By Curtis Carden
The reemergence of track and field excitement for Blue Nation was showcased last week by competitors at Unicoi County Middle School.
Jr. Blue Devil Kody Lewis and Jr. Lady Devil Kaitlin Bailey led the way with first place finishes for the program during the annual Middle Eight Conference meet held Friday, April 29.
Lewis clocked in at 11.94 in the 100-meter dash, while Bailey cleared 5-0 in the high jump. With the duo leading the way, other UCMS team members turned in a solid performance across the board and it was due to the hard work put in by the athletes, according to head coach Jason Hensley.
“It’s all about the kids,” Hensley told The Erwin Record on Friday. “This year, we recruited a lot in the school to have kids come out and they’ve put in the hard work since day one. I couldn’t ask for a better team. Coach (Alexa) Renfro and coach (Brody) Grindstaff deserve a lot of credit for working with the kids and getting them into a position to be ready for the meet.”
Lewis stayed busy after winning his 100-meter race, taking third in the 200-meter and fourth in the long jump.
Tanner VanHoy added a fourth place finish in the hurdles and fifth place in the 400-meter dash. The 4×400-meter relay team (Ariel Llamas, Isaac Gillis, Matthew Hensley and VanHoy) and the 4×100-meter team (Gage Wilson, Michael Harrington, Nicholas Hensley and Peyton Morrell) took third and fourth, respectively, in their events. The 4×400 was also able to shave 20 seconds off the personal best time, running a 4:24.
“Kody really led the way for us,” Hensley said. “He led the way working with a bum ankle, too. He’s one of the guys that play football and will be an asset for the team at the high school level and is developing into a good track athlete, too. He has a friendly rivalry with one of the kids from Ross Robinson and that’s pushed him to keep getting better.”
The success on the boys’ side was one item that showed what can happen when athletes are able to try out different sports, Hensley said.
“We’re really stressing to the kids about being multiple sport athletes,” he added. “Working on getting better, while helping the school, and not just specializing in one sport. It’s good for athletics and is a great educational and well-rounded experience for the athletes.”
While the boys did their damage, Bailey led the way for the Lady Devils, also tallying top five finishes in her respective races.
“Kaitlin is a workhorse,” Hensley said. “She’s coming off a top-three performance at the conference meet last year. We’ve had Kaitlin practicing with the guys this year to keep pushing her to get better. She keeps getting better and better each meet and she really did well tonight.”
Members of the UCMS track and field team will continue their season on Monday, May 9, with a trip to Greeneville with bids on the line for a trip to the state meet. Field events at Greeneville are scheduled to begin at 2 p.m., while running events will begin at 4 p.m.
The top 16 athletes from this region will be selected from Monday’s event to compete at the state level. The Tennessee Middle School Athletic Association (TMSAA) state meet is set for May 21 in Clarksville.