Rivals can hold common goal

Published 8:56 pm Tuesday, December 21, 2010

When I interviewed former Booker T. Washington High and North Carolina A&T great Ron Hart about his induction into the Aggie Hall of Fame a couple months ago, he spoke with affection about the rivalry and bond that existed between Booker T. Washington and East Suffolk High.

Both schools are gone now, but the same spirit of respectable rivalry exists today among Suffolk’s three public high schools.

Jaleel Nelson, who’s two generations younger than Hart, starred on the basketball court at Lakeland. But now he’s an assistant coach for the King’s Fork JV boys’ team.

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At his first practice as a coach, he was introduced to the kids. Nelson said, absolutely with humility and nothing close to bragging, the kids knew him and about his playing feats. He was surprised and excited that the kids were surprised and excited because he would be their coach.

The kids knew about his Cavalier career and that he had made the Seven Cities Knights ABA team, even though the Knights’ season hadn’t started and probably 99 percent of area basketball fans, let alone the general public, didn’t know one thing about the Knights.

The young Bulldogs are old enough, probably around 8-10 years old at the time, to have seen Nelson in action for Lakeland.

For the most part though, the reason they recognized Coach Nelson has to be because of the tight family that is the Suffolk schools, especially when it comes to basketball.

Older brothers who were Nelson’s teammates or opponents, along with parents, neighbors or friends had to be spreading the news about Nelson (and every other Suffolk kid playing ball somewhere else now). The kids were listening, at least a little, too.

It’s unlikely — although I’ll hold out hope — that a bunch of 12-year-olds read about Nelson and his games at Chowan in the newspaper.

And the JV Bulldogs clearly had the full scoop about Nelson being a Knight before the bum sports editor at the News-Herald did.

The Bulldogs, Cavaliers and Warriors will do just about anything to beat each other on the basketball court. There is both rivalry and camaraderie among all three basketball programs, and even, perhaps more so, when a conversation goes back to a time before today’s three schools existed.

And it’s not easy to let those old rivalries go. Nelson said he actually had to take a day or two to think about coaching the Bulldogs as a Lakeland graduate.

But when it comes to having just one Suffolk squad left in the postseason, and definitely when following how alums are doing, folks are quick to drop their rivalries and embrace the Suffolkian pedigree of even a cross-town opponent.