PEMBROKE — When Ronnie Chavis was honored as the National Athletic Director of the Year in 2009, the longtime baseball coach and athletic administrator for Robeson County had flashbacks.
He remembered his humble beginnings as a baseball coach at Magnolia High School fresh out of college, and then the prosperous seasons he had coaching at Pembroke and West Robeson high schools and how that got him to that moment. He wanted to thank those players for helping him reach that accomplishment, but wasn’t able at the time.
On July 6 he will get the chance to float gratitude.
“That night, it’s not going to be about Ronnie Chavis,” he said. “Those guys have got to be told ‘Thank you,’ for helping me get here because I didn’t do it by myself. I hope a large contingent comes back so I can tell them that.”
On that night at 5:30 p.m. in the Purnell Swett High School cafeteria, former players and bat girls of Chavis during his 18 years as a high school are having a reunion to relive some of the memories on the diamond.
“This is a request from former players. It really wasn’t my idea. They were the ones that told me, ‘Coach, we really need to get together,’” Chavis said. “We had a lot of success, especially the 10-year period I was at Pembroke High School. They said they wanted to get together because we’ve got guys we haven’t seen in a while and they are kind of scattered out different ways.”
While many know Chavis as a former player in the Pembroke area as a player for Prospect High School and The University of North Carolina at Pembroke before taking over the baseball program at Pembroke and West Robeson, he doesn’t want the players on his first team he coached to be forgotten in the reunion.
“They came to me and said they wanted this just to be Pembroke High School,” Chavis said. “I told them, ‘No boys, if you are going to have a reunion for boys that played for Coach Ronnie, you’ve got to include Magnolia, Pembroke High School and West Robeson. And I also coached American Legion too.’”
Chavis coached at Magnolia in 1973, a season where the team lost its first 17 games before topping Fairgrove High School in the final game of the season for his first coaching victory. In the late 1980s, Chavis also helped start and coach the American Legion Post 205 baseball program that was comprised of players from across the county.
The reunion was planned accordingly for the highest turnout possible.
“I told them that if they were going to do it, they needed to do it around Lumbee Homecoming because I have pretty good idea that most of the guys would come home around that time,” he said.
A reunion for last year was thought of by many former players and Chavis, but never came to fruition. This year, it took the help of one of Chavis’ former bat girls from high school, Cindy Locklear, to give the plan wings.
“Cindy came to me and knew that we didn’t get the reunion last year off the ground,” Chavis said. “She said to me, ‘Coach, you put me in charge of this and we will pull it off.’”
Chavis expects a crowd of more than 300 former players and bat girls to come to the event.
The invitation was extended to the bat girls as well, after the group played a vital part of Chavis’ teams as well.
“I had bat girls because it wasn’t a thing where the boys were flirting with the girls, because they knew that was off limits. These girls had a job to do, just like the boys,” Chavis said of his volunteers that handled equipment and shagged foul balls during games.
“The bat girls helped promote baseball at the high school because the day of the game they would wear the shirts. One year, Cindy and them got shirts and put on the back of them ‘Ronnie’s Angels.’”
Chavis coached for 18 years before taking over as the athletic director at West Robeson, now known as Purnell Swett High School, and then taking over as the Robeson County athletic director. When the time came for the move away from the dugout and the practices, he faced a tough decision.
“I was thinking about how much I still loved baseball and this is what I wanted to do my whole life,” Chavis said. “My uncle came to my office and said he had heard I was having trouble deciding between AD and coaching baseball. He told me that I had already had my time at baseball and I had helped a lot of kids, but as an athletic director I can take what I had done for baseball and spread it over the whole athletic department. I never thought it like that.”
As the county athletic director, Chavis helped start the Robeson County Slugfest and served on many boards at the state level.
The cost is $15 a person for the meal that Fuller’s will cater. For more information, contact Locklear at 910-358-4390 or Chavis at 910-734-3854 or 910-521-8924.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.