News Archives - The Wilson Times


Monday, April 11, 2011

Teams give to and take from The Brittany
The Brittany Notebook

By Natalie Sayewich | Staff Writer

After seven years, the mission of The Brittany Willis Memorial Scholarship Soccer Showcase remains the same: to celebrate the life of Brittany Willis, to generate scholarship funds and to educate youth about safety.

Those goals are reached year after year, and they might be enough to continue to draw teams back to Wilson’s Gillette Athletic Complex on their own.

But the teams that participate in — and in many cases donate to — The Brittany each year are rewarded with more than a life lesson.

Coaches appreciate the chance to face teams they wouldn’t otherwise see during their season.

Swansboro coach Doug Kidd watched his 10th-ranked 2-A team go toe-to-toe with top-ranked 3-A Raleigh Cardinal Gibbons on Saturday afternoon.

Gibbons led 2-1 with less than two minutes left before a late shot by Gibbons’ Kathryn Thomason provided a late insurance goal in the Crusaders’ 3-1 win.

“You’re going to come and you’re going to play quality competition,” Kidd said of the showcase. “You’re going to play competition that’s going to help raise their level.

“That’s what our team had to do in the second half today to compete with a superior Cardinal Gibbons team. We played much, much better, and we became a much better team, I think because of it.”


Teams aren’t just benefitting from The Brittany when they’re on the field. The Brittany provides a unique opportunity for coaches and players who have some downtime during the showcase to check out their competition and to learn from other teams.

Freshman Hadlea Finklea, whose Greenfield team played a Saturday morning game against Halifax Academy, sat watching Community Christian take on Holly Ridge Dixon later that afternoon.

“It is an advantage,” Finklea said, “because then you get to see what other teams have. Some teams have really good players because they have club teams and some are just out to basically have fun.”

Swansboro came to Wilson a day before its only game in The Brittany to take in some of Friday’s matches.

“We could not come to play two games this year,” Kidd said. “We had two games earlier this week and we’re limited to three (per week). I told the girls we were still coming down to play on Saturday and the first thing out of their mouths was, ‘Can we go down on Friday?’

“We came out (Friday) night, we watched some matches, we had some dinner together. That’s how special of an event I think it is to these players and coaches.”

Wilson Christian also took advantage of the opportunity.

“When we got here, we watched some other teams,” WCA coach Don Samson said. “We were able to see some things that we’ve been pointing out that we didn’t have video to show like, ‘This is something you girls do, how can we fix that?.’

“Just watching soccer and being around it is good.”


For most of the teams playing in The Brittany this year, the event was a change of pace from playing mostly conference games at this point in the season to playing non-conference opponents in this weekend’s showcase.

But Samson, whose Lady Chargers beat North Johnston 6-0 on Saturday afternoon, didn’t mind the break from N.C. Christian School Association 3-A East Region play.

“It’s a nice change of pace,” he said. “It’s more relaxed, a lot less pressure. They can just get out and play. We can try things that we might not be able to otherwise. So I see it as a big advantage for our team to be able to do this.”


Sportsmanship is one of the things emphasized at The Brittany, as evidenced in the sportsmanship awards handed out after each set of games.

As a result, a game played at The Brittany is perhaps a little more civil than an average game played during the season.

“I like how all the teams come here and they don’t play super aggressive like they do on the regular field,” said Southwest Onslow senior Sasha Preddie, who was one of the sportsmanship award winners at this year’s event. “They play in memory of Brittany.”

Don Aldridge, 62, of Garner, has been refereeing for more than 20 years, and he, like so many programs in the state, got hooked on The Brittany and the message it sends to players.

“I think (sportsmanship) is emphasized before the games and during the games. I think that is in the back of their minds, at least while they’re playing. It doesn’t totally take away from the way that they play, but I think that does help.”

Aldridge estimates that he has officiated for The Brittany girls and boys showcases at least five years.

