LA GRANGE, N.C. (WNCT) — North Lenoir High School has a new head football coach.

The school announced Monday that Larry Dale has been named the Hawks’ new coach. Dale is preparing to enter his 17th year as a high school football coach, and his sixth season as a head coach. He comes to North Lenoir from Washington County. His time with the Panthers was heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic — so much so that the team was shut down for most of two straight seasons.

Amid the onset of the pandemic in 2020, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association pushed the start of that year’s football season to spring 2021, with a condensed schedule in effect among all sports. But Washington County officials decided against having any Panther teams participate in the shortened season.

Football was moved back to the fall in 2021, but the effects of the pandemic persisted. The Panthers were shut down again after playing five games in 2021.

Washington County finally returned to the field on a full-time basis in 2022, posting a 4-8 record. The Panthers entered the 1-A playoffs seeded No. 21 in the East. They upset No. 12 Gates County in the first round, 40-20, before falling to fifth-seeded West Columbus 42-30 in the second round.

Dale is taking over a position most recently held by Robbie Dunn, who resigned after one season with the Hawks. North Lenoir finished 1-9 last season.