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School system veteran Benny Pearce remembered as patient problem-solver


Former colleagues of the late Benny Pearce remember him as a man who was patient, worked well with others and wasn’t the type to criticize.

Pearce, who served 34 years in a variety of roles with Cumberland County Schools, died earlier this week at the age of 83.

A funeral service was held Thursday at First Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville, where Pearce served as an elder in addition to teaching Sunday school.

Among Pearce’s associates was Larry Lancaster, like Pearce a former high school principal who later served on the Board of Education and was a Cumberland County commissioner.

“I’ve never seen Benny Pearce mad,” Lancaster said. “I’ve never seen him say anything ugly about anything. He was always trying to catch you doing something right.”

Lancaster said Pearce was infinitely patient and would listen to a problem and always help solve it.

Lancaster recalled a time when he made a major error doing class schedules and learned at the last minute that he neglected to schedule any of his seventh-graders a class in social studies.

“I called Benny in the middle of the night,” Lancaster said. “He showed up next morning and in about 15 minutes, he had my schedule straight. He ranks in my Cumberland County Hall of Fame for a whole lot of reasons.”

Pearce served as director of student activities for Cumberland County Schools at a critical time for the school system when the county and the old Fayetteville City Schools were merging into one.

“Benny was always a bridge builder,” Lancaster said. “Benny always had a way of bringing groups of people together. Everyone loved working with him.”

Gerald Patterson, longtime principal at Seventy-First High School, agreed with Lancaster’s assessment. 

“He was always someone you could talk to, straight stuff,” Patterson said. “You need some help, he was right there.”

Patterson said Pearce’s demeanor was especially helpful during the city-county merger.

“The relationship between the city and county schools wasn’t the most pleasant thing,” Patterson said. “Benny knew how to calmly get things across to people. He came across well and always made good sense to me.”

Earl’s Pearls

  • Tucked between the sessions at this week’s N.C. Coaches Association meeting dealing with offensive strategies and how to run practice was an important session on eating disorders presented by Rachael Steil.

Steil is the author of the book “Running in Silence” and came to share with the coaches her experience with an often overlooked problem in high school sports.

Steil has been a runner since the age of 5 but developed an eating disorder in college. At first, she thought she was just displaying discipline and power, until the problem began to take over all aspects of her life. Her only concern became running faster, and it left her battling a host of injuries.

Three years into college, she shared her story on her website, runninginsilence.org.

Her book was published in 2016. In it, she details her personal story, including her battles with losing weight and binge eating.

She details how her problem affected her relationships and what the recovery process was like. She tells the story from the perspective of an athlete.

After the book was published, she took on speaking engagements and realized other athletes needed to hear her story.

She said most people who have eating disorders don’t know it, and there isn’t much guidance available for coaches to offer help to their athletes who suffer from disorders.

She noted many schools have mandatory concussion training for coaches, which she fully supports, but that there’s no guidance on eating disorders.

“Concussions affect 10% of athletes, which is a high number,’’ she said. “Yet 13.5% have eating disorders.”

The more she got into coaching, the more Steil realized coaches need to know what to do about eating disorders and how to find helpful resources in their communities.

While statistics show runners have a higher risk for eating disorders than most athletes, Steil said about one in eight athletes will struggle with the problem.

“I’ve had soccer players reach out to me, long jumpers, basketball players,” she said. 

While the book focuses on Steil’s story, she prompts all coaches and athletes who read it with questions at the end of each chapter on how to apply what they’ve read in their own lives.

She stresses the three R’s of eating disorders: recognizing, receiving help and recovery.

The book helps advise coaches how they can support their athletes and help prevent eating disorders without going outside their lane of expertise.

For more information on Steil’s work and her book, visit her website, runninginsilence.org.

  • Fayetteville will continue to have a presence at the East-West All-Star football game when it moves to December for the first time later this year.

Terry Sanford coach Bruce McClelland was an East All-Star assistant this week as the East team scored a 14-0 win over the West.

This December, Pine Forest head coach Bill Sochovka and Terry Sanford assistant coach Jeff Morehead will serve on the coaching staff for the East.

The N.C. Coaches Association moved the game to December at the request of football coaches who feel it will allow more of the best players to be available for the game.

Traditionally, the East-West game was held in mid-July as part of the N.C. Coaches Association Clinic in Greensboro. But when colleges began getting football recruits to enroll in summer school immediately after graduating from high school, it cut down on the number of star players available for the All-Star game.

The new December date will put the East-West game in competition for the annual Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas for players, but the football coaches seem to feel the pool to pick from will be larger in December since most players will still be in high school.

Follow Earl Vaughan Jr. on Twitter @EarlVaughanJr.

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Cumberland County, schools, education, sports, Benny Pearce