Local track thrives despite long odds
Despite a AHSAA policy that made life more difficult on smaller track and field programs, several local teams will compete in sectional meets Friday with good chances of sending athletes to state meets.
Billingsley, Chilton County, Isabella and Thorsby have, in the past, held meets at Clanton City Park—on a non-regulation track and without sanctioned officials. But the AHSAA no longer allows such meets, meaning coaches have found it more difficult to find feasible competition.
“The structure that they’ve come up with is going to have a real impact on the smaller schools,” Thorsby coach Ken Copen said. “We’ve been to three meets this year, compared to seven or eight last year.”
Instead of a local meet with no entrance fee, teams now must make the drive to Pelham or Oak Mountain, for example, and pay sometimes significant fees and compete against teams from larger schools.
Nevertheless, many local athletes are threats to qualify for a state meet, which requires finishing in the top six at the sectional.
Billingsley’s boys have finished as high as second in a meet this year, at Troy, and coach J.T. Lawrence said he expects several Bears to make state.
“The guys are starting to understand that they have a chance to do really well,” Lawrence said.
Senior Jay Tyus made state last year in long jump, high jump, 110-meter hurdles and the 400-meter relay and will compete this year in high jump, triple jump, 110-meter hurdles and 330-meter hurdles.
Senior Jamar Hopson could also make state in four events: 100-meter dash, shot put, discus and javelin.
With Bud Huffman along with Tyus and Hopson, Lawrence said Billingsley could wind up with the top three hurdlers not only in their section but in the state.
Billingsley also has three girls—seniors Brittany Brown and Shanitra Kent and ninth grader Lori Davis—that could qualify for state in all four events they compete in Friday at the Class 1A, Section 1 meet at Montgomery Academy High School.
Coach Matt Maddox likes his 1600-meter relay team and his 400-meter relay team as they head into the Class 5A, Section 2 meet at Beauregard.
Seniors Kaland Farrow and Andy Cannon, junior Darnell Spears and sophomore Montel Wilkes run the longer relay, while sophomore Chris Felder replaces Farrow in the shorter relay.
Look for Cannon to also make noise in the 200-meter dash, where he finished in the top 10 in meets at Homewood and Pelham—both of which featured about 140 competitors.
Wilkes has a chance in the 400-meter dash, as does James Boswell in the discus.
Coach Lanny Jones couldn’t single out any athletes he thought to have a particularly good chance of qualifying for state.
“We really think all of them do, to be honest,” Jones said.
Junior Blake Lawley enters the Class 2A, Section 1 meet at Smiths-Station High School as the No. 1 seed in the shot put event. Lawley’s best throw has been 40 feet, three inches.
Senior Hunter Cleckley qualified in the 100-meter dash last year, as did Del Green in the 1600-meter dash and long jump, Lawley in the shot put and the 400-meter relay team of Cleckley, Craig, Green and Lawley.
Other Mustangs competing today include Austin Anderson (800-meter run and 1600-meter relay), Davis Ratliff (3200-meter run), Willie Stacy (110-meter hurdles and 300-meter hurdles) and Slade Williams (1600-meter run).
Senior Mary Gasson will look to qualify for state in four different events for the fourth consecutive season. Gasson competes in javelin, discus, 400-meter dash and long jump.
Teammates Sade Archie, a freshman, and Shamari McCray, an eighth grader, will look to join Gasson. Archie made state last year in the 200-meter dash, and McCray will compete in the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes.
For the boys, sophomore Marcus Bray has been strong in the 200-meter dash, the long jump and the triple jump, and senior Shane Carr could qualify in the javelin. Carr finished in the top six in his section last year in the javelin but fell four inches short of the 120-foot throw required as a minimum.
Also watch for junior Kevin Brasher in the 800-meter run and Carr and junior Dillan Simmons in the 400-meter dash at the Class 2A, Section 2 meet at Tuscaloosa-Central High School.