After months of anticipation, officials at Midway High School unveiled the new sign that will greet fans on Friday night, honoring legendary head coach, Tommy Sloan — “Coach Tommy Sloan Stadium: Home of the Raiders.”
A ceremony that was held prior to the start of Friday night’s game, attended by hundreds of fans, former players and special guests. Those who spoke had nothing but great things to say about the honored guest. Al Britt, athletic director for Sampson County Schools, was one of those speakers.
“I was asked by Barrett (Sloan) to say something about Tommy. I replied, ‘How can I come up with something nice to say about the man that beat me more than my dad ever did?’” Britt said jokingly.
He concluded his comments by saying, “Tommy, I guess I have to say I love you.”
Well over 100 players from the mid-1970’s up until Sloan’s last few years around 2013 were on hand for the special occasion. Many players from his state championship team as well as the 1989 state runner-up team also represented well. Speakers that represented the different decades included Alan McLamb, speaking on behalf of the 1970s; Mark Tyndall speaking on behalf of the 1980s; Chris “Cotton” Warren, who spoke on behalf of the 1990s; and Luke Clark, who represented the 2000s.
Principal Monty Strickland gave a speech as he formally announced the stadium’s new moniker, then Athletic Director Jason Fussell, Connie Godwin, Kenny Godwin and David Register unveiled the sign.
During Sloan’s time at Midway (1973-1998 and 2010-2013), he amassed a total of 214 wins. He compiled eight football conference championships, won the 1978 1A State Football Championship, won the 1981 1A State Baseball Championship and was a 1A State Football Runner-Up. He served as an assistant coach in the North Carolina East-West All Star Game in 1983 and was an assistant coach in the North Carolina Shrine Bowl in 1993.
With many on hand, former players had plenty to say while reflecting on Sloan.
“We would be at practice and would run a play over and over again until we got it the way he thought was best. He would always yell out ‘Run it again” or ‘One more time,’ making sure things were just so,” Warren reflected.
Many that spoke of Sloan on Friday referred to these moments as “Sloan-isms,” with Assistant Principal Jeff Wilson sharing several of these.
“Practice time was never play time and we always new we were there to work. Of course, though, there were always the days when we came to practice and someone always wanted to be a little lazy and slow about doing a drill or warming up halfway during exercises,” Warren added.
“There was always the threat of ‘We can start this all over again’ and at least once in my four years I remember about 20 minutes into the start of practice we started over from the beginning, so it became a promise that day.”
Tyndall reflected on how practice conditions were an unpleasant memory. Despite the unpleasantness, though, he admitted the players grew both physically and mentally and in more ways than one.
“We practiced at the old high school where the practice field was never pleasant. It was full of sand spurs and was either dusty or muddy depending on the weather that day,” he recalled. “When we worked on the sled, or ‘Big Bertha’ as it was called, we were always going to have to push it through the clay on the infield of the old softball field. These were unpleasant things that each one of us could remember doing because you could here the groans in the groups. But we all knew that it had made each one of us better for game night but never realized, until later, how much of a better person it made us as we got older and wiser and realized what all the hard work had really done for us.”
Through the hard work, players always knew that the Raiders were going to be successful and knew that opponents were always going to get Midway’s best shot.
“There was a statement made about a slogan that had been used on T-shirts and sweatshirts during the mid and late 1980’s. ‘It Costs To Be The Boss,’” said Warren. “This was something we all took to heart each and every day at practice and during the games. If it was worth doing all that hard work for, it was worth getting great results for it. Many of us knew that Midway was never the biggest team many opponents were going to face, but we were always going to be hard to beat and you were going to get all we had to give. That was something Coach Sloan always asked for — ‘Just give me all you got, if I get that I won’t ask for more.’”
Through all the memories and love that is still shared today across the Midway community, the former players emphasized that the respect for Sloan back then is still just as great today.
“You could see the same respect for him this past Friday night that we all had for him when we were on the fields with him as players,” added former Midway player and current assistant coach Greg Raynor. “He was a man that always seemed to be able to get the most out of everybody that ever played for him. He was a coach that, at the end of everything he put you through to get ready for an opponent, there was never anybody that you couldn’t beat and if he told you you could run through a brick wall you, always felt you could do it.”
“It was an honor to play for him and it is great to know that something will be around for a long time to honor his name at the place he loved, doing something he loved to do,” added Tyndall.
Now, something is set to happen this Friday that will feel very unusual for the Midway community. Tommy Sloan now serves as an assistant coach to his son Barrett, who is the head coach at Lakewood. Lakewood and Midway are set to collide Friday night in the “DuBose Game of the Week” in what should be a thrilling affair.
Be sure to check out full details, including coach and player reactions from that game, in this weekend’s edition.