The search for a new football coach at Thomas Walker is on.
After five seasons at the helm of the program, Nick Johnson has stepped down as Pioneers coach.
Johnson said Wednesday he had accepted a teaching position at Union Elementary School in Big Stone Gap.
During his five seasons at Thomas Walker, Johnson’s teams had a combined 26-24 record. Last season, the Pioneers finished 5-5 and fought for a Cumberland District Championship.
Thomas Walker was also in contention for a district championship in Johnson’s sophomore season, when the Pioneers finished 7-3.
“I’m leaving the program in better shape than it was when I got it, and I’m happy with it,” Johnson said. “It was a day full of emotions. I have nothing but love and respect for Lee County, especially Thomas Walker. I love this community.
Johnson said her decision was a family decision.
He plans to spend more time with his family, and the opportunity to teach in Wise County came at just the right time.
“It’s a blessing,” said the coach. “It was just an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
As the region focuses on spring and all the outdoor prep sports that come with it, some youngsters are honing their skills on the Southwest Virginia basketball court.
Southwest Virginia Elite features the best hoops players from across the region.
Some of the high school stars who shine during the winter basketball season are also showing their stuff in the spring, and they’re doing it pretty well.
The 17U and 16U teams face one of their toughest challenges this weekend with a trip to the Smoky Mountains to compete in the Rocky Top Invitational in Gatlinburg.
The tournament features teams from across the country.
The Southwest Virginia Elite 17U team, which boasts a 14-1 record, will face Under Pressure Elite, of Clearwater, Fla., on Friday before playing Next Level Elite-Burdette (Pickens, South Carolina) and The UNIT (New York) the Saturday.
The team wraps up its round robin play on Sunday against the Charlotte Royals.
Southwest Virginia’s 16U Elite team, 11-4 on the year, will play a similar round-robin format this weekend against teams from South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia.
Elite team rosters have an assortment of prep players from all over Southwest Virginia.
Chantz Robinette (Ridgeview) currently leads the 17U team in points, averaging 14 points per game. He is also pulling 4.7 rebounds per game.
Abingdon junior Dayton Osborne is averaging 13 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, while rookie Ethan Collins (Wise Central) is averaging 10 points and five rebounds per game.
The team also includes Gate City sophomore Gunner Garrett, Union senior Noah Jordan, Lee High freshmen Brynnen Pendergraft and Brayden Hammonds, Chance Boggs (Wise Central) and Luke Honaker (Abingdon) and Grant Williams senior of Marion.
Five of the 17U players – Collins, Boggs, Garrett, Hammonds and Pendergraft – also play on the 16U squad.
The 16U roster is rounded out by Isaiah Justice (Ridgeview) and Luke Honaker (Abingdon).
Collins leads the 16U team in scoring. He’s averaging 22 points and seven rebounds per game, while Garrett is averaging a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Hammonds is averaging eight points per game for the top flight.
SUMMER CELEBRATION FOR BURTON HOF
After being sidelined by COVID-19, the JI Burton Hall of Fame will celebrate three classes of inductees this year.
The 2020 and 2021 promotions will be recognized on June 11 at the Hotel Norton.
The class of 2020 includes:
• David Hill — Member of the 1958 District 8 championship team and all-state selection in 1958 and 1959.
• Dr. Preston Miller Jr. — Football and basketball player from 1953 to 1955.
• Mark Neeley — An all-state football and basketball performer in 1979-80, Neeley still holds four school records.
• Kenny Stidham — A football and basketball star, Stidham played running back for the 1972 state championship football team and earned All-Lonesome Pine District status. He was also an all-district performer on the basketball team that won the LPD Championship in the 1972-73 season.
The class of 2021 includes:
• Anthony Caruso — A four-sport star for Burton, Caruso was named all-state football in 1980 and was in every district in football, basketball, baseball and track and field.
• Major Griffey – Playing football, basketball and track and field, Griffey was an all-state football and track and field player and was named the Lonesome Pine District Male Athlete of the Year in 1992.
• Al Stecker — An all-district football player in 1960, Stecker also played basketball and baseball and ran track for the Raiders. In 1966, he returned to Burton as a coach, where he coached the baseball and golf teams and was an assistant football coach on the 1972 state championship team.
• The Honorable John Robert Stump – A four-season college football and basketball player, Stump then served as a Southwest Virginia circuit court judge from 1981 to 2009.
The Burton Hall of Fame committee will announce the class of 2022 inductees later this month.
The 2022 inductees will be honored at an induction ceremony in the fall.
Former UVA Wise wide receiver Devin Heckstall has signed with the Edmonton Elks of the Canadian Football League.
A native of Baltimore, Heckstall caught 42 passes for 751 yards and six touchdowns last fall and was named to the All-South Atlantic Conference first team.
Heckstall played his best against tougher competition in his only season as a Cavalier.
Against NCAA FCS foes ETSU, the 6-foot-6 receiver had 10 receptions for 70 yards and a pair of touchdowns before later adding a season-high 142 receiving yards and scoring against the eternal power of the SAC, Wingate.
Isaac Berry from Virginia High recently signed to continue his education and baseball career at Radford University.