County track teams succeed despite lack of numbers

By Staff
Kim West, Franklin County Times
Two weeks ago, four local schools competed at the Class 1A-3A state track meet in Troy, and 18 athletes in individual events and four teams in relay races placed against schools such as 1A Hazelwood and 2A Altamont, which have dominated boys and girls track in the past decade.
Nine athletes from Franklin County finished in the top three in the state finals, including Phil Campbell's Shelly Cooper, who successfully defended her state title in the javelin and placed third in the shot put.
Belgreen's Katelin Barber also won a championship with a near record-setting 12.62 in the 100-meter dash, and she clocked in second in the 200-meter dash. Vina's Emily Davidson finished second behind Hazelwood's Amber Jones in the 1600-meter run and two seconds ahead of Belgreen's Lydia DeVaney.
In the girls' overall point standings, the Belgreen girls finished third overall, and Phil Campbell (No. 11), Vina (No. 16) and Red Bay (No. 18) placed among the top 20 teams in the state. For the boys, Red Bay finished tenth, and Phil Campbell's squad (No. 22) rounded out the top 25. Red Bay's 4 x 100 meter relay team of Josh Coats, Pablo Makepeace, Cody Tucker and Joe McKinney finished just .08 seconds behind Lanette's time of 45.15 to place second.
Before the sectional and state meets, Class 1A schools Vina and Belgreen and Class 2A schools Red Bay and Phil Campbell square off every spring at the county tournament held at Red Bay, and this year Vina and Phil Campbell managed to unseat the Tigers as county champions in boys and girls track. Vina, coached by Greg Hamilton, swept the boys' varsity and junior county titles, while Phil Campbell, led by Coach Amy Moss, claimed the girls' varsity and junior team championships.
Red Bay is the only track team from Franklin County to ever win a state championship when the girls' varsity led by Tiffany McWilliams won in 2001.
The Tigers host the tournament every year because it has the only track facility in the county school system, and it was built with four concrete lanes over 20 years ago. Red Bay, along with 5A Russellville, which also has a track, have shared its facilities with Vina, Phil Campbell and Belgreen, but their athletes usually have to practice on their own or with limited equipment to prepare for meets.
"Two years ago we expanded our track to six lanes with asphalt, and it cost $50,000," Red Bay's Coach Greg Cash said. "Most tracks have rubberized surfaces, but we ran out of money to do that, and I can't see the county going into debt for a track.
"A few years ago, every school had money to put towards projects, and we built weight room facilities, and Belgreen built a new gym. Phil Campbell built a new cafeteria and Vina did an auditorium."
In addition to a lack of facilities, all the county teams share a common challenge: filling their rosters.
"We only had six people on the girls' team, and the same number with the boys' team," said Cash, who has coached at Red Bay the past five years. "Our numbers were down a lot this year, and year in and year out, the numbers change. I think it's up and down.
"We're all small schools, and at a small school we share our athletes with other sports. At Red Bay, we have five spring sports, including track, and four of them are boys' sports. It's just hard for a player to be involved in all of them."
It was common just a few years ago for most athletes to play three or four sports, but Cash believes that many athletes are now focusing on playing one sport in the spring, such as baseball or softball.
"I think if a kid specializes in a small school, it can hurt their chances of winning a scholarship," Cash said. "I think college coaches want you to be involved in more than one sport."
Cash cites former Red Bay football players Randy Lowery (North Alabama), Joseph Boyd (Ouachita Baptist) and Kurt Kennedy (West Alabama) as examples of players who played multiple sports and are now playing Gulf South Conference football on scholarship.
"Those players were four-sports athletes who played basketball, football, baseball and track," Cash said. "I just think if you put all your eggs in one basket, then it's going to hurt you. It's better to play more sports because it increases your chance of getting a scholarship."
Cash also thinks track offers students a unique opportunity to get involved in school.
"Track gives you a chance to be involved in something different than a team sport, and you have a good shot at winning something," Cash said. "We put people in events that take advantage of their individual strengths."

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