Trio of area coaches tabbed to lead East-West squads in 2020
Three area prep coaches have received one of the biggest honors bestowed in their profession.
Ayden-Grifton’s Paul Cornwell has been named the head coach of the East for the 72nd annual East-West All-Star Football Game while Kinston’s Ryan “Diesel” Gieselman was named an assistant coach for the squad.
Additionally, South Lenoir girls’ basketball head coach Donald Mooring has been named the head coach of the East team for the 36th annual East-West All-Star Girls’ Basketball Game.
The football game, which has been organized and operated by the North Carolina Coaches Association every year since 1949, is played annually in Greensboro at Grimsley High School’s 11,000-seat Jamieson Stadium. The game is the coda of the annual NCCA coaching clinic activities, which includes all-star basketball and soccer games.
The 2020 game will be played on Wednesday, July 22.
Cornwell has amassed a 124-62 record at Ayden-Grifton; his Chargers have never missed the state playoffs since he took over the program in 2005. He also led A-G to the 1AA state championship game in 2011.
Being named the head coach of the East was “unbelievable” to Cornwell.
“I knew I was a nominee, but when I got the call from (NCCA Games Director) Phil Weaver, I was just overwhelmed,” Cornwell said. “It is a tremendous honor to be selected. … It was something I hoped I would one day get an opportunity to do.”
He was an assistant coach for the East in the 2016 East-West game under Wilson Fike’s Tom Nelson. He said he learned a lot that year as Nelson’s offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.
“Tom did a great job leading our staff and I’m certainly going to take a lot of things he did and apply it to our staff (in 2020),” Cornwell said.
Cornwell has earned a reputation as being one of the most respected and beloved coaches in Eastern North Carolina, if not the entire state.
“It’s very humbling, especially when you’ve been in it a long time,” Cornwell said. “I’ve had the chance to get to know a lot of coaches across the state. I just try to do things the right way and set a good example for our school and our staff.”
Cornwell is the third Ayden-Grifton coach to participate in the 72-year history of the East-West games; Bob Murphrey served as a boys’ basketball assistant coach in 1977 while B.T. Chappell was an East assistant football coach in 1990.
Gieselman is the second person since Kinston High School was formed in 1970 to serve as a coach in East-West history — Ralph Holloway was a football assistant coach for the East in 1994.
However, the NCCA recognizes Grainger High School in its record books as Kinston, so Gieselman joins Frank Mock (assistant football coach in the inaugural 1949 contest, head football coach in 1956), Amos Sexton (head boys’ basketball coach in 1951 and 1956) and Paul Jones (boys’ basketball head coach in 1961) as coaches from Kinston.
Gieselman, too, said he was humbled by being selected and to have his name mentioned alongside Kinston legends such as Mock, Sexton, Jones and Holloway. Mock, Sexton and Jones are in the Kinston-Lenoir County Sports Hall of Fame; Jones is also in the N.C. Sports Hall of Fame.
“Words can’t express the excitement and enthusiasm I have for receiving this honor,” Gieselman said.
Gieselman, 32, became the winningest football coach in Lenoir County history last season and is 57-23 since he took over the reins of the program in 2013.
“This is one of the goals you set for yourself when you become a head coach,” he said. “But this speaks more for our program — all the assistant coaches and the young men and women who have represented Kinston.”
It’s been a summer to remember for Gieselman — he was named the Kinston athletic director on July 1 and found out he will be an East All-Star assistant football coach in 2020 a few weeks later. He also has a second child — a son — due on Aug. 11.
Gieselman and Cornwell both said they are excited to work with each other during the team selection process and, ultimately, next July in Greensboro.
“I know people think coaches are always trying to scratch each other’s eyes out, but (Gieselman) and I are good friends and we communicate quite a bit,” Cornwell said. “I’m excited about getting to work with one of the best young coaches in the state.”
Gieselman said it was ironic he and Cornwell were picked to work together; he said at this year’s clinic, there were Kinston, Ayden-Grifton and South Lenoir football coaches sitting at a table together.
“We were talking about how great it would be if one of us were picked as the East head coach and how we’d like to serve as an assistant under that coach,” Gieselman said. “It’s a great honor to work under (Cornwell), who is one of the best coaches in North Carolina.”
Mooring becomes the fourth South Lenoir coach to participate in the East-West game, joining Bobby Davis (1983 boys’ basketball head coach), Linwood Hartsell (1986 girls’ basketball head coach) and Jimmy Smith (2007 boys’ basketball assistant coach) in the annals of East-West history.
Davis, Hartsell and Smith, who are also in the Kinston-Lenoir County Sports Hall of Fame, coached Mooring when he was a student-athlete at South Lenoir.
“To even be mentioned in the same sentence with those three means so much to me,” Mooring said. “They’re legends; I’m just little ol’ me. … I grew up without a father, so they were my dads, even if they didn’t know it. They were my role models.”
Mooring said he was very surprised when he was contacted by the NCCA.
“I was really overwhelmed and excited when I got the call,” Mooring said. “The first thing I thought about after that first ‘Oh my goodness’ was this was all about these kids I’ve been able to coach at South Lenoir. The last three years I’ve had three seniors each year and two of those have gone on to play college ball.
“It’s all about them; I really haven’t done anything.”
Mooring’s Blue Devils are 106-68 since he took over the girls’ basketball program in Deep Run. In 2012, he took over a program that won only one game the season before he arrived; the Blue Devils have had six winning campaigns in his seven years and have made the playoffs every season but one.
They also won a conference title in 2017. Mooring learned to rebuild programs when he did the same thing as the Kinston High School head softball and volleyball coach before he arrived in Deep Run.
“I seem to be a coach that takes over a program that has been weak and make them competitive,” said Mooring, who is also an assistant on the South Lenoir football team. “It’s been a lot of character-building and getting kids to understand about how to be successful.”
Mooring will be assisted by Andrew Gurley of Croatan in the girls’ basketball game on Monday, July 20, 2020 at the Greensboro Coliseum.
Neuse News sports writer Junious Smith III contributed to this report.