Last updated: March 04. 2014 9:31AM - 1536 Views
Dr. Ken Yang Contributing writer

Grace Ho, MD/Courtesy PhotoThe Clinton High state team, back row – Nathan Tubman (alternate), Aaron Viser, Jacob Smith, Alex Purcell, Freddie Bath, Jacob Blount and Coach Yang; and front row: Katey Yang, Darby Taylor, Lillie Turlington, Gracin Palmer and Elizabeth Tsao.
Grace Ho, MD/Courtesy PhotoThe Clinton High state team, back row – Nathan Tubman (alternate), Aaron Viser, Jacob Smith, Alex Purcell, Freddie Bath, Jacob Blount and Coach Yang; and front row: Katey Yang, Darby Taylor, Lillie Turlington, Gracin Palmer and Elizabeth Tsao.
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Final in a four-part series about Sampson County high school swimmers

On Feb. 6, Clinton High School sent five women and five men to represent their school. Midway High School only had one each, the sibling pair of Daniel and Mamie Core. The results were top 20 or better finishes for all swimmers. Only four underclassmen qualified for the top meet (Freshman Katey Yang. Juniors: Aaron Viser, Elizabeth Tsao & Mamie Core). The result was the state championships turned into a showcase for a senior dominated state team. Clinton men finished 19th and the women 25th of 200 plus schools in the 1A/2A division. Midway Men finished 31st and Women 36th with just one swimmer.

My lone Midway High School Senior to qualify for states was Daniel Core – captain, all conference, Eagle Scout – Daniel basically started the men’s program at Midway High School. He single handedly defeated numerous teams his freshman year and has since gone on to singlehandedly defeat entire teams at the state level. Midway finished a remarkable 31st out of 68 teams at states with just Daniel representing them.

Clinton High Seniors


Gracin Palmer – Signed to play for NCAA division I powerhouse Ohio State, Gracin’s first love is soccer. Like most gifted athletes, when given good fundamentals she can excel at anything. Training early morning in the pool so she could play soccer in the afternoons she was the anchor to Clinton’s medley relay team that finished 16th.

Swimming in the same relay and the 400 freestyle relay was Darby Taylor. She is probably one of the finest and technically most skilled swimmers I’ve ever coached. From the time I started with her when she was in elementary school with a swim clinic at the Coharie pool she had the cutest face, the cutest smile, and the softest disposition. Her dad can attest that it’s only a façade. She hides a fierce competitive streak that is not outwardly apparent. Darby had a rough time towards the end of the season. She lost her grandmother Trixie Mattocks to breast cancer. Those who knew Trixie, also know that Trixie was a fighter. It had to be that fighting spirit that Darby inherited to drop her 100 freestyle time consistently over the regional and state championship meets with little to no training during her grandmother’s illness. She will be attending Appalachian State in the fall.

The most decorated senior over her four year career is Lillie Turlington – captain, high point winner, all conference. When you hear a coach say that he’d take 100 athletes just like her, he is talking about someone like Lillie. This is a young woman who is not afraid. She is not afraid to train hard. She will train in the morning, she’ll train at night. She’ll train whenever she can mix it in with all her acting and soccer. No set was ever too hard. She is the only swimmer I’ve ever had to complain that I cut a tough set off before it was completed. Over the course of her four years she still found time to put in more hours of training than any swimmer I’ve ever coached. The result is she owns just about every school record there is and consistently is one of the best swimmers in the state year in year out. I lied, she is afraid of something, she’s afraid of losing and that’s what has made her a winner. She has numerous options for college next fall and is still undecided at this time.


Smith Jacob was a varsity football player for CHS. I’m not sure if he joined the swim team because he actually wanted to swim or because he just wanted to be near Darby. Either way he not only made the state 200 freestyle relay team but he dropped time with every swim he had between regionals and the state championship heat. His next stop is Appalachian State.

One of the more impressive seniors is Jacob Blount who was born with club feet requiring numerous surgeries through his young life. Despite having a very weak kicking motion, Jacob took on the challenge of wearing hand paddles in practice to increase upper body strength. As a result of his hard work, he made the state relay team in the 400 freestyle relay breaking the 1 minute barrier in the 100 freestyle with just shear upper body strength. Jacob likely will be attending ECU in the fall.

Freddie Bath – captain, high point, all conference - he is without a doubt the fastest swimmer Sampson County has ever produced and potentially may be the fastest ever for years to come, possibly for decades. I’ve had the opportunity to watch Freddy mature from a twig of a kid without a clue to a man who worked hard to get fast. Every relay team Clinton had these past two years wanted this man as its anchor. Freddie also has numerous options for college in the fall and is undecided at this time.

Alex Purcell – captain, all conference, Eagle Scout who will attend NC State in the fall. I’ve known Alex since he was 2 years old and playing with my son Casey pool during the summer. I learned an important lesson in coaching years ago with Alex. I think I was coaching youth soccer. I was so fixated on winning that I coached recreation sports like I was trying to win the NCAA championships. One time, Alex wasn’t doing something right. I think he was picking daisies while I was trying to run a drill. So I made him do push-ups which made him cry. His father called me up that night and said Alex didn’t want to play for me. I learned that year the purpose of a youth coach is to teach kids a skill, not to create a monster. At the very least you shouldn’t make the monster cry. Over the next 15 years I watched Alex grow. I gave him a skill set, and he made himself a monster swimmer all on his own.

Final results from NCHSAA 1A/2A States Swim Championships for Sampson County high school swimmers

16th - Clinton H.S. 200 Medley Relay 2:09.26

1) Elizabeth Tsao JR 2) Darby Taylor SR

3) Lillie Turlington SR 4) Mary Palmer SR

13th - Lillie Turlington – 200 freestyle 2:06.25

15th - Elizabeth Tsao – 50 freestyle 27.18

20th - Alex Purcell - 50 freestyle 23.80

18th - Elizabeth Tsao – 100 freestyle 59.37

8th - Frederick Bath – 100 freestyle 49.78

13th - Lillie Turlington – 500 freestyle 5:42.49

11th - Clinton H.S. 200 freestyle relay 1:35.69

1) Alex Purcell SR 2) Jacob Smith SR

3) Aaron Viser JR 4) Frederick Bath SR

13th - Mamie Core – 100 breaststroke 1:17.26

15th - Daniel Core – 100 breaststroke 1:06.11

11th - Clinton H.S. – 400 freestyle relay 4:07.46

1) Elizabeth Tsao JR 2) Katey Yang FR

3) Darby Taylor SR 4) Lillie Turlington SR

13th - Clinton H.S. – 400 freestyle relay 3:40.37

1) Alex Purcell SR 2) Jacob Blount SR

3) Aaron Viser JR 4) Frederick Bath SR

(For young kids interested in competitive swimming who someday hope to be on their high school team, there is a club program offered at The Center for Health and Wellness with Josh Tillett the aquatics director - 910-596-5400.)

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