Observer writer Langston Wertz Jr. has covered Mecklenburg County high schools for 25 years and done extensive research into its history. Here’s his list of the top 10 coaches in county history.
10. Zoe Bell, Providence/Ardrey Kell volleyball: Led Ardrey Kell (31-1) to its first Southwestern 4A regular-season championship last season and its first N.C. 4A state title. Bell, who will coach at Charlotte Latin next year, led Ardrey Kell to the 2009 state championship round. Bell also won four state titles at Providence High and is just one title short of the N.C. High School Athletic Association career record. Bell’s team have won 13 conference championships and she’s been All-Observer coach of the year five times. Bell is a founding member of the Carolinas Juniors Volleyball Club and has led her teams to six USA Junior National tournaments
9. Larry McAfee, East Mecklenburg track/cross-country: McAfee helped design, build and maintain the 3.1 McAlpine course where many conference and state championship cross-country meets have been held. McAfee, who helped get girls cross-country added as a N.C. prep sport in 1980, coached cross-country for more than 30 years. From 1974-99, his boys cross-country teams won 19 conference titles, 13 regionals and four state titles. His girls teams won eight conference, eight regionals and one state title in the same run. One of his runners, Joan Nesbit, became an Olympian. McAfee also helped start the popular Wendy’s Invitational meet with former Myers Park coach Richard Prince.
8. Stuart Allen, Myers Park track and field: Coached at Myers Park from 1956-71 and ran up 11 N.C. High School Athletic Association state track championships. He had 38 individual and 16 relay teams win state titles. He also coached four Myers Park cross-country teams to state championships. A member of the NCHSAA Hall of Fame, Allen was founder of the popular Queen City Relays track event that is still held today.
7. Dave Price, Providence Day/South Mecklenburg basketball: Price finished with a career record of 535-285. At South Mecklenburg from 1963-83, he coached some of the county’s best-ever teams and won three straight N.C. 4A state championships in the ‘70s. Overall, Price won four state titles at South Meck and two at Providence Day.
6. Suzie Pignetti, Charlotte Latin/Butler/Country Day volleyball: Retired after the 2012 season when she led Latin to a ninth straight state championship. Pignetti was named national coach of the year. She finished her 35-year career with a 745-120 record. Her teams won 29 conference championships and 15 state championships.
5. Dave Harris, Harding: Coached football at Harding from 1947-67 and is the first Charlottean to be inducted into the N.C. High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame. His teams won back-to-back state titles in the ‘50s and once went 35 games without a loss. He coached in the 1956 Shrine Bowl. Harris was director of athletics for Mecklenburg County from 1967-90. The NCHSAA award for athletics directors is named in his honor.
4. Gus Purcell, Myers Park football: Coached the Mustangs from 1951-71 and he became famous for passing 30 times a game when most teams were running. He coached four All-American quarterbacks, one All-American running back. During one stretch - from 1956-65 -- Purcell placed 12 players on the N.C. Shrine Bowl team. Purcell’s career record was 209-75-15. In 1975 he became the second Charlottean, behind Harris, to be inducted into the N.C. High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame
3. Jerry Faulkner, Charlotte Latin basketball: Retired in 2007 as the winningest active boys basketball coacch in North Carolina. Faulkner was 704-224 in his 33-year career and had only one losing season. His teams won nine state championships. He coached at Charlotte Latin for 23 years. At Latin, Faulkner’s teams won five state championships and he was 515-157.
2. Tom Knotts, Harding/W. Charlotte/Independence football: Perhaps the greatest football coach in N.C. history, Knotts teams at Independence once won 107 straight games. Those Patriots also won seven straight state titles from 2000-06 (though Knotts coached the 2004 season at Duke). Overall, the Patriots reached eight straight state finals. Knotts also led Harding (1987) and West Charlotte (1991, ’93 and ’95) to N.C. 4A state finals, winning in ’95 with West Charlotte. In 26 years in Mecklenburg County, Knotts’ teams were 296-60.
1. Charles McCullough, West Charlotte basketball: McCullough coached for 33 years at West Charlotte before retiring in 1994. His teams won five state championships and had 23 state quarterfinal appearances, including reaching at least the quarterfinal round in six of the last seven years he coached. Under McCullough, West Charlotte won 16 conference championships and seven regional championships. He finished his high school career with a 583-255 record.