“Once you experience it one time, you want to come back,” he said. “It’s like a good movie — you don’t mind seeing it a second time.” | 265-8117


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Spirit of the Brittany honors Frazier, Walston

By Jimmy Lewis | Staff Writer

A fraternity small in numbers doubled in size over the weekend at The Brittany Willis Scholarship Soccer Showcase as two new faces earned one of the event’s highest honors.

Corinth-Holders High soccer coach and athletic director Brent Walston, along with volunteer Eli Frazier, each received The Spirit of the Brittany award.

The award is given periodically to individuals or groups whose actions or contributions embody the cooperative nature of the event. Although there is not an official set of criteria for the award, The Brittany Committee Chairman Philip Thompson said that it revolves around the event’s central theme.

“We use the award to recognize acts or individuals who best demonstrate what we’re about — sportsmanship,” Thompson explained. “The award will remain rarely given.”

Prior to this year’s tournament, the Spirit of The Brittany had only been given on two occasions. In August 2007, Greensboro Grimsley High was presented the award for lending a helping hand en route to The Brittany of the Boys showcase to Raleigh Broughton after the Caps bus broke down. Ironically, the teams were set to face one another but Grimsley head coach Herk DeGraw and his players made room on the bus and and transported the Broughton players and coach Izzy Hernandez to Gillette Athletic Complex.

Last spring, Fike High head coach Toni Varacchi received the award.

In honoring Walston, committee member Mike Petty conceded that it was difficult to speak without getting emotional.

“He has brought teams here every time,” Petty recalled. “I get the responsibility of trying to set up the matches, but I never publish it until I send him the list to get his feedback as to ‘was this a good matchup or not?’ He probably knows more about teams across the state than anybody I know.”

But Walston’s connections to the Brittany go well beyond the competitive level. As the former assistant girls soccer coach at Hunt under Petty, Walston coached the event’s namesake, Brittany Willis, for three years before moving to North Johnston. During Willis’ senior season, Walston, who was also the Hunt head boys coach, was on the opposing bench for the Panthers.

In 2005, Walston took North Johnston to the inaugural Brittany showcase event following the murder of Willis in June 2004.

“There are a lot of people more deserving I think, but I’m very appreciative,” Walston deflected. “Having coached Brittany and getting the opportunity to tell the girls at Corinth-Holders High School her story — I can’t do it justice as Coach Petty can — but that’s the type of thing that needs to be carried on.”

The technical wizard of the Brittany, Eli Frazier, a senior at Fike High, became the youngest recipient of The Spirit of the Brittany at the age of 17.

Beginning in 2005 with the first showcase, Eli has spent a multitude of hours in pre-event planning and preparation, assisting with the set-up of tents, electronics and various duties.

The son of City of Wilson Recreation Superintendent Richard Frazier, Eli estimates that he devotes 30 working hours to the Brittany each year.

But even with such a service record, the Brittany committee has traditionally been adept at shielding the identity of Spirit winners until the proper time.

“I was very excited,” Eli revealed. “I didn’t expect it at all.”

Although Eli will be attending N.C. State University in the fall to major in parks and recreation, one spring weekend is already marked for 2012.

That’s the weekend of March 23-24, when The Brittany VIII commences.

“It’s definitely on the calendar to come back next year,” Eli said. | 265-7807



The Brittany still a favorite for many - March 22, 2010

The Brittany Willis Memorial Scholarship Soccer Showcase is so often synonymous with smiling faces.

So, it was a little odd when several Asheville Roberson players looked a little down following their game Saturday at J. Burt Gillette -- it was the seniors' last trip to The Brittany.

"It's great event," Ashley Vanlandingham said. "It was a terrible thing to have happen to such a great soccer player. But, as a soccer player myself, this is one of the best things to come out of it.

"What more could you want? You've got Bermuda grass fields, great weather and great competition, especially for high school. So, it's a tournament I'm going to miss."

The four years of coming to The Brittany has produced so many memorable moments for the Roberson players, Vanlandingham said.

"The games against Wilson Fike I'll never forget -- we had one last year in the rain," she recalled with a smile. "These are some games that I'll definitely take with me and remember from my career."


