THE "OPEN" ERA 1910-1929

During this period no formal conference affiliations existed between any schools. All high schools participating in organized athletics, regardless of enrollment, played games against each other. State champions were determined through a play-off system administered by the extension department at Chapel Hill. Only one state champion was declared in each sport. In 1910 Mr. R. T. Howerton, a Duke graduate and the Superintendent of Shelby Schools, is credited with starting the first football team at Shelby High. They played their first game in Shelby on November 11, 1910 beating Gastonia High 5-0, and later on, on November 24, they beat Gastonia again, in Gastonia, by a score of 6-5. In 1911 Shelby High played its first fall schedule of football games. The record for the year was 3 wins, 2 loses, 1 tie (3-2-1). In the years 1914-1919 some athletic teams probably existed at Shelby High, there is nothing in local newspapers to document their existence. In 1920 football again surfaced at Shelby High School under volunteer coaches: Hackett Blanton, George Washburn, Ralph Gardner, and Professor T. B. Elliott. They lost their only game to Bairds Prep School of Charlotte 100-0. In 1921 Mr. R. N. "Dick" Gurley became the first paid coach at Shelby High School; and that year's team scored the programs first post-season victory, beating Asheville 7-6. In 1924 Mr. R. W. "Casey" Morris replaced Mr. Gurley as coach at Shelby High. Mr. Morris was a Gastonia native and a UNC graduate. He spent more that 30 years instructing boys and girls at Shelby High. His teams were known as much for their sportsmanship as for their ability to win games. Mr. Morris was a legend to all who played for him. In 1924, Shelby won five straight postseason games before eventually losing to Rockingham in the State Championship, 0-7.

THE "INTERIM" ERA 1929-1932

.....This was a short period of time in which Shelby High School competed in the State's B groups--according to enrollment. State championships were declared in each group. In 1929 the athletic ruling body for the state decided to change from an "open" classification to one based on enrollment. All schools playing organized athletics were placed in two groups according to size. These groups were called A and B with Shelby falling into the smaller school group. Shelby High was insulted when asked to join the B group and for sometime refused to join. After holding out for several months Shelby reluctantly agreed to play in the B group, but this "snub" by the larger schools, with whom Shelby had more than held its own, would drive Shelby away from the state organization into a new association that was in the process of being formed. According to the Cleveland Star in October of 1929 a group of similar size schools from western North Carolina met in Hickory to form a new governing group to supervise the athletic programs of its members. This group of schools called itself the Western North Carolina High School Activities Association. (WNCHSAA) They agreed to throw out the state rules and draw up a Constitution and By-Laws to govern the association. These were adopted by the member schools in December of 1929. They stated that their purpose was to have a better organized athletic program and to promote and encourage sports for girls. The Association divided member schools into two conferences, the Western and the Piedmont. Conference championships would be awarded in all sports. The WNCHSAA was completely separate from the "other'' state organization and would be its rival until the two, merged in 1977. Consequently, with two groups declaring "champions" and almost never playing each other it was impossible for a true champion to be declared. Shelby High School was asked to join the "Association'' but declined.


