Photos of the Year: The best of Richmond County

More than 80,220 photos since launch of

By Kevin Spradlin

As 2014 winds downs down, the staff at The Pee Dee Post have taken time to look back on the best moments in Richmond County caught on camera.

What started as a list of 32 photos was whittled down to 15 by a single round of voting within the office. An effort was made to pare it down further, to a top seven or 10, but staff decided that was too difficult to do. So Top 15 the list of photos it became. Readers can click on each image within this article — or any article on — to enlarge. To save for free, simply “right-click” and choose “save as.”

Since April 28, The Pee Dee Post has snapped more than 80,220 photos and uploaded them into online photo galleries. A low-resolution version of each photo and each gallery is available to the general public at no cost.

This is the fifth of an eight-part series to close out the year, looking back on the top videos, news and sporting events of 2014. The remaining schedule includes:

Dec. 24 — By the numbers: Top videos of the year
Dec. 25 —  By the numbers: Top Sports/Outdoor stories
Dec. 26 —  By the numbers: Top News stories
Dec. 27 —  Super 7 Business stories
Dec. 27 — Fantastic 15 Photos of the Year
Dec. 28 — Super 7 Feel-good stories
Dec. 29 — Super 7 Sports stories
Dec. 30 — Super 7 Stories of the Year – final

Before we get to the top photos, however, here’s a peek at the most popular photo galleries on this year:

1. Hinson Lake 24-Hour Ultra Classic
2. Hamlet Christmas Parade
3. Ellerbe Farmers Parade
4. Homecoming Parade
5. Raiders Marching Band Alumni Night
6. Hot Mamas Softball Opening Day
7. Rockingham Flea Market Fire
8. Seaboard Festival 5K
9. Rockets complete perfect season
10. First-responders 9/11 memorial walk

On with the top photos:

No. 1 — Training ‘got real’ in Saturday exercise

ROCKINGHAM — It was a family first.

The science of firefighting can turn on the most experienced person in the time it takes a heart to beat.

And that’s when the science becomes a bit of an art.

Ellerbe Fire Department Capt. Matthew English, left, is with Rockingham firefighter Mike Meginnis. Meginnis is set to retire Monday after 30 years with the city.

Kevin Spradlin |                                           Ellerbe Fire Department Capt. Matthew English, left, is with Rockingham firefighter Mike Meginnis. Meginnis is set to retire Monday after 30 years with the city.



The Rockingham Fire Department’s training exercise at 906 Roberdel Road in Rockingham on Saturday, which consisted of  taking down a two-story home that had been vacant for about a decade, was also one for the history books — at least for the Gardner family.

Rockingham Fire Chief Charles Gardner, whose last day on the job will be Aug. 20 after nearly 31 years with the city, including the last 11 years as chief, had never been inside a burning structure with his firefighting son, David. David Gardner, 31, recently accepted a job transfer and relocated to Burgaw where he remains active with the fire department.

David received special permission from his unit to attend the Rockingham training exercise on Saturday. The plan was for David and his father to enter a burning room and put down the blaze, but the flames caught some air and spread quickly. Nearly as soon as they were in the front room, they went out the back door.

“It got real,” Charles Gardner said, not willing to risk anyone’s safety for any reason.

Later, as the last flames petered out, David’s son, Dylan, 8, even handled a hose long after the flurry of activity had died down, long after active firefighters had practiced climbing ladders, hooking onto ladders to break windows and reach the rooftops to ventilate a home to better control a fire.

Click on the link above to access more than 1,100 photos, which are symbolic of the many fires and vehicle accidents photographed this year and documented on through photos and stories. To our first-responders, paid and volunteer alike, we salute you.

No. 2 — Hamlet says Happy Birthday, America

HAMLET — Independence Day celebrations in Ellerbe and Hamlet both produce wonderful photo opportunities — and both proved to be amazing community events. At night, though, the Post camera found Savannah Bussery, 3, in the shadow of the Hamlet Depot and Museum to gaze upon a brilliant fireworks display.

