Monday, June 17, 2024

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Retiring A.D. nurtured BCA’s sports program from infancy

By Bob Sutton

Special to The Alamance News

When Burlington Christian Academy ventured into scholastic athletics, the school didn’t have a high school. Piece by piece, Rene Neff was there to put it together.

Neff retired this spring as athletics director after overseeing a program that has 38 teams combined between the high school and middle school.

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“The administration had the foresight,” she said. “That was a big step for BCA to start a middle school. They gave me the reins, and I was able to take off with it.”

Neff began working at the school in 1996 in elementary instruction.

There was no gym on campus when BCA started competing in middle school sports in 2001. The school rented time at Graham Recreation Center to compete.

By 2006, with a freshman class, there was a transition to junior varsity, and Neff explored what state association would best fit BCA. Two years later, the Royals were off and running and there has been membership in the North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association.

“We had full-blown varsity sports,” she said. “As the enrollment increased, we added sports.”

Neff has overseen it all.

“She’s a fixture there,” said Josh Stone, who has been a longtime public address announcer for BCA basketball. “When she became athletics director, she didn’t even have a high school. She didn’t even have a gym. But she made it work.”

It began with volleyball, boys’ soccer, and boys’ and girls’ basketball. Neff said cross country was easy to add and then came girls’ tennis, and there was interest from the student body in swimming.

Spring sports came on board with baseball, girls’ soccer, boys’ tennis, and boys’ golf.

“Before you know it, boom – you’re full-fledged and wide open,” Neff said.

At one time, Neff said about 75 percent of BCA students participated in at least one sport.

“The biggest challenge was managing it all,” she said.

Much of the tricky part has been scheduling. That met forging connections with athletics directors at public and private schools.

Neff’s tasks involved securing venues for these sports teams – a constant undertaking – and making sure game officials were assigned. Aside from the gym built on campus, the school needs places to compete and sometimes to practice.

BCA has been a host school for events or practices at Cedarock Park, The Valley Golf Course, Olde Forest Racquet Club, New Millennium Fitness (pool), Maynard Aquatic Center, Alamance County Family YMCA, Burlington Athletic Stadium, Springwood Park, and other locales.

“You’ve got to have the relationships all over this county,” Neff said.


Sports galore

This year, BCA brought back middle school softball with the idea that the Royals will return to the varsity level. The school last played varsity softball in 2018.

Other sports, such as wrestling, have been discussed among school officials. Recently, there was a push to consider lacrosse.

“We’ve had football meetings through the years,” Neff said, noting that the NCISAA’s limited number of participating teams might mean at least two-hour trips for road games. “As BCA grew, we’re never shutting the door.”

Neff said the most rewarding aspect of the A.D. job has been seeing students delve into a sport and realize what they can accomplish.

“They might have had no idea they did have a knack for track and field,” she said. “The coaches just pour into them, and then seeing how it all comes together.”

The first team state championship for the Royals came in boys’ track and field in 2023. BCA athletes have accumulated 30 individual state championships.

Because his son, Jeremy Stone, played on one of the first junior varsity basketball teams, Josh Shone has been around for many BCA events. Neff convinced him to handle the microphone at games, and he keeps coming back.

“From the first day they put basketball out there until today, it’s a big difference,” he said. “She went from having nothing. She has so many contacts. She really built a great foundation and she really centered it around the Lord.

“She’s very competitive, but she wants to win the right way. That was a part of the growth of the school.”

BCA’s enrollment for 2023-24 was nearly 900.


It’s her court

At this spring’s awards banquet, Neff received a Lifetime Achievement Award for 40 years in Christian education. The school announced that the gym floor would be named Rene Neff Court.

“I feel like I spent half my life in there,” she said of the gym.

Neff was born in Burlington, the daughter of Russell and Ceola Elliott. She married David Neff, a pastor. They relocated numerous times based on his assignments until they settled in Alamance County in 1996, and he was the pastor at New Covenant Fellowship Church in Graham until retiring at the beginning of 2023.

Their sons were involved in sports – Caleb Neff at Graham, Tyler Neff at Southern Alamance. “My boys just eat up the sports,” she said.

And she had interests as well with BCA’s blossoming athletics program.

“Of course, the highlight is when you see, especially the high school athletes, make it and get athletic scholarships,” she said.

A search for Neff’s replacement began a year ago. Michael Pinelli has been on board during this school year, working with Neff and now taking over as athletics director.

That went well for Neff.

“It has just been the greatest year,” she said. “I can’t think of a better way to transition it.”

She’s a survivor of two types of breast cancer, first diagnosed in 2000. She had surgery at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore with follow-up treatment at Duke.

Now, the Neffs are involved with Cary-based Trans World Radio’s global missionary work.

Rene Neff isn’t going away from BCA completely. She’ll hold a role as athletic coordinator to assist with scheduling and other advisory capacities.

She said she’s blessed to have had such a career.

“A pastor’s wife and an athletics director,” she said.

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