By Jeff Keeling
Together and individually, local middle school track and field athletes excelled last weekend at Tennessee’s first sanctioned state championships for lower grades held at Austin Peay State University.
Led by the championship 4×400 relay team (4:23.56) of Jordyn Yeary, Teagan Kersey, Taryn Seeley and Maggie Forrester, the Liberty Bell girls finished third in the AA (large school) team competition with 38 points. Blackman was second with 39 and Mt. Juliet won with 49 points out of 34 teams.
Liberty Bell’s boys were tied for fifth overall out of 35 scoring teams with 28 points, led by Will Mooney’s runner up finish in the 400 meters (54.96). The team was just four points behind runner up Greeneville, while Oakland (Murfreesboro) won with 44.
Six Washington County schools competed in the A (small school) division. Sulphur Springs’ boys finished third, led by Charles Cole’s runner up finishes in both the 100 meters (12.02) and shot put (46 feet even) and teammate Seth Banchetto’s 18 foot, 11.5-inch long jump, also good for second place. Ridgeview’s boys were seventh, led by runner up finishes by Joe Jones in the 400 (55.69) and the 110 hurdles (15.55), and its girls were 17th. Lamar’s boys finished 19th.
Liberty Bell’s co-head coach, Nancy McDonald, and Daniel Boone High School head coach Len Jeffers both were pleased by the Tennessee Middle School Athletic Association’s decision to hold a state meet.
“The performances from the athletes at our feeder schools were impressive (Ridgeview, Grandview and Gray),” Jeffers said.
“Up until now their biggest meet of the year was the Washington County championships,” he added. “Now they’ve got the state meet to shoot for. I think it definitely adds to their program and goals. It raises the bar a little bit which our kids responded very well to.”
McDonald, who coaches the middle distance and distance runners while co-coach Marvin Christman specializes in the sprints and throws, concurred.
“This is that first taste of what it feels like to compete at a higher level,” said McDonald, who added that she was just as impressed by her charges’ behavior and attitudes in Clarksville as she was by their performances. “The joy of knowing you can go compete on a state level, I can’t believe it wouldn’t just carry over to high school.”
In her fourth year coaching middle school – she took a hiatus while her children were young after coaching at Science Hill in the 1990s – McDonald said Liberty Bell’s success even before this season’s state meet has carried over to Science Hill.
“We’ve had kids leave Liberty Bell and go make an impact on the Science Hill team their first (freshman) year,” she said. “They know how to win.”
That statement held true for the relay team, which actually had to use one alternate runner after one of the four regulars left the team prior to state.
“In pre-race publicity they had mentioned a couple of favorites, but said to watch for Liberty Bell, and our girls just gutted it out,” McDonald said of the quartet anchored by Forrester. “They wanted to win, and they knew they had the potential to win.”
Science Hill’s head coach, Jennifer Brockett, said McDonald and company do a great job grooming future Hilltopper athletes.
“They have high expectations and do an excellent job developing hard-working athletes,” Brockett said. “We always look forward to the youth coming into our program, and build leadership in our older athletes so that they strive to inspire the younger Toppers.”
Seeley, a sixth-grader, is the only member of the championship relay group who won’t be moving on to Science Hill next year.
On the girls’ side, other scoring came from the 4×200 relay team, which was second in 1:55.26 and included Kennedy Simmons and Taylor Owens along with Yeary and Forrester. Paige Carlsen was second in the 800 (2:24.26), third in the long jump (14-9 ½) and sixth in the 1600 (5:38.91), while Kyley Carlsen finished sixth in the 800 (2:34.26).
In addition to Mooney, scoring for Liberty Bell’s boys were the 4×400 relay team of Jonah Harris, Param Shah, Marquis Griffin and Mooney, third in 3:52.92, and Tyler Seeley (fourth in the 800 at 2:15.01). Andrew Taylor was fifth in the shot put (38-11.5), while seventh place finishes went to Ekeminiabasi Eno-Ekefre in the 800 (2:19.37) and the 4×100 relay team (Alec Hillman, Kain Rogers, AJ Stewart, Mooney in 49.91). David Evans was eighth in the 1600 in 5:14.64.
In addition to Cole and Banchetto, adding to Sulphur Springs third-place boys’ point total were the 4×100 relay team, which finished third in 49.06, and Brennan Blair, fifth in the long jump at 17-11.75. In the girls’ competition, Sulphur Springs’ MacKenzie Sweigart was fourth with a leap of 14-6.5.
Jones provided the bulk of the scoring for Ridgeview’s boys, but the team also got a sixth-place finish from Max Austin in the 800 (2:20.23). The 4×200 relay team of Jones, Sam Robbins, Ethan Eddy and Jonathan Peters was seventh in 1:51.34, as was Joseph Tolley in the shot put with a throw of 39-7.
Ridgeview’s girls got scoring from Caitlyn Heglar, who was fourth in the high jump at 4-6, Patricia Chellah – sixth in the 400 at 1:05.79 – and Laken Jones, sixth in the long jump at 13-11. Judy Chellah was seventh in the 800 (2:42.89).
For the Lamar boys, Mason Lewis led the way with a third-place finish in the 1600 (5:07) and a fifth in the 800 (2:19.85). Isaac Stephens was eighth in the shotput (38-10.5), while on the girls’ side Halle Scott was eighth in the 1600 (6:01.43). Jonesborough’s Ronquille Joyner was sixth in the 110 hurdles (17.31), while Gray scored eighth-place finishes in both the boys’ and girls’ 4×200 relays – the boys in 1:51.67 and the girls in 2:01.37.