Kevin Spradlin | Savannah Bussey, 3 and 1/2, is focused on her thoughts while holding an American flag Friday night shortly before the fireworks began.

Kevin Spradlin |
Savannah Bussey, 3 and 1/2, is focused on her thoughts while holding an American flag Friday night shortly before the fireworks began.

Holding an American flag not long before the fireworks display was set to start — it was getting darker, but not yet dark — Savannah, was in town from California with family to pay respects to her great-grandmother, Bettie Freeman, who passed away three days earlier.

Judging from her obituary, Freeman led a full, people-oriented life and it no doubt made an impression on young Savannah.


No. 3 — First-impression: Pa. teacher-recruits travel Hitchcock Creek

Kevin Spradlin | Yes, that's the foot of former Rockingham Principal Julian Carter capsizing in Hitchcock Creek in April.

Kevin Spradlin |
Yes, that’s the foot of former Rockingham Principal Julian Carter capsizing in Hitchcock Creek in April.

ROCKINGHAM — Former Rockingham Middle School Principal Julian Carter, promoted earlier this month to the central office of Richmond County Schools to oversee teacher recruitment and retention, led a group of more than two dozen educators and administrators in a paddle trip down Hitchcock Creek.

The group started at the Roberdel access point and finished 3.67 miles later at the Steele Street access point. The water journey was followed by a cookout.

Joining in the trip were teacher recruits Laura Hoyer and Kristin Keiser. It will now be Carter’s full-time job to fill vacancies throughout the district with quality teachers. While each school principal will have final say in hiring, Carter’s role will be to direct quality candidates their way.

The teacher shortage is a real problem in Richmond County As of Nov. 28, there are at least 18 vacancies in the local public school system that were unfilled.

Just before the exit point on the blue trail, Carter got caught up on a log and used his paddle to push a bit too far — causing him to lose his balance and take a dip in the drink.

Click here to access more than 1,000 photos from the trip.


No. 4 — Rockets humble Eagles for conference title

ROCKINGHAM — There was no quit in this year’s Rockingham Rockets middle school football program.

Kevin Spradlin | Jahyae Stanback reaches in to poke the ball away from Eagles receiver Joseph McKoy.

Kevin Spradlin |
Jahyae Stanback reaches in to poke the ball away from Eagles receiver Joseph McKoy.

Not once. Not even when the Southeast Conference title game against Carver was well in hand.

The Carver Middle School Eagles won the coin toss. Pretty much everything else went right for Rockingham.

The host Rockets overwhelmed and overpowered the visiting Eagles in the Southeastern Middle School Conference championship game. Rockingham won 36-16 to secure the school’s first conference title since Richmond County moved from the junior high model in 2008. The Eagles were playing in their sixth conference title game since 2004 and, with the loss, lost their bid for a third straight crown.

Carver won conference titles in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2012 and 2013. Rockingham lost to Carver 44-26 in the 2012 title game — one year before Hope took over the Rockets program. Rockingham also lost in the 2011 title game.

Click the link for more than 1,600 photos from the championship game.


No. 5 — ‘It’s gonna be hard to wake up Thursday’

ROCKINGHAM — Not even Charles Gardner’s farewell gathering could go more than 30 minutes without being disrupted by a call for help. But it’s one call to which Gardner wasn’t required to respond.

Kevin Spradlin | Rockingham Fire Chief Charles Gardner embraces his son, David Gardner, himself a firefighter with the city of Burgaw, during an emotional farewell ceremony Tuesday at the fire hall.

Kevin Spradlin |
Rockingham Fire Chief Charles Gardner embraces his son, David Gardner, himself a firefighter with the city of Burgaw, during an emotional farewell ceremony Tuesday at the fire hall.

City officials, family members and fellow firefighters took time Tuesday afternoon to say goodbye to outgoing Rockingham Fire Chief Charles “Chuck” Gardner, who will retire Thursday after starting with the department as a volunteer in 1983. Gardner announced his retirement in March.

