Sampson County athletes have been blessed to have strong leaders on the sidelines for many, many years, individuals who have given their all to teach students how to play the game and benefit from it on and off the field. Names like Bobby Robinson, Walter Ragan, Al Britt, Karen Fox and Bob Lewis readily come to mind when one begins to tick off the names of the best of the best.
Among the greatest of those all-time coaches stands Tommy Sloan. Unassuming, generally soft-spoken and a sports enthusiast with a bend toward high school athletics, the long-time Midway coach has become synonymous with Raider sports, in particular football.
With that in mind, it was only fitting that the Midway District name the new high school’s athletic stadium in his honor. We were thrilled to learn of the move back in May when it was first announced and we applaud those efforts today, just a few short weeks before the formal ceremony that will make it official.
It is apropos that Sloan’s name be attached to the school’s athletic stadium. Short of Ragan’s time at Midway, no one has walked the field more than Sloan, no one has applauded students’ gridiron success more, no one has taught them the rules of the game as wholeheartedly and no one has sung their praises more. And the records he has compiled speak to the determination behind the man: a 214-127 record during his tenure (1973-1998, 2009-2013) as head football coach, a 1A state football championship (1978) and a runner-up finish (1988). And that’s just on the gridiron. Sloan also coached Raider baseball for a short period of time and, along with his athletes, brought home a state championship in that sport in 1981.
All those accomplishments are things for which Sloan deserves our praise and our applause.
More importantly, though, we applaud Sloan for a lifelong career of helping students. While it’s true he was an outstanding coach, he was an even better leader, on and off the field, setting an example of how to live, treat others and make the most out of high school while you had the chance.
While Sloan’s passion for the game is immense, his love for the student athletes was far greater. It was easy to see in the way he taught them, spent time with them, applauded them, commiserated with them and chastised them.
Like a father carefully watching his young charges grow, Sloan took ownership in the young men he coached and wanted to see them succeed, both on the field and in the classroom.
Never one to toot his own horn, Sloan always preferred the accolades be heaped on his students and his school, another attribute often associated with a loving dad and an unselfish teacher. And we are certain today’s words will be met with a slight grimace and a humble attitude, much the same reaction, we are sure, as news that the Midway stadium would soon bear his name.
That is one of the things that makes Tommy Sloan so special, both as a coach and as a human being. He has never assumed the greatness of his ability, though those who have been under his tutelage know differently. Instead Sloan has gone about his business quietly, doing one of the things he loves best and doing it to the very best of his ability.
Hundreds of students have benefited from the kind of man — and coach — Tommy Sloan has been through the years. Naming a stadium in his honor is one small way of saying thank you for the decades he has spent helping students, the school and the district.