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DestinationFAY- Sports: Something for Everyone


By Sammy Batten

Pete Subsara, director of marketing for Fayetteville’s minor league baseball franchise, remembers a conference call in November 2019 discussing the purchase of
merchandise for the 2020 season.

“A lot of that is made in China, and we were told there might be a delay (receiving shipments) due to a virus,’’ Subsara said. “Five months
later everything changed.’’

The Coronavirus, or COVID-19, hit home in March 2020, causing the cancellation or altering the world of sports on just about every level. Here in Cumberland County, the highly anticipated second season of the Fayetteville Woodpeckers minor league baseball season was wiped out, along with the ice hockey campaign for the Fayetteville Marksmen.
But our favorite local sports activities are back, and Fayetteville has plenty of places to watch some outstanding competition.

The Woodpeckers, a low Class A minor league baseball affiliate of the major league Houston Astros, are scheduled to start their second season May 4 in Zebulon against the Carolina Mudcats. It will be the first of a 120-game regular-season schedule that will feature 60 games at their home park, Segra Stadium, located in the heart of downtown.
Following its first year of operation in 2019, Segra was named High-A Ballpark of the Decade by Ballpark Digest and at least nine players who
appeared for the Woodpeckers that season made it all the way to the major leagues in 2020.

The home portion of the schedule featured a May 11 opener with a six-game series at Segra against the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers. Tickets to home games can be purchased for the full season, in multi-game packages or for single games online at the team website www.milb.com/ fayetteville/tickets/single-gametickets, or at the Segra Stadium box office.
“We went seven months with no new Woodpeckers news,’’ Subsara said.

“But with our schedule (for 2021) released we’ve had tons of activity here. We’ve had great engagement with the fans on social media. We’re excited and fans are excited. We’re not really sure what capacity limits (at Segra Stadium) will look like. But any baseball is good baseball.’’

Later in the year, the Fayetteville Marksmen will be back on the ice at the Crown Coliseum where they’ll resume competition in the independent Southern Professional Hockey League after actually missing more than just a single season due to COVID-19. The team’s 2019-20 campaign was abruptly cancelled with a month left in the regular season, and
due to state restrictions the Marksmen were one of five SPHL teams forced to sit out the 2020-21 season. But Fayetteville president and CEO Chuck Norris vowed the Marksmen would return, and they are now preparing for a comeback in 2021-22. Their 56-game regular season schedule runs from October to April. “Obviously, it’s been challenging for sure,’’ said Shawn Bednard, Fayetteville’s director of communications and community outreach. “We view ourselves as not just a hockey team, but as a community asset. To shut down an entire season was devastating. But we’re hoping to be better for it. We’ve taken a look at everything we do, and we plan to come back as strong as we’ve ever been. We try to look at it as a blessing in disguise. Now, when October comes, we’ll be flying out of the gates.’’

Fans can get tickets via the team website at marksmenhockey.com/tickets/ season-tickets. While Segra Stadium and Crown Coliseum stood dark through 2020, the lights were on at J.P. Riddle Stadium where the collegiate wooden-bat Old North State League operated in June and July. Fayetteville, featuring numerous local and region college players, made its debut in the league as the Carolina Coyotes, finishing 7-18-1 overall.

The franchise has renamed itself the Fayetteville Chutes for the 2021 campaign. The schedule for the 2021 season hadn’t been released by mid- March and ticket information wasn’t available on the Old North State League website. Also continuing to operate during the COVID-19 outbreak was the historic Fayetteville Motor Speedway, located just off Interstate 95 at 3407 Doc Bennett Road. The track has been in operation since 1968, but recently underwent changes under new owners Dave and Dan Stewart. Before the 2020 schedule began, the brothers shortened the dirt oval from 4/10 to 3/8 miles and made many other upgrades to the facility. Almost every weekend from March to November, the track plays host to racing in a variety of classes – Late Model, UMP Modifieds, Super Street, 602 sport modifieds, CRUSA Street Stocks and Sport Compacts. For a schedule and ticket prices, check the speedway’s website at www.fayettevillemotorspeedway.com.

The golf course was another of the few escapes available during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Cumberland County offered plenty of options. Those include two courses designed by the legendary Donald Ross, one that nurtured the professional careers of Raymond and Marlene Floyd and another that’s home to a popular annual celebrity fundraiser.

Both Highland County Club, located in the heart of Fayetteville, and Fort Bragg’s Stryker Golf Course were constructed in the 1940s using Ross’ designs. Stryker is open to the public, but you’ll need to find a member to play Highland, which is a private club.

Built among scenic wetlands, horse pastures, lakes and streams, Cypress Lakes Golf Course is the brainchild of popular local teacher and pro L.B. Floyd. Floyd’s children, Marlene and Raymond, both developed their games on the course, and Raymond produced four major victories on the PGA Tour, including the 1976 Masters title.

Gates Four Golf & Country Club has played host to many amateur and professional events but may be best known as home for the annual Stars & Stripes Celebrity Invitational. The tournament, which has featured the likes of Lawrence Taylor and Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers among its celebrity participants, raises money to support military and first responders.

King’s Grant Golf & Country Club, which has a unique, undulating layout, Baywood Golf Course and Fort Bragg’s Ryder Golf Course round out the golf options in
Cumberland County. Opened in 1990, Baywood is the newest of the local courses.

So, after a year of being confined by COVID-19, Cumberland County should be alive with activity options this summer.