Even though The Brittany has taken on a slightly different look now that all the players that played with Willis have long since graduated high school, many of them still remain familiar faces at the event.

Of the approximately 200 volunteers this year, roughly 30 were former players who played in the event themselves.

"The atmosphere's just great," said former Fike standout Erin Menzel, a junior on the Pfeiffer University women's soccer team. "I was lucky enough to have played with Brittany, so it's great to see this in her honor and know what everyone's working for in this event. And I still love soccer so much, so it's nice to see how much it's grown over the years."

Drew Calvert, a former boys soccer standout at Hunt, also volunteered, giving up time from his spring break at N.C. State.

"I know the Willises, and my sister (Alex) played with Brittany, so this event means a lot to me personally," said Calvert, now a junior. "I've been here every year, and it's just a really great atmosphere -- the whole Wilson community's involved in it. ... I don't consider that I'm giving up anything. I'll probably come here for years to come."


Every year, The Brittany organizers boast the event's ability to draw teams from across the state. But it's somewhat of a rarity when they play each other, as was the case with Asheville Roberson and Swansboro.

But the two coaches, Roberson's Rob Wilcher and Swansboro's Doug Kidd, have a long history.

"We're best friends," Wilcher said. "We've always tried to play every year. When he was at Watauga, he was on our side of the state. But now that he's at Swansboro, we go down there every summer with my boys and girls teams and have a camp.

"It's always special. Now we're competitors, but we'll give each other hugs after the game. And our girls are starting to build that relationship too."

Added Kidd, in his second year at Swansboro: "We kind of request to play each other each year to keep in touch. At Watauga, we used to play all the time. But it's great to go up against T.C. Roberson and gauge where we stand."


Highlighting the matches involving area teams was the Hunt-Jacksonville game, pitting two state-ranked 3-A teams against each other (Hunt No. 9, Jacksonville No. 13 in last week's coaches association poll). The teams tied 1-1.

"It was a good game," Warriors coach Trent Dorough said. "I thought we were evenly matched. I would've like to have come out with a win, but at The Brittany, 1-1's a good day."

Jacksonville coach Dave Miller was ejected early in the match for arguing with a referee.


Camden was a late addition to The Brittany's lineup but wanted to come so badly that it didn't matter who it had to play. In a last-minute scramble, Fike's junior varsity was paired with the Bruins.

"We told them we really didn't care what team we played, we just wanted to participate and bring the girls out here and understand what the real meaning is behind The Brittany," coach Chuck Leslie said. "It was something to share with my girls, so that they can comprehend how old Brittany was compared to them and it's a fear that's still alive today.

"My girls are pretty excited being here. Just the excitement of coming out there and seeing the other schools. We're only a second-year team, so anything we can see from outside our area we're excited about."


North Johnston has been one of the teams involved in The Brittany since the very beginning, in large part due to athletic director and coach Brent Walston.

Walston, who has spent the last seven years at North Johnston, coached Willis at Hunt during his 12 years there. But he will be moving to Corinth Holder High, where he will be the athletic director, although coaching is still up in the air.

"If I'm coaching soccer we will be back next year, so I hope I don't miss anything," Walston said. "But it's great to have been involved since the beginning, and I appreciate the committee in the beginning inviting us and continuing to invite us back." | 265-7807

Varacchi gets Spirit of The Brittany award - March 21, 2010

Toni Varacchi wasn't expecting to receive anything during Saturday's The Brittany for the Girls VI. But instead, she took home one of its highest honors.

Varacchi received The Spirit of The Brittany award -- only the second ever given -- during The Brittany Willis Memorial Scholarship Soccer Showcase at the J. Burt Gillette Soccer Complex as the event committee's way of thanking her for her contributions to the event.

"I'm excited about it," Varacchi said, "but from day 1 it's been about Brittany and Wilson, and we've just tried to do our part.

"Whether it's playing teams that you know you might not have a chance of beating just to fill the schedule or coming out here and volunteering, that's what it's all about."

Committee member Mike Petty, who presented her a special Spirit of the Brittany soccer ball, and chairman Phillip Thompson had high praise for how Varacchi and her teams have helped boost the event.

