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Laney names court for veteran coaches Sutton, Lynch

Longtime Laney coaches Ruby Sutton, left, and Fred Lynch were honored during a ceremony between the girls and boys basketball games naming the court in their honor Friday, December 7, 2012. (Photo by Star News photo by Matt Born )

By Dan Spears

The number of memories involving Michael J. Jordan Gymnasium at Laney High School is uncountable. With nearly 40 years of athletic competitions, including plenty involving the NBA legend whose name is on the building, that's bound to happen.

Ruby Sutton's history at Wilmington's northside high school predates all of them.

"When Laney first opened, the gym wasn't even finished," she recollected of the school's opening in 1976. "They did it right in time for basketball season."

It's natural, then, that the school's longtime volleyball coach became a permanent part of its history, as she and 26-year varsity boys basketball coach Fred Lynch had the court named in their honor Friday night between the school's varsity boys and girls basketball games against Pender.

"Exciting. Real exciting," a beaming Lynch said before the ceremony.

While Lynch's time stalking the sidelines for the Bucs is well-documented, Sutton originally didn't want to be in the building any longer than she had to.

"I started as the girls tennis coach," said Sutton, who still coaches cheerleading in the winter and boys tennis each spring. "I love the outdoors and I had a good group of girls and we were headed up. …

"But I'll always give the credit to a player who just transferred here. Her name was Lauren Fearing," Sutton said about the girl from Indiana. "She and her coach taught me everything. I was on the phone with her coach every day. I didn't know that style of volleyball: bump, set, spike. Physical education volleyball? I loved that to death."

Sutton is now in the NCHSAA's top 10 for career victories in the sport, thanks to a philosophy that has never changed.

"I've worked with a lot of kids that never came in this building. But it's the kids. They're special," she said.

"You hear now that kids are this or kids are that. Kids, really, are what you expect (of them). You give them high expectations, 95 percent of them are going to try to reach them. They're the reason I'm still there. Each year, my kids get better and better. That's the truth."

Lynch, now solely the school's athletic director, echoed that attitude. Near the end of the ceremony, more than 100 current and former students they coached joined them in the center of the court to congratulate them.

"If the kids hadn't done their jobs, too, we wouldn't be talking like this," he said with a laugh.

"As a coach, we all have egos, we all want to win, but even when you have teams that aren't as good and you see them get better, people on the outside might look at wins and losses … but I've had kids, we haven't had people think we were going to be good going into a season, and they finished second (in the conference). They did all the things we asked, and then some."

Both coaches had their families join them at the end of the ceremony, a surprise to Sutton. It's never been easy to keep things from her, Lynch joked. But on a night he said would humble him deeply, he was most proud of the woman whose name would share the court for thousands of memories to come.

"Nobody is ever gonna be like that again. Forty-five years in the system, still coaching three sports … and she's still consistent," Lynch said.

"You talk to a kid from her first team, and you talk to a kid from this year's team, it's the same thing. She's the way she is. Do things right, follow the rules, you're gonna play for me."