Sexton gets milestone
By Mike London
Tom Sexton once had a dream to be Salisbury’s head football coach, but principal Windsor Eagle pointed him in a different direction.
“Windsor told me as committed as I was to things, football probably would kill me,” Sexton said.
Drawing up wishbone plays and spending nights on the couch after breaking down film might’ve made Sexton expire long ago, but soccer hasn’t. He coached his 300th soccer victory when the Hornets beat Providence Grove 9-1 on Monday.
Sexton, SHS soccer coach since 1990, has a record of 300-102-25.
“I honestly had no idea about 300, didn’t think about it,” he said. “And it came on a night when we did not play well at all. We did a dozen 100-yard sprints afterwards.”
Obviously, Sexton would have liked to have beaten someone like nemesis Charlotte Catholic for No. 300, but he’ll take it.
He recalls his 200th baseball coaching win at Salisbury ó his teams were 212-207 from 1982-2000 ó came against Chocowinity, of all people. You play the schedule and take the wins wherever they come.
Sexton, who kicked five field goals for Catawba against Carson-Newman in 1978 and a 53-yarder against Newberry in 1977, was 3-15 in 1990, but the Hornets were 43-6-1 in 1991 and 1992, building a program around spectacular scorers Sappia Venn (151 career goals) and Adam Sotak.
The first of Sexton’s 10 conference crowns came in 3A in 1991.
“We were fortunate to have really good players who bought into the motivation we gave them,” Sexton said. “We had scoring machines in those early years and went into matches believing we’d win. Since that time, expectations here have been very high.”
Salisbury reached Western finals in 1996, 1997 and 2001 and carried a 21-0 record into a heartbreaking loss to Catholic in 2004.
Salisbury’s playoff near-misses have been well-documented, mostly at the hands of Catholic, but there was also Venn’s last game when Salisbury fell at Black Mountain Owen.
“When we went up that mountain, it was 75 degrees, and then we’re playing in 25-degree weather,” Sexton said. “They’d had a rodeo on that field the night before, and you talk about awful conditions. We lost by a goal. Just the breaks.”
The loss to Elkin in the 1997 Western final also ranks high on the pain meter. That’s the year Salisbury finally beat Catholic, the No. 1-ranked team, just to get to Elkin.
“Catholic’s coach said the two goals we scored against them were the two worst goals he’d ever seen,” Sexton said. “But they went in.”
That’s been the bottom line for the Hornets. Their shots have usually gone in more than the other guys.
Sexton’s had too many great players to attempt to list them, but Venn and Daniel Butner, his two adidas All-Americans, stand out.
Butner had 140-plus career assists, with a lot of them going to Jacob Pace, who pumped in 119 goals.
Sexton accompanied Venn to San Jose, Calif., where he received his award from Pele himself, and Sexton went with the Butners to Philadelphia for his award presentation. Things like that stick with you forever.
“For a little school in North Carolina to have two soccer All-Americans, that’s pretty amazing,” Sexton said. “But those two kids were great.”
Sexton’s influences are numerous. He’s learned from Eagle, Jim DeHart, Bob Pharr, Aaron Neely, Sam Gealy and “spiritual advisor” Bill Lee, among others, and from a number of assistants, several of whom are now in the college coaching ranks.
Current assistant Matt Parrish has been with Sexton since getting hooked on Salisbury soccer when the Hornets traveled east to take on perennial champ Swansboro. Salisbury scored on Swansboro’s field. Sexton recalls no one had accomplished that in eight years.
Salisbury has 11 seniors this season and a misleading 8-4 record after forfeiting two early victories.
Coaches have told Sexton South Iredell, Shelby and Hibriten are as good as they’ve ever been, but when you’ve got seniors there’s always a chance to make that special run.
The current Hornets are surrounded by inspirational memories, photos and trophies of past teams because Sexton has fashioned a clubhouse out of an old masonry building on campus. It’s a place not only to dress and hang out but to touch the tradition built by athletes such as Venn and Butner.
“It’s my 30th year teaching, so I’m close to the end, but I still honestly don’t know anything I’d rather do,” Sexton said. “Every time I prepare for a soccer match, it takes me back to the time when I played, and that’s a very good feeling.
“Looking back, you realize a lot more kids are playing soccer now and it just keeps getting better and better in North Carolina. It’s a great game. It’s the world’s game.”
It’s Sexton’s game.