When I first came to Pea Ridge in 1998, I started a youth track program and inquired as to the strength of the local high school program.
An oft quoted remark that I would hear was that "we were OK for a small school in a small town." I went to a small Missouri school myself and I can well remember our coach telling us that he wanted us to be successful track athletes no matter where we were or who the competition was. He intended for us to be good with no disclaimers.
While we did quite well in our own classification, we would venture out and compete with the big boys, the Springfield high schools, Kansas City, Tulsa, and a number of others. Outside of the state championship races, perhaps the most fun race I ever ran was at Springfield's Missouri State for their relay competitions. Called the SMS Relays back then, their meet always boasted a large field of really big high schools from across Missouri and Kansas.
At that meet, they awarded a most impressive 4x440 trophy, the Speedy Collins Mile Relay trophy. Monett, Mo., was seeded into the fast heat with a bunch of 7A-type high schools and to say we got no respect lining up to run would have been an understatement. We ran a 3:28 to win it and we thoroughly enjoyed walking up to claim that hardware in front of those incredulous big school teams.
The Meet of Champions last week is usually a showcase for the large school athletes with a few smaller school stars making some small waves. The MOC invites the champions from each of the seven state meets, then others are invited based on the times recorded at state meets. Blakelee Winn and Cassidy Mooneyhan were qualified as individual champions with both the boys' and girls' 4x400 relays taking state golds as well to qualify for the overall state.
Shelby Dunlap and Cooper Elliott were added to the MOC finalists in individual events as a result of their state meet times. Both showed they belonged as they scored upsets to earn medals. As a matter of fact, I believe everyone wearing the Blackhawk colors who competed in Pearcy (Lake Hamilton) came home with a medal, something that few teams can brag about.
The girls team proved that they were not only a good 4A team, they were a good team -- period. Bentonville has long been a big school team and relay power, but how about this -- Pea Ridge's three relays finished ahead of all three Bentonville teams in those same relays. I never thought that could or would ever happen. The girls finished sixth overall in the meet, besting 59 of the 64 teams in the higher classifications above the 4A.
While the girls' rise to the top was pretty spectacular this season, it has been something that has been building since coach Heather Wade took the helm in 2014. The boys' team, while improving in recent years, really didn't have the numbers to make noise as a team, in local or state competition until this season.
With the addition of boys' coach Asa Poteete, the Blackhawks finally had the folks in place that could turn the 'Hawks from pretenders to contenders, as far as team competition was concerned.
Speaking with coach Poteete just after the state meet where they just barely lost out on a state championship Poteete said, "Going into the state track meet, we knew that things would be close at the end. When you get there anything can happen and a lot of times does.
"Our kids performed overall very well and made it very close at the end. These boys battled and battled when it seemed that our chances were all but gone. Unfortunately, we missed out on some points here and there in a some events that we needed to give us a chance for first.
"I had a blast this year coaching these kids, they are a great group that has worked really hard and competed at a high level all year long. In the beginning of the season I had no clue how we would fair in our district and at the state level. By winning a district championship and finishing within 5 points of a state championship, these kids put our boys program on the map," Poteete said.
"The future looks bright for the boys side with a large core returning next year, we will have to try and replace key contributors in Kenny Dorsey, Robby Pickthall, Zack Humphries, Trevor Henry, Jordan Witcher and Drew Winn. Our junior high had a strong year and has some athletes that should be able to step in and fill those voids."
The girls look exceptionally strong for next year. For those who may not be aware of it, the 4A will be kind of a 4A-and-a-half beginning this fall. The AAA decided to move the 16 smallest 5A schools into 4A with the 16 smallest 4A being pushed down into 3A.
The girls won the state championship by 53 points this year, but how about next year? Who are these 5A teams soon to be 4A schools who will make up the competition for the Lady 'Hawks in 2019?
I decided to combine the 5A state meet results of those 16 smaller 5A schools with the 32 biggest 4A schools results to get some kind of snapshot of what the meet would have looked like had the classifications been changed this year.
Not surprisingly, at least to me, the Lady Blackhawks still would have won, and still by a wide margin. Not as wide as this season with the 4A as it was, but still wide as state meet results go.
Combing the two meets, the Lady 'Hawks would have won by 38. The top team points would have been: Pea Ridge, 96; Magnolia, 58; Valley View, 57; Camden, 49; Crossett, 40; Pocahontas, 35; Hamburg, 33; Gravette, 29; DeQueen, 28; and Batesville, 25. In this scenario, the 4A, with the exception of Pea Ridge, would be dominated by former 5A schools.
Of course, not a single point from 2018 will carry over into 2019. The 2019 season will be won or lost with work done beginning now and moving forward. On the upside, not a single Blackhawk state scorer was a senior and several star athletes from this year's meets from other schools were seniors.
On the other hand, athletes emerge all the time in track from perhaps obscure prior years. The infusion of freshman every year has the potential (especially among the girls) to impact the competitive balances among teams.
The boys team is losing some very good athletes, but there are those here on campus with the potential to replace them and keep the momentum rolling. Track and field is an elemental sport. Like the ol' saying goes, "It ain't rocket surgery!"
To be successful in track and field, you have to have talent, which most everyone has in one venue or another. You have to have good coaching to direct that talent, something we now have in abundance. But most of all, to be successful, you have to be able to compete, you have to have the desire to do whatever you have to, to get to where you want or need to go.
The competitive desire is a contagious thing. It not only spreads around to teammates within the sport of track, it can spread to the other sports as well. Athletes who can run faster, leap higher or jump farther will be better in their other sports.
The girls track team won two -- TWO state titles this year! They are getting rings to commemorate the occasion though I doubt they could ever forget the experiences they had in 2018.
The boys will be looking for their own rings in the future.
Editor's note: John McGee, an award-winning columnist, sports writer and art teacher at Pea Ridge elementary schools, writes a regular sports column for The Times. He can be contacted through The Times at firstname.lastname@example.org.Sports on 05/16/2018
Print Headline: Track season was one for the books