Gardner disclosed publicly on Tuesday what those closest to him have known for quite some time. He was stepping down not because he wanted to but for health reasons.

he 30-minute ceremony, which included short speeches by City Manager Monty Crump, Mayor Steve Morris, Assistant Fire Chief David Mullis and Gardner’s successor, Harold Isler, was filled with laughter and no small amount of tears. City Council members John Hutchinson and Gene Willard, as well as Sen. Gene McLaurin, who served 15 years as Rockingham mayor, joined numerous firefighters and  city police officers for the farewell.

And there is regret and guilt, too — unavoidable, inevitable emotions when a career of passion and public service is taken away too soon.

“It’s gonna be hard to wake up Thursday,” Gardner said. “Some of you already know I’ve got some health issues. That’s why I’m leaving. I can’t do this anymore. I feel like I’ve let a lot of people down. I feel like I don’t have any choice.”


No. 6 — Rockets overcome slow start to down Rebels

ROCKINGHAM — Tatiana Little’s team-best 13 points weren’t enough to lift Rohanen past Rockingham in girls’  middle school basketball action.

Kevin Spradlin |

Kevin Spradlin |

Ralayah McCrae scored 12 of her 14 second-half points in the third quarter to lead the Rockets to a 40-15 win over the Rebels in girls middle school basketball action. Rockingham improves to 2-0 while Rohanen drops to 0-2.

Coach Teresa Mason said her team seemed a bit surprised at the intensity with which the Rebels came to play. Led by Tatiana Little, the girls in blue and yellow showed early that a Rockingham victory anything but a sure thing.

Rockingham led by only five after the first quarter and by 11 at halftime.  But a lightning-quick start to the second half, including a third period in which the Rockets outscored Rohanen 15-0, put things to rest.

Clicking on the link above will give you access to more than 600 shots from the game.


No. 7 — ‘It is not for us who are gathered here today’

ROCKINGHAM — The Memorial Day ceremony at Richmond County Veterans Memorial Park featured the unveiling of the Fallen Soldier Memorial, a monument funded by private contributions and a grant from Pee Dee Electric.

Kevin Spradlin |

Kevin Spradlin |

It was also the first public appearance by Mary O’Neal since the death of her late husband, retired Army Command Sergeant Major Edward O’Neal. Edward O’Neal died May 6 after an extended illness. A veteran’s advocate to the end, Mary O’Neal said there was simply no way she could have stayed home.

“This is what was so important to him,” she said while standing in front of the Fallen Soldier Memorial, unveiled by VFW Post 4203 during the ceremony.

The monument includes a bronze pair of combat boots and a rifle topped by a soldier’s Kevlar helmet in the shape of a Battlefield Cross. It was created in Baltimore, Md. The monument stands nearly 7 feet tall from base to helmet.

Nearly 500 photos are available at the link above.


Kevin Spradlin |

Kevin Spradlin |

No. 8 — From Norway to Hamlet: ‘I love it’

HAMLET — Seventeen-year-olds Taylor Buie and Helle Svendsen had varying degrees of appreciation for the Super Shot, one of several rides this year at the 57th annual Richmond County Agricultural Fair.

Svendsen, an exchange student from Norway, said she’s enjoyed her first two months in the United States with Buie and her family.

View more than 300 photos at the link above.



No. 9 — ‘We have a bond that defies description’

Kevin Spradlin |

Kevin Spradlin |

ROCKINGHAM — Students in Laura Lee Martin’s kindergarten class at Washington Street Elementary School were a featured part of the 4th annual Salute to Veterans on Nov. 7 at Richmond County  Hospice.

The students led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance and paved the way for guest speakers Ken Lyerly and Lt. Col. Tony Vacha.

The event was funded in large part by proceeds from a cornhole tournament and fun day at Hospice in September. The event also included a silent auction.

Click on the link above for a photo gallery of more than 600 images from that day’s event.


Kevin Spradlin |

Kevin Spradlin |

No. 10 — Ponytails take 2 to earn title game berth

TROY — The Ponytails swept a doubleheader on Sunday at Peabody Community Park in Troy to advance to the 11-12 district tournament title game. Rockingham won 10-0 against West Stanly in Game 1 and won Game 2 behind a two-hit shutout by Jenna Greene.

