High School track stars hit college stage
Connor Bailey learned what it felt like to compete on the big-time college stage on Friday.
“It's exciting because you get to run in this experience,” the Sevier County junior said. “Even though we're not SEC runners, we get the feel and the experience like we're running at a college meet, running with SEC schools. It's a lot of fun. Every year I look forward to this one meet.”
Bailey and athletes from 43 other high schools competed alongside a college track and field meet in the Tennessee Relays. The new event combined the former Sea Ray Relays, a college meet, with the old Vol Track Classic, a high school invitational.
The weekend gives the opportunity for athletes like Bailey from Sevier County, Pigeon Forge, Seymour and The King's Academy to measure up with some of Tennessee's elite high school competitors, all while wearing the SEC logo on their bibs.
“This is the best of the best teams coming out here to race,” said the Eagles' Damon Hall. “It's the hardest thing I've done.”
Bailey had the best day among local competitors at the University of Tennessee's Tom Black Track, winning the long jump with a distance of 21 feet, 8 ¼ inches before finishing third in the 400 meters while winning his heat in 51.12 seconds. He skipped his favorite event, the 200, to make it back to Sevierville in time for prom.
The scene on the University of Tennessee's campus was a festival of athletes displaying college logos large and small. There were familiar high schools colors from the Knoxville area and less recognizable ones from places like Georgia and Ohio.
“It's definitely nerve-wracking having all these different teams and college people here,” said Sevier County's Olivia Maples. “When I was over there next to the table, I just tried to make some friends.”
Maples was 15th in the girls 400 (13.92) and 23rd in the 200 (28.4). Teammate Emily Gibbons finished 23rd in the 100 (13.92) and 29th in the 200 (29.41) while the Bears' Hunter Miniard was fifth in the 300 hurdles earlier in the day, finishing in 41.87. He was 20th in the 200 in 23.84. Brandon Laws was sixth in the boys 400 in 51.51 for Sevier County while Hall was 25 in 56.58. Pigeon Forge's Dylan Rogers was 30th (58.53).
Elsewhere on the track, Sevier County's Adrienne Nave was 15th in the 100 hurdles (19 seconds) and 13th in the 300 hurdles (54.65), just behind teammate Abby Murrell, who was 10th in 52.78. Both the Bearettes' Shaelyn Baggett (2nd, 8:37.9) and Kathie O'Neill (4th, 9:05.52) competed in the girls 2000 steeplechase. Teammate Corey Collins was ninth (7:17.94) in the boys event. Pigeon Forge's Jerrod Jinnette was 10th in the 200 (23.29).
Sara Caldwell led the county girls in the evening 1,600. The Pigeon Forge runner was 21st in 5:48.51 while the Sevier County duo of Skye McCarter and Andrea Gossett finished 28th (6:04.45) and 32nd (6:10.43) respectively. Laws finished eighth in the boys 1,600 in 4:38.96. Seymour's Patrick Schumacher (4:41.71) followed in 12th. The Bears Zac Sacaski was 20th in 4:49.88 while Collins was 30th in 5:04.5 and Pigeon Forge's Logan Sullivan was 31st in 5:07.45.
Seymour's Victoria Nelson was third in the girls high jump (4-8) to lead the charge in the girls field events. She added a 14th in the long jump (12-7.75) while The King's Academy's Neka Knowles was 10th in shot put (31-5).
Pigeon Forge's Christian Sisto was the lone county boy in the discus, finishing ninth with a distance of 121 feet. Teammate Trevor Jain was 17th with a distance of 18-2 ½. Ryan Beal was 23rd with 15-4 ¾.
Teams will be back at the University of Tennessee this morning, starting with 3,200 meters followed by a slew of relays and five events in the field.
It'll be another chance for the county's high schoolers to compete on a big stage.
“This is a big event right here, the Vol Classic,” Jinnette said. “It's a privilege just to be out here, just to run at UT. I couldn't ask for anything else.”