"She's a good coach and a good role model, but (the award) is because she is genuinely a good person," said Petty, who formerly coached at rival Hunt. "She's got a heart of gold that's as big as all outdoors.

"For four years, I've been able to call her and say, 'Toni, I'm in a bind.' She doesn't say, 'Who am I playing?' or 'What time of the day is it?' She says, 'We'll be there. You can count on us.'"

The committee was originally going to present her with the award in the fall during The Brittany for the Boys, but because the Golden Demons' game was rain-shortened, giving her the award had to wait.

"We held onto that award for six months, and somehow word did not creep out," Thompson said. "What she has done for us over the years, we really wanted to acknowledge that. She has been so important to our event."

The only other Spirit of The Brittany was given in August 2007 when Greensboro Grimsley drove Raleigh Broughton to The Brittany after Broughton's bus broke down, knowing they would face each other on the field.

But after what appeared at the time to be a one-time presentation of the award, Varacchi's contributions -- whether it's scheduling, encouraging her teams to help volunteer, or whatever the event needs -- demanded recognition, Petty and Thompson said.

But for Varacchi, who knew Brittany Willis (the event's namesake who was murdered in 2004) while Willis played at Hunt, it's just been a way to help The Brittany become the success that it is today.

"I don't think I've done anything special," she said. "This is close to home. There's not a lot you can do, so us keeping our schedule open is what we've tried to do to help." | 265-7807

The Brittany still retains its original character - March 17, 2010

The Brittany is growing up, but still it retains its original sense of character that has made it one of the top soccer showcases in the state.

When play opens Friday for the sixth annual The Brittany Willis Memorial Scholarship Soccer Showcase, 67 girls soccer teams from across the state -- the second most ever at the event -- will lace it up for one of the most evenly-matched events of the year.

But, still, at the heart of the showcase is Brittany Willis, the 17-year-old Hunt soccer player known for her sportsmanship on the field and her bright personality off it. Willis was murdered in June 2004.

"It's another chance to remember Brittany," said Mike Petty, head of The Brittany competition committee, "and it's a chance to educate young folks about the dangers around them.

"We're at the point where none of the players played with or against Brittany, but still so many teams want to come. That's a tribute to the volunteers and the legacy of Brittany."

Six more teams will make their first appearance on the fields of the J. Burt Gillette Complex: New Bern, Havelock, Croatan, Camden, South Central and Caldwell Academy -- once again stretching The Brittany's reach from the mountains to the coast.

But the showcase's foundation continues to be the area teams, drawing Wilson County schools Beddingfield, Fike, Hunt, Community Christian, Greenfield and Wilson Christian, as well as nearby schools C.B. Aycock, North Johnston and Southern Nash.

"It's a chance for teams from other areas to see that Wilson has some very good soccer talent," Petty said. Plus, so many area players and coaches fill roles in the 200-plus volunteer staff to help keep The Brittany top-notch. "It's a chance for them to be involved in something within the community."

Of course, the showcase has again drawn many of the state's players, including Fayetteville Academy's Gloria Douglas, who recently returned from playing with the Under-18 U.S. national team in Spain.

It also has drawn many of the state's top teams -- 19 of which are ranked in the N.C. Soccer Coaches Association's polls. Seven games will pit state-ranked teams against each other, including four Friday night.

Hunt, No. 9 in the 3-A poll, versus Jacksonville, No. 13 in the 3-A, on Saturday at 1 p.m., will highlight the area games. But, as always, all of the teams are paired to encourage even competition, "and we've got some good matchups," Petty said.

"I'm excited about it," Petty added. "Every year I get hyped up as if it's the first. The biggest thing I'm tickled about is to have so many teams. So many schools have travel restrictions, but this year's Brittany is shaping up to be one of the best yet."

Admission is a one-time cost of $5 for spectators above middle-school age and free for middle school and younger. Also, the Barton College soccer teams will be putting on a free clinic on Field 4 during the final round of games Saturday. | 265-7807


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