Hollywood couldn’t have scripted this track team’s story better, especially since there’s already been a happy ending.
The newly formed track team at Mount View High in Welch is bringing hope to this coalfield community; they’re literally in the running to make track history.
The Golden Knights will travel to the state high school track championship this weekend in Charleston. A feat they accomplished without any uniforms, equipment or even a track to run on.
But it’s only the beginning, because the stars—long-time Mount View High School Coach Gary Brown and his student athletes—have accomplished all of this in a matter of months.
Their work has not gone unnoticed. A grateful community is happy about the good news coming out of McDowell County.
Efforts to revive the long-defunct track program began last year when a transfer student broached Brown. Brown coaches basketball but volunteered to train the student, then junior Jamil Taylor, who had ran track in North Carolina.
Taylor also joined the basketball team, but broke his arm before the season got started.
When it was time for fall basketball conditioning, he again asked about a track program—persistence that planted a seed that blossomed in a big way this spring.
“I told him I would consider volunteering so that he could run,” Brown said, adding that school district officials had given him their blessing.
McDowell County Superintendent of Schools Nelson Spencer said this is positive – for the students, school employees and community members.
“My hat’s off to coach Brown and also principal Debra Hall for making this happen, especially when you consider there wasn’t even any equipment or a track to run on. Coach Brown actually approached us and has been a driving force,” he said.
“It also proves that our kids can do well and will succeed when they are given an opportunity.
“And that means a lot to community members who are also proud of our young people and want to see them be successful,” Spencer said.
In the end, other athletes also joined – soon there were seven teammates, including two distance people and five sprinters – and have compiled an impressive record.
Sidney George, Benedict Sabellaga, McKinley Hearns and Shemar Hairston finished second in both the 100- and 200-meter relays last Friday in the Class AA Region III meet in Charleston, qualifying for the state, according to the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.
Hairston will also move forward to compete in the 100-meter dash. He finished fourth in the region, then got an “at-large” slot when his time was compared to others around the state.
De’Moni Edwards placed fifth, and Elijah Collier was sixth in the 1,600-meter run at the Region III meet, the newspaper reported.
Taylor, who is recovering from a hamstring injury, has spent his down time encouraging teammates. He’s working towards being able to participate this weekend. Taylor will even be soon signing a letter of intent with Concord University to run track.
“He has still been such an inspiration for all of us, and has also been working every day to try to get better,” he said, adding that the team has traveled to meets in several state communities including Charleston and Oak Hill.
Not that it’s been easy. Since the team didn’t have a track at the school, equipment or even uniforms, that’s when Brown became really innovative.
“Some teachers donated, and I took money out of my basketball program to buy some equipment. We used our basketball practice shoes to run in and also the basketball uniforms, including some sweats to wear when it was cold. I did buy shoes for the sprinters,” he said, chuckling as he described transporting team members in his own vehicle.
Success breeds success and Brown has now been approached by more students, including girls, who want to join. School district support and parental involvement are needed to move forward, he said.
Winning is nice, but it’s not everything.
“We don’t want to just accept that we got there, so we’ve talked about it and we’re going to try and medal. I told them it will be difficult compared to some teams that have had longer to prepare, but our kids have worked very hard so we’ll see how it turns out. Regardless, they have seen what happens when people care and that’s a great foundation for the rest of their lives,” he said.
Welch High School alumnus Garnet Earl Edwards Jr., a local athletic standout who earned a scholarship and attended West Virginia University to play football and run track (setting several records along the way), said this revitalized school program should again be funded in the future.
He also credited Brown’s coaching for helping develop young athlete’s bodies and hearts.
Reestablishing the track program is a way to make the community proud again, especially since it was formerly known state wide, he said.
“We want to try to keep Mount View on the map, to keep this positive recognition going. It used to be that high schools all across West Virginia were afraid of Welch High and then Mount View’s speed as well as talent, so much that you wouldn’t believe it,” he said.
“Right now, our county is down in a lot of things because of things that have happened beyond our control. While some folks other places have lost a little faith in us, the people here are stay and staying strong. And with just a little boost like we are getting from these young people, our community will be just as bright and shiny as it used to be,” he said.