.....Sometime, at the end of the football season of 1932-33, Shelby High School left the state organization and joined the Western North Carolina High School Activities Association. Shelby remained a member of the Association until 1977 when the WNCHSAA disbanded and all of its member schools joined the state organization. Mr. R. W. Morris left Shelby High in 1933 to take a coaching position in Belmont when the local school board said no funds were available for athletics. Football continued under the leadership of volunteer coach Mr. Zeno Wall. In 1934 Mr. Bill Goodson, a Lincolnton native and a Lenoir Rhyne graduate, was hired to coach all sports at Shelby High. He held that position until Mr. Morris returned to Shelby from Belmont in 1939. In 1939 Mr. R. W. "Casey" Morris returned to Shelby High as head coach. Mr. Goodson remained as his assistant but left sometime during the year. In 1940 the current state athletic association was formed. All schools playing competitive athletics except those who were "Association" members were under their control. The North Carolina High School Athletics Association was under its own officers and constitution and was in no way affiliated with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill or the Superintendent of Public Instruction in Raleigh. There were two official athletic associations in North Carolina, WNCHSAA and NCHSAA. During the school year 1944-45 the twelfth grade was added to the public schools in North Carolina. Shelby won its first Western Conference championship in football in 1944. Shelby also played in their first WNCHSAA Championship game but lost to Albemarle 0-19. In 1947 Shelby High had its first undefeated regular season football team and shared the WNCHSAA title with Winston-Salem Children's Home; Hickory officials inaugurated a bowl game to be played at Lenoir-Rhyne College, the lions lost to Concord in the Harvest Bowl 6-13. Mr. Gene Kirkpatrick, a Shelby High and Appalachian State graduate, joined the Shelby coaching staff as assistant coach for football. In 1950 Gerald Allen, a Shelby High and UNC graduate joined Mr. Morris and Mr. Little on the coaching staff at Shelby High. Mr. Allen remained at Shelby High until he retired in 1998. Due to new schools coming into the Association in 1954 the two existing conferences (Western and Piedmont) subdivided into the Southwestern, Northwestern, South Piedmont and North Piedmont. The Association now had approximately thirty-two member schools in its four conferences. Shelby High was a member of Southwestern Conference. In 1956 Gerald Allen replaced Mr. Morris as head football coach. From time to time since it was organized, conference champions played post season games or tournaments against each other for the Association Championship, but these championship affairs did not occur on a regular basis. In 1957 the Association voted to declare an Association champion in all sports that it sanctioned. To members of the Association the team that won the Associational title was the state champion in that sport, regardless of who the top team was in the NCHSAA play-off system. In 1962 Mr. Jim Horn, a Shelby and Wake Forest graduate, returned to Shelby and agreed to become the defensive coach for the Shelby Lions. In 1963 Mr. Bob Reynolds, a Shelby and UNC graduate, returned to Shelby and joined the Shelby High coaching staff. In 1968 Shelby High won their first Association football championship beating Thomasville 32-12. Shelby returned to the WNCHSAA title game the following year but was defeated 21-26 by East Rowan. Shelby would then dominate through the 70's. In 1970 Shelby won the title beating Salisbury 13-7, in 1972 they won the title defeating Mooresville 26-21, and finishing up 13-0, in 1975 Shelby tied with North Davidson 21-21 so therefore sharing the title, and 1976 the Lions defeated Lexington 25-0 to take the title. The Lions also played in the title game in 1974, but was defeated by Salisbury 3-14. At a special meeting closing out the affairs of the Western North Carolina High School Activities Association in Statesville on June 13, 1977, a summation of Conference and Association titles was presented. Shelby High led all schools with thirty-three State titles since 1950. This summation also noted that Shelby High won sixty-eight Southwestern Conference championships to far exceed the total of any other member school. All Association member schools joined the North Carolina High School Athletic Association bringing all schools who participate in organized athletics in North Carolina under one administrative body.


In 1977 Mr. Jim Taylor replaced Gerald Allen as head football coach at Shelby. From 1981 to 1984 the NCHSAA structured two divisions. Shelby High lost the Division II Championship in 1983 to South Rowan 10-21, but then won it in 1984 defeating Lexington 20-13. Shelby High would then win back to back state championships in 1986, 1987 defeating Havelock 9-6 in 86', and beating Burlington Williams by a score of 19-0 in 87'. Shelby then would become the state runner up in 1988 getting defeated by Burlington Cummings 14-41. Coach Gerald Allen retired in 1988 after serving Shelby High School as coach, teacher, and athletic director since 1950. In 1997 Shelby lost the state championship to Clinton 14-30. In 1998 Coach Jim Taylor retired from head coach and Coach Chris Norman, a Shelby Graduate, then took over at the position of Head Coach. Coach Chris Norman lead the team to the State Title in 1998 beating Tarboro 34-14. In 2004 Shelby lost the Championship to Southwest Onslow 21-49, but returned the following year to beat Reidsville for the State Title 26-18. In 2006 The Lions made a third straight appearance to the State Championship and defeated the Southern Vance Raiders by a score of 27-24. In 2007 Shelby competed in its forth straight Championship Game against the Reidsville Rams, who they beat 2 years before; this meeting the Lions were defeated 20-28. In 2011 Chris Norman retired as head coach and Lance Ware, a Shelby Alumnus took over. In 2013, Coach Ware lead the Golden Lions to their first state title since 2006, defeating Southwest Onslow 29-7, then, in 2014, repeated with a decisive victory over Clinton, defeating the Darkhorses 31-7, the Lions made history going back-to-back-to-back, dominating Kinston by a score of 57-21 to earn the 2015 2A State Title; and most recently in 2016, Shelby cemented it's legacy in state history by four-peating, winning the 2AA State Title, beating Jacksonville Northside 28-6.