The next day, the Ponytails beat West Stanly 4-0 for the district title. Click the link above to view more than 600 photos from the doubleheader.

In July, the Ponytails were eliminated in the North Carolina Dixie Youth Softball state tournament at Hillcrest Park in Carthage after four games.

No. 11 — Hot Mamas Softball League

Kevin Spradlin |

Kevin Spradlin |

ELLERBE — The Pee Dee Post was on hand for parts of six games on Saturday at Parsons Field in Ellerbe as the Hot Mamas Softball League celebrated Opening Day.

A total of 10 one-hour games were scheduled for the first day of regular season play. And if thought the league wasn’t competitive — think again.

Home runs were celebrated with high-fives and, on occasion, a friendly taunt to the opposing team and runs scored or great plays in the field were celebrated with cheers or jeers, depending on which side of the play one was on.

The season was capped by a highly competitive championship evening on July 31 and no matter the potential changes in store for 2015, you can bet some 200 or more area women will return to Parsons Field to play ball.

Click on the link above to access more than 1,200 pictures from Opening Day.


Kevin Spradlin |

Kevin Spradlin |

No. 12 — ‘It’s loud and its fast’

ELLERBE — The Johnson family was featured in the Memorial Day weekend coverage of lawn mower racing in Ellerbe.

Matt Hewett, of Pekin, said that’s a relief, because he and his fellow competitors take lawn mower racing “so close to the edge with what we dare to do, we’re so close to tearing it all.”

Other than a trophy, Hewett acknowledged racers are gunning for “braggin’ rights and an adrenaline rush.”

“That’s it,” he said, “but you get to meet a bunch of friends from all over the country.”


Kevin Spradlin |

Kevin Spradlin |

No. 13 — Motocross riders go ‘a thousand miles an hour’

ELLERBE — More than 200 other riders went as fast as their dirt bikes would allow all of Sunday in the North Carolina Hare Scramble Association‘s second event of the year at Windy Hill Sports MX. The sprawling facility is located about 3.6 miles north of the stoplight in the heart of Ellerbe.

Racing began at 8 a.m. and continued through the early evening hours. Competitors came from across the southeast — one young man’s grandfather drove more than 800 miles to see him race — but between 15 and 20 riders came from a little closer. From Hickory in Catawba County, northwest of Charlotte, a contingent came ready to race the revamped course designed by Joe Williams.

Click the story link to view more than 1,700 photos.


No. 14 — Hounds howl at chance for ‘coon pelt

LED BETTER — It smelled of wet dog, but that circumstance was hardly avoidable on Saturday at the Richmond County Cooners Club hosted the 10th annual North Carolina State Water Race and Bench Show.

Kevin Spradlin |

Kevin Spradlin |

After all, the necessary ingredients for success include coonhounds and water. That’s about it. Add to that an accurate forecast of steady rain and, well, there was simply no getting around it.

Dozens of dog handlers and family members and friends gathered for the annual event at the club, located on Ledbetter Road near American Legion Road. The main feature includes a 50-yard watered race course and a well-scented lure — in this case, a raccoon pelt — affixed to a steel cable. The pelt is put in front of the noses of up to six coonhounds, which are temporarily quartered in a stall much like horse racing. The dogs get the scent. When the gate rises, the dogs burst out and into the water to chase the only thing they care about.

Click the link to see a photo gallery of more than 500 photos.


No. 15 — JV Raiders cap perfect season

Kevin Spradlin |

Kevin Spradlin |

LAURINBURG — Richmond’s junior varsity football squad completed its third straight perfect season as the Raiders won their 30th game in a row with a  48-20 victory over rival Scotland in Laurinburg. Jayvon Boyer scored six touchdowns in the game, including three first-half scores and the last on a fourth-quarter kickoff return.

Click the link to access a photo gallery with more than 1,100 snapshots from the game — all available at no cost to you.

Filed in: Latest Headlines, Outdoors, Sports

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