pate), working in a rundown Skid Row flower shop, whose life takes a sudden turn when he runs across a “strange and interesting” plant—an unidentifiable flytrap he names “Audrey 2” after the girl he’s secretly pining after (“the girl” here played by Danielle Katz). And suddenly everything’s great for Seymour—aside from the fact that the plant turns out to be a talking, scheming, very hungry alien with a taste for human flesh…

It’s a comedy. Go with it.

“Little Shop” is a popular show for high schools in part because it offers the coolest special effects that a high-school production can reasonably pull off. That would be Audrey 2, always the star of the show—a moving, talking plant that grows and grows as the show progresses. (How does it work? There are four Audrey 2 puppets all told: two hand puppets for the early scenes, then two much more elaborate contraptions manipulated by an unseen performer inside. In ECHHS’ production, Shira Snyder and Austin Lord are credited as the puppetmasters—but Pate, as Seymour, also gets to play puppeteer in one song. Watch for it.) Manipulating Audrey 2 is a daunting task—when our high school staged “Little Shop,” we cheated and had a teacher do it—so kudos to Snyder and Lord for making it work. (Kudos also to director Hope Hynes Love and set designer Alec Arshavsky. The set design for “Little Shop” is deceptively simple—all but one of the scenes take place either in or just outside the shop, but the design still needs to account for the fact that you have to move gigantic plants on and off stage in mid-scene, without anyone noticing. They do a fine job with it. I also liked the glass window they put in the backdrop—so you can see unheard conversations transpiring outside the shop throughout the show.)

So, how did it all come together?

I loved the little directorial touches Hope Hynes Love sprinkled throughout the show. A wino (Evan Douglass) takes a leak behind a phone booth. Audrey—the human Audrey—gives a dollar to a homeless woman. The Kleenex Seymour uses to win Audrey’s heart (“Suddenly Seymour”) gets called back later, when he’s weighing whether to destroy the plant and a spotlight suddenly fixes on it. Stick around for intermission, and you’ll catch Seymour creeping out on stage to dispose of evidence midway through.

And speaking of Seymour, let’s talk about the acting. From an actor’s perspective, “Little Shop” is a thin, thin tightrope to walk: it’s a campy parody, sure, but it also really cares about its lead characters, really loves them and wants them to succeed. Audrey’s song “Somewhere That’s Green” is the best example: it’s Audrey’s dream of a perfect life, and we chuckle because it’s so mundane—a garbage disposal, frozen dinners, a TV with a “big enormous 12-inch screen”—but at the same time, she believes in it so darn much that we find ourselves believing in it too. (Especially since Audrey’s real life is so horrible that, mundane as her dream is, it’s a dream she can never really hope to attain.) It’s a devastating song, when it’s done right. But you have to do it right. The temptation with “Little Shop” is to play up the camp and make it jokey—but the reason the show succeeds is that there’s a very real emotional heart at the center of it all, so to make it work you have to play it straight. (I saw the Broadway revival in 2004, with Joey Fatone as Seymour. They, um…did not play it straight.)

But as Seymour and Audrey, John Pate and Danielle Katz play it straight. “Suddenly Seymour,” their second-act duet, doesn’t have quite the crowd-rousing finish it could have, but whatever: Katz blows the roof off the place with “Somewhere That’s Green”—I got choked up—and Pate absolutely nails Seymour’s tragic desperation in his “Skid Row” solo. I could quibble with both performances if I want—all the actors do have those moments where they rush through the lines and choreography without stopping to feel them, and that’s true of the two leads as well—but let’s stick with this compliment: Pate and Katz get Seymour and Audrey better than anyone I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen “Little Shop” on Broadway.

(My one directorial quibble: Seymour should keep his glasses on.)

From the technical side, the show is solid but still has a few kinks. Well, really just one, and it’s the same problem you get with every musical: how to make sure the orchestra doesn’t overwhelm the actors’ voices. (The actors do wear mics, which helps a bit. I didn’t have much of a problem with it anyway, but then again I know all the songs by heart.) But I did find myself impressed with the lighting design, especially the use of strobes and backlighting to make Audrey 2 that much more menacing. Well done there. (Credit Domenica Sutherland for lights—and credit Audrey 2’s voice actors Ethan Fox and Jones Bell for the menacing laugh.)

Highlights: “Skid Row” and “Somewhere That’s Green” in the first act and “Suppertime” in the second; I also liked the grand finale, where the special effects really take over. (Lowlight: “Call Back In The Morning,” the opening number of the second act. This is not ECHHS’ fault. It is just a bad song.)

So, final verdict: Is “Little Shop” worth seeing? Absolutely. It’s true, I did walk out of the theater saying “Gee, if only they’d done this, and this, and this”…but I also walked out saying, “Man, I loved that.”

For me, with “Little Shop,” the two tend to go hand in hand.