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From Parking Lot to Podium: Georgiana track team makes historic run

Growing up, four Georgiana multi-sport athletes were taught not to play in the road.

However, earlier this year, the parking lot of the south Butler County high school became the backdrop for the revitalization of the Panthers’ track and field program. Maneuvering through loose gravel and dodging vehicles after school became the standard as the team — using sticks as batons and jumping into makeshift sand pits — improvised as they continued to climb the state’s record books.

Following the script of a Hollywood blockbuster, junior Christopher Mixon became Georgiana’s first high school track & field gold medalist as the team concluded its revival season by rewriting history last weekend. During the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s Class 1A State Track & Field Meet at Cullman High School’s Stadium Mixon jumped 21 feet, 1.75 inches to claim top of the podium as he led the Panthers to a sixth-place finish out of 48 teams.

Along with Mixon’s championship jump, LeCedric Haynes claimed the silver medal in shot put with a throw of 45 feet, ½ an inch, while Jamarcus Sims triple jumped his way to his first bronze medal of the weekend with a distance of 42 feet, 8.75 inches. Sims, along with Mixon, Haynes and Christian Williams also took to the podium with a third-place, bronze medal finish as the school’s 400-meter boys relay team.

First-year Butler County Superintendent John Strycker, who helped spearhead the team’s revival, was extremely proud of the team’s success despite the obstacles that they faced.

“How many football teams could even win one game with no football field to practice on and no equipment?” he asked. “Not many! These kids excelled at the highest level possible with no track and very little equipment. I am very proud of them.”

It has been more than three decades since Georgiana fielded a track team — a middle school squad. To recognize the team’s success, the school will celebrate at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday at the high school. First-year principal Curtis Moorer believes it’s well deserved.

“It’s unreal,” he said. “Considering it’s been 32 years, we don’t have a hurdle, didn’t have a shot put ball, didn’t have even one baton, nothing, just straight asphalt that we drive our cars on and these guys and girls go out and competed with teams that have these luxuries and we’re beating them. It’s unreal.”

However, Strycker credits the athletes’ character to their success. 

“With all this success, I want to make it clear that for me, this was not about Track & Field,” he said “It was about showing our community that given the resources, our kids will achieve greatness. In this case, these kids accomplished much without resources. Our students will achieve greatness in all they do; we simply need to provide them with the best opportunity possible to do so. This track team has proven such.” 

Mixon, who will be ranked the No. 1 long jumper in Class 1A heading into the 2019 season, said that he was surprised when he realized that he was the state champion.

“It feels great, it was exciting,” the junior said Monday standing in the parking lot he trained on for months. “I never expected something like this to happen. It’s hot out here, but we just kept practicing. Hopefully, there is more to come.”

The 18-year-old football star also enjoyed sharing the moment with his 400-meter relay teammates.

“I’ve grown up with every single one of them,” Mixon said.

Haynes was just as grateful for the moment.

“We are tight,” he said. “We were so happy and proud of ourselves when we finished.”

However, Mixon, who believes hard work beats talent, admitted that using sticks and other methods to mimic relay handoffs to eventually using batons was an adjustment.

“We had problems sometimes with the hand offs, but we were fast,” he said. “As a matter of fact, we also used to slap each other’s hands.”

Haynes, a junior, will also enter his senior season ranked No. 1 in shot put. The 12-pound metal ball should become easier for the 16-year-old to handle as he continues to get bigger and stronger. Currently, the gridiron running back and hard court guard can bang out 20 reps of 265 pounds on bench press.

“I improved a lot, but I’ve got to keep working,” he said.

The addition of Track & Field as a third sport was an easy one for Haynes.

“I wanted to do something new,” he said. “I didn’t want to stick to just playing football and basketball.”

Sims, the only senior of the foursome, believes his 6-foot-3, 187-pound frame was key to his bronze medal jump last weekend. Coupled with hard work and determination, he plans to attend Alabama State University this fall in hopes of earning a spot on the Hornets’ Track & Field team next season.

“I’ve got to keep doing what I’m doing now, day-by-day,” he said. “I’ve got to practice and get better at it each day.”

Nevertheless, Sims is accustomed to hard work.

“We just came out here everyday and worked hard,” he said. “We did what we needed to do to succeed. Don’t under estimate anybody.”

Williams, a 16-year-old junior, ran the final leg of the Panthers’ 400-meter relay team. However, he almost didn’t join the team.

“Honestly, when I first heard about it, I didn’t even want to run because I wanted to get a job and felt like I couldn’t do it if I got a job,” Williams explained. “I thought about it and began running and actually liked it.”

The 5-foot-7, 160-pounder’s performance on the gridiron as a wide receiver, along with his 400-meter relay counterparts helped form the team.

“They saw us play football and saw how fast we were on the field,” Williams said. “They figured if they are running like that on the football field with pads on, imagine how fast they can run without pads.”

Williams, who has made his mark in Georgiana High School history books, had one final thought for Georgiana’s critics this year:

“Never underestimate the underdog.”