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High School Notebook: Roanoke teens teeing it up against pro golfers

High School Notebook: Roanoke teens teeing it up against pro golfers


Roanoke teens Slade Aliff, Caroline Gilreath and Ashton Harper play a lot of golf.

They shouldn’t be nervous standing on the first tee of a tournament.

But this week?

If those knees are knocking, who could blame these high school golfers?

Aliff (Hidden Valley), Gilreath (Patrick Henry) and Harper (Lord Botetourt) are taking a break from their respective prep teams’ postseasons.

All three are playing in the pro-am division of the Pure Insurance Championship Impacting the First Tee, a PGA Tour Champions event this weekend in Pebble Beach, California.

That means each junior will be paired for at least two rounds with a professional from the Champions Tour and two amateur players.

The field includes big names including Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Bernhard Langer, Mark O’Meara, Corey Pavin and Larry Mize.

And they’re not playing at the local muni.

Aliff tees off at famed Pebble Beach at 10:43 a.m. EDT Friday with pro Gene Sauers. Harper follows at 10:54 with his partner, eight-time PGA tour winner Fred Funk. Gilreath tees off at 10:54 at Spyglass Hill with partner Scott Dunlap. They switch courses on Saturday. The top 36 teams will play on Sunday.

And did we mention this is Pebble Beach?

“I went there the first day I got here, went to the first tee and walked off,” Harper said Wednesday. “My parents asked me how it was, and I said, ‘I’m in love with it.’”

Harper qualified for the event by winning the inaugural First Tee National Championship over the summer.

Aliff and Gilreath were selected through their participation in First Tee, a nationwide, grass-roots junior development program.

Gilreath said she learned of her selection from a telecast on the Golf Channel. “They aired it on the bottom of the screen,” she said. “They had everybody’s name. We waited to see my name. I was actually playing in a tournament at the time so I found out about it then.” While Dunlap is not a household name in golf, he did place ninth in the 2000 PGA Championship and tied for 10th in the 1999 British Open.

Gilreath said she will try to keep the butterflies at bay.

“I’m trying not to be super nervous,” she said. “I’ve never had this opportunity before. Just to learn from them and watch their game, it’s going to be amazing.”

Ex-Broadway assistant hired as Fleming baseball coach

William Fleming has hired 25-year-old Tyler Rankin as its new baseball coach.

Rankin is a 2014 graduate of Stuarts Draft High School in Augusta County and a 2019 Virginia Tech graduate who spent the past two seasons as an assistant baseball coach at Broadway High in Rockingham County.

He is a physical education teacher at Breckinridge Middle School. Rankin has a challenge at Fleming, which has struggled to develop a competitive team in a Blue Ridge District that includes established programs such as Franklin County, Lord Botetourt, Northside, Staunton River and William Byrd.

The Colonels were 0-12 in 2020 and were outscored 201-15.

Rankin is starting from the ground up.

“First, just get in the school and get to know the kids,” Rankin said.

“Really just getting involved and showing my face, and let [people] know without any offense to anyone who’s been in the program that things are going to be different and baseball will be taken seriously now.

“The big first step besides getting a coach or two to jump on board with me is meeting with the returning players and getting them to do a lot of recruiting.

“William Fleming is set up to have a successful baseball program. It’s ready for one.”

Smyth County HOF to induct 3 new members

The Smyth County Sports Hall of Fame will recognize three new members who were selected in 2020 but denied a ceremony because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new inductees are:

Jerry Willis, a 1958 graduate of R.B. Worthy High in Saltville who lettered in football, basketball, and track and field.

He averaged 21.5 points in basketball as a senior, the second-highest scoring average in the state. Willis was the WVIAC champion in the 2-mile run at Concord College as a sophomore.

Dickie Greer, who played four sports at Rich Valley High School and played football at Carson-Newman and basketball at Emory & Henry before embarking on a long coaching career.

Greer coached basketball at Honaker, Rural Retreat, Chilhowie, John Battle and Lebanon high schools in Southwest Virginia. He later served as the athletic director at Lebanon.

Dick Ryan, a Tennessee native and former baseball star at Milligan College who coached Rural Retreat to four consecutive Hogoheegee District baseball championships with a Region C title in 1974.

He became a principal at Rich Valley High and Chilhowie Middle School. He also co-authored a book with longtime Saltville resident Chub Arnold on the history of the local semipro baseball team, the Saltville Alkalies.

Contact Robert Anderson at or 981-3123

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