JaMeesia Ford of Jack Britt High School and Zoe Dorsey of Terry Sanford High School were the top individual winners from Cumberland County Schools in the track and field state championships last weekend.
Ford was the top winner of all, taking individual championships in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter runs in the 4-A track meet.
Dorsey, a freshman competing in her first N.C. High School Athletic Association meet, captured the 400- and 800-meter runs in the state 3-A track meet.
There was also a unique group of youngsters from Westover High School who brought home a state title.
Here’s a closer look at each of these three championship performances.
Ford competed in all three races at the state meet last year but did not win any of them, after racing to a lopsided victory in the 400 two years ago.
Britt track coach Vivian Reed said Ford pointed at a sweep of the three events from the start of the season.
“That was the goal all along,” Reed said, noting that Ford was committed to the sport, practicing both with the Britt track team as well as the Fayetteville Flyers. “She was pretty much doing two practices a day.”
The biggest challenge, Ford said, was dealing with the differences in the three races.
“Different skill, different mentality running those events,” she said.
She called the 400 the most difficult race, adding she had to battle the mind game and manage how she runs.
She had already won the 100 and 200 when she lined up for the 400, her final individual high school track event.
“It was emotional for me,” she said. “It was hard. I was thankful enough to be healthy enough to run it.”
Her next stop will be the University of South Carolina, where she joins the highly successful Gamecock track program headed by former Douglas Byrd assistant football coach Curtis Frye.
“In college, I don’t know what they have planned for me,” she said. “No telling what times I’m going to be running down there.”
Terry Sanford track coach Michael Ferguson wasn’t sure what to expect when Zoe Dorsey arrived on the Bulldog campus. He knew she was talented but was also aware she would be facing unknown competition transferring from a private school to a public school.
“She did extremely well at the events she ran,” he said. “It gave me the idea she had a chance to accomplish this goal.”
At the state meet, she had little trouble winning the 400-meter with a time of 54.99, a personal best for her.
It was the 800 that was more of a concern.
“The competition kind of knew about her and they were trying to hold her back from accomplishing that.”
While the 400 largely involves pure speed, the 800 is more of a strategic race, with runners needing to avoid getting trapped in a mass of opponents.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened to Dorsey.
“I got boxed in badly on the first lap,” she said. “I had to run to the outside.”
Lily Yampolsky of Lake Norman Charter had built a big lead, so Dorsey used her as a target. She rallied from almost 50 meters behind Yampolsky to overtake her and win the race by 0.28 of a second with a time of 2:15.41.
“I’m definitely happy with it, especially being able to win the 400 and 800 combination,” Dorsey said. “Winning that is, like, extra special.”
Next year, Dorsey said she is considering adding the 200 to her repertoire. As for college, she is not close to making a decision yet.
“Probably somewhere on the East Coast,” she said.
Win for Westover
The Unified track program for special-needs athletes has been part of Cumberland County high school athletics for a number of years.
Hailey Miller is the Unified Track manager for N.C. Special Olympics. Miller said the Unified program allows students with intellectual disabilities to join a track and field team, competing on the same team together to promote social and athletic inclusion.
LaMonta Caldwell, who was recently named teacher of the year at Westover High School, works with the track team and the Unified program for the Wolverines. At the state 3-A track meet, Westover’s 4x100 meter Unified relay team won the state title.
Other schools with Unified teams from Cumberland County competing included Pine Forest, Gray’s Creek, Terry Sanford and E.E. Smith.
The Westover relay team was composed of two traditional students and two Unified students.
“It’s a level playing field,” Caldwell said. “It gives them the opportunity to compete at the highest level.”
He said the Unified athletes are willing to listen and want to be coached. But it’s more important than that, Caldwell said, adding they learn the ability to trust each other.
“They have someone they can trust, and someone can trust in them as well,” he said. “It allows them to realize they are a part of something that is very special.”
Lucas took over the Cape Fear girls program in 2015 and guided the Colts to state 3-A team titles in 2021 and 2022. The doubles team of Brooke Bieniek and Anna Piland won the 3-A state title in 2021.
In a statement posted on social media, Lucas said his goal is to work with boys tennis coach Lee Osbourne to grow the sport by making elite tennis accessible for all the students in the area and to encourage the players to have high expectations for themselves and their teammates.
In a tribute she posted on social media, Piland wrote, “Thank you for being the coach that inspired us to dream big and gave us the confidence to succeed and give it all on the courts.”
It’s been reported by Cumberland County Schools that Jones received 10 bona fide scholarship offers with a total value of $3,130,115.
Follow Earl Vaughan Jr. on Twitter @EarlVaughanJr.