As the Pinecrest Patriots varsity basketball team prepared to take on Lumberton Saturday afternoon in the final four of the state 4-A playoffs, a Capel connection was inescapable for me.
The game was played in Capel Arena at Fayetteville State University, which is named for Felton Capel, who left a lasting legacy not only in this community but also across North Carolina as an icon for equality and justice.
He was very much a trailblazer in helping bring about the peaceful integration of social and political life in Southern Pines with his friend the late Voit Gilmore, as well as leading the way for other African-Americans in the business world. He passed away in February 2018 at age 91.
The two roads running by the school are now named for Gilmore and Capel.
His middle son, the late Jeffrey Capel, was a senior on the Pinecrest basketball team in 1970, the first year of the schools’ existence. Fifty years ago this month, that incredibly talented team — which also included the likes of Charles Waddell, Dexter Pride and Darius McLaughlin — played in the 3-A state championship game in Durham, losing a 53-52 nail-biter to Bertie.
That was the start of an incredible three-year run of state title game appearances by the new Sandhills area school, with the 1971 squad winning Pinecrest’s only state championship in boys’ basketball — the girls’ teams won state titles in 1977 and 1992, as a 4-A school, under the direction of legendary coach James Moore, for whom the main gym is now named. He was also an assistant coach on those boys teams in the early 1970s.
Jeffrey Capel, like his father, was also a trailblazer in coaching when returned to his high school alma mater and became the head coach of the varsity basketball team in 1979, which was my senior year at Pinecrest. He was the assistant coach the year before talking over the reins of the team. I was the sports editor and a photographer for the student newspaper while also covering Pinecrest sports for the old Sandhill Citizen newspaper in Aberdeen.
Capel’s younger brother, Ken, was a senior in 1979, which I am sure made it an even more special start to Jeffrey Capel’s coaching career.
He would go on to become a very successful college and NBA coach before passing away in 2017 at the age of 64 two years after being diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Capel became the head coach of Fayetteville State, his college alma mater, in 1989 and led the Broncos for four seasons, of course playing in an arena that would later be named for his father.
There is one other Capel connection — and one very personal to me —with Pinecrest sports. Felton Capel was the longtime radio voice of the Patriots.
My senior year, I got a part-time job at the former WIOZ-FM in Southern Pines and for three wonderful years was Felton’s sidekick as we teamed on the radio broadcast of football, basketball and baseball games when I was attending Sandhills Community College. We traveled to most of the away games as well.
Over that time, we became very close. Felton was very much a mentor who had such a wonderful influence on my life. When our paths would cross later in life, he always greeted me with a hearty ‘How ya doin’ partner,” as he did everyone. That is how he viewed others, partners with him in what was a remarkable life – and for me, one that intersected at Pinecrest High School.
Without a doubt, Felton absolutely loved Pinecrest sports. But never was he more excited and proud than when his son was coaching the boys’ varsity basketball team.
Over the last few years of being back at Pinecrest covering many of the sports teams, including basketball, my love and pride in Pinecrest has soared. I believe in the power of the green and gold.
As hokey as it may sound, I have no doubt the Capel father and son, whose connections to Pinecrest and Fayetteville State run deep, will be looking down from above smiling as the Patriots play in an arena that bears the name of such a great man and, yes, a former Patriot.
Contact David Sinclair at (910) 693-2462 or firstname.lastname@example.org.