Bringing the Title Home
You might say Mike Apple was born to be a Flyer.
He certainly was born in Moore County, and he certainly has spent most of his lifetime impacting young men and women in the area.
Now, he has taken a group of young men to the ultimate height — a national championship.
Sunday, the Sandhills Community College Flyers blew away Cedar Valley College to claim the NJCAA Division III national championship.
Earlier this season, SCC honored the first basketball team to play for the college, the 1965 SCC Spartans. After operating for several years in the late 1960s and early ’70s, the athletic program at the school lay dormant until being resurrected four years ago under the energetic guidance of athletic director Aaron Denton.
During the ceremony to honor the Spartans, Jim Reid, who coached that team, said he recalled a young Apple sitting on his mother’s knee when the team played its first-ever basketball game at East Southern Pines High School in 1965. Apple’s mother worked at Sandhills.
It’s easy to see that Apple fell from a mighty strong tree.
No other than Vass native Curtis Frye, the director of the track program at the University of South Carolina, where he has won an NCAA Division I national championship, said in an interview several years ago that Apple’s mother, Helen, was instrumental in him becoming the man he is. Frye pointed out that she gave him confidence to move forward in his life after he graduated from SCC.
Apple has never strayed far from his roots.
Growing up in Lakeview, Apple eventually went to Union Pines, where he was a standout basketball player. From there he went to Guilford College, where he continued his prowess on the basketball court.
After graduation he returned home, and went to work at his alma mater, where he taught and coached the Union Pines boys’ junior varsity squad.
There was a brief blip where he left the comforts of the county, taking the head varsity basketball coaching job at Western Harnett. But even then he didn’t really leave the county. He and his family continued to make their home here, with his children attending the local school system.
When the head coaching job at Pinecrest became open nine years ago, he returned to the sidelines in Moore County, taking the helm of the Patriots.
During his eight years at Pinecrest, Apple built a program that continually finished at the top or near the top of the conference standings, regularly chalking up 20-win seasons. His teams played the same full-court style that he brought to the Flyers.
More important, when Apple took the Flyers’ job, he continued to teach math at Pinecrest High School. Many people have pointed out that Apple is one of the best teachers around. There’s more than one way to impact a young person’s life, and Apple seems to be able to do it on the court and in the classroom.
A telling quote came from Tramaine Pride, who played for Apple at Pinecrest, after the Flyers’ won the national title.
“I thank God for the opportunity to play for my old coach and finally get him a championship,” he said.
There is a certain amount of loyalty and respect in that quote. And those two things are usually earned.
Now, don’t get the idea that Apple is a credit-grabbing coach. He’s far from that; in fact, he’s a pretty humble guy. You don’t hear a lot of “I” when talking with him. He’s probably going to be a bit embarrassed by this column.
Just look at his team: The Flyers usually went 12 or 13 players deep in games. In the national title game, the Flyers got points from 11 different players in the first half alone. No me-first stars, but a team bonded by unselfish play and the goal of winning, sort of a mirror image of its coach.
As a commentor said on thepilot.com website after the national championship: “Amazing! From a little neighborhood basketball court in Lakeview, N.C., to national championship win in N.Y.! Mike Apple, you rock!”
You can bet the county’s homegrown product who helped bring a national title back to the hometown school is flying high right now.
And he took a team, a college and the community that he has always called home along for the ride.
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