With an academic scholarship and baseball roster spot awaiting him, Jets star off to N.C. Central

BY CHAPEL FOWLER, News + Record Staff
Posted 6/12/20

The deadline for N.C. Central’s Cheatham-White Merit Scholars Program was approaching, and Murchison qualified — he should apply, Koerner told him.

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With an academic scholarship and baseball roster spot awaiting him, Jets star off to N.C. Central

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SILER CITY — Late last fall, Jordan-Matthews pitcher Sam Murchison finished up an arm strengthening workout and immediately hopped on a recruiting call.

He remembers the conversation with Jim Koerner, the head baseball coach at North Carolina Central, as a pretty standard one. But when their discussion veered into academics and Murchison mentioned his test scores, Koerner made a timely suggestion.

The deadline for N.C. Central’s Cheatham-White Merit Scholars Program was approaching, and Murchison qualified — he should apply, Koerner told him.

“I think I was going there to play baseball there anyway,” said Murchison, who was officially announced as a 2020 Cheatham-White Merit Scholar last Friday. “The scholarship was the cherry on top, I guess you could say.”

Murchison and 12 other students, who make up N.C. Central’s third cohort of scholars, will receive full, four-year academic scholarships covering “tuition, room and board, student fees, books, a laptop computer, supplies and personal expenses, including four summer experiences that could include international studies,” according to a school news release.

The Cheatham-White Merit Scholars Program, established three years ago with state legislature funding, is a joint program for incoming students at North Carolina Central and North Carolina A&T, both historically black universities in the state.

It’s named after Henry Plummer Cheatham and George Henry White, two black men who represented North Carolina in the U.S. House in the late 1800s.

Monica Leach, N.C. Central’s senior associate provost and vice chancellor for enrollment management and academic affairs, praised the school’s incoming class as “diverse scholars who share a unified passion for community service, leadership and academics.”

“We are excited to welcome the program’s newest cohort and witness their contributions to the NCCU community and beyond,” Leach said in the news release.

After talking with Koerner, Murchison got to work on the scholarship application, which was due in mid-December. In January, he learned he was a semifinalist. And on Feb. 8, he and his parents, David and Nikki, visited campus for Eagles Scholars Day.

Murchison got an extensive tour of the campus, ate a catered lunch, met with current Cheatham-White Merit Scholars and sat in on a few classes. That part he enjoyed.

As for the in-person interview that would determine his finalist status? Not so much.

“That was kind of stressful,” Murchison said with a laugh.

He spent the next month gearing up for his final season with the Jets baseball team, which was looking to build off consecutive winning seasons and a 2019 playoff appearance under coach John Will Headen. The scholarship was on his mind, too.

“I was really anxious,” Murchison said. “I was (potentially) getting to go to school to play baseball for free, and that’s a pretty good opportunity. You don’t want to blow it.”

On March 1, Murchison got the news he was hoping for — the scholarship was his. A day later, he pitched in Jordan-Matthews’ season opener at Chapel Hill.

The Jets started 4-1 before their season was suspended and ultimately canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, a moment Murchison called “heartbreaking.” He’s proud, though, of his steady improvement since his freshman year, especially in terms of his command.

A righty who threw 89 mph the last time he was clocked, Murchison said he relied heavily on his fastball early on. But through high school, he’s developed his change-up and curveball while thinking more critically about the position, too.

“I realized placing pitches and letting your infield and outfield work behind you is just as important as how hard you throw,” he said.

At N.C. Central, he’ll join a baseball team featuring four more Cheatham-White Merit Scholars on its current roster. Academically, he’s “almost certain” he’ll major in something business-related. And months later, he still appreciates the honor.

“I know for my parents it was very relieving — I’m sure they were pretty happy they didn’t have to pay anything,” he said with a laugh. “And for me, I was really excited. Right after I got that email, I knew for sure that’s where I was going.”

Reporter Chapel Fowler can be reached at cfowler@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @chapelfowler.

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