The last champ at St. Paul’s

Published 10:04 pm Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Suffolk’s high school sports teams, mainly thanks to King’s Fork opening in 2004 and First Baptist gradually moving up into varsity athletic competition during the past few years, have learned quite a bit about firsts in recent history.

Lakeland field hockey last fall and Nansemond River girls basketball achieved firsts of their own. Firsts carry with them a unique challenge for the team, school, institution, business or organization that achieves them and still must work to continue growing and improving.

Lasts aren’t necessarily the exact opposite. The last time a senior takes the field in high school or college, for example, is a bittersweet moment.

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As for a team or a whole program, though, there’s rarely a time when the final time something takes place or is won can be clearly defined.

Lakeland alum Fred Boone and every student-athlete at St. Paul’s College in Lawrenceville find themselves in such a rare situation — and one that is presumably very difficult to come to grips with and move past.

On May 5, the Tigers discontinued their whole athletics program. With only 600 students, St. Paul’s, a longtime member of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, is a very small college, even by CIAA and NCAA Division II norms.

Surely the economics of funding the scholarships needed to field teams in Division II, along with personnel, travel, facility and all the costs of a college sports program, which increasingly is big business, had more to do with the decision than records, stats or championships.

Boone, a track and football standout for the Cavaliers, is a four-time pole vault champion in the CIAA, sweeping every indoor and outdoor conference championship meet in his two years at St. Paul’s. He won the CIAA outdoor title in April with a vault of 11-feet-8.

Hopefully this won’t remain the case for too many years, but Boone, at least for the foreseeable future, is the final champion in the school’s history.

St. Paul’s athletes will be able to transfer within the CIAA without the prior mandate of sitting out two years. With this specific situation, the NCAA should waive any waiting or redshirt period for a transfer.

Some Tigers will decide it’s more important to graduate from St. Paul’s than to play sports somewhere else.

While dismissing St. Paul’s from the CIAA as the conference’s Board of Directors received the college’s decision, the board’s chairman Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins, Sr. said the conference and the directors “received the report with sadness.”

The same can almost surely be said for current and past St. Paul’s players and for alumni around the country.