By Trey Williams
Unicoi County Middle School’s track and field program has produced strong relay teams in recent years, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year it had to triumph in a relay for life.
“We’re really proud of our relay program,” said coach and first-year athletic director Jason Hensley, whose season was canceled after one meet at Liberty Bell. “We’ve qualified kids for the state meet the past two or three years in relays and been really successful with that. And our 4×100 relay team we had this year was better than any we’d had over the past few years. …
“It’s real disappointing for the eighth graders. Of course, it’s disappointing for everybody. I’ve got kids (twin sons) playing ball that lost their junior year of high school. It’s a tough deal and I hate for them, hate we’re having to deal with all this. It’s a time in these kids’ lives that they’re not gonna get back. But I understand it’s what’s best for everybody. We’ve all got folks who’ve had health problems and things like that who we can’t take this stuff home to, and I totally understand that.”
The 4×100 and 4×200 relay teams were comprised of Garrett Sellars (seventh grade), Jace Garland (sixth grade), Kevin Espinoza (eighth grade) and Nolan Bennett (eighth grade). Jose Lopez was capable of factoring in there as well.
Bennett anchored both teams.
“Nolan was gonna be one of the best sprinters we’ve had in a few years,” Hensley said. “Nolan’s doing a good job for us. … Garrett Sellars ran leadoff. He’s gonna be a good athlete. His brother Matthew plays football for us in high school. Garrett will be one of the best middle school (football) players next year if they get to play.”
The 4×400 team, all seventh graders, included Kenneth White, Audie Brown, Logan Bennett and Branson Salts, the latter of whom should have an exceptional season next year.
“Our 4×200 team was really competitive and our 4×400 team looked like they were gonna be really competitive,” Hensley said. “So we were really looking forward to that.”
Eighth grader Luke Capps was primed for a memorable season.
“Luke Capps won the 800 and won the 1,600 (at Liberty Bell),” Hensley said. “We were looking for really big things from him this year. This was the first year of our soccer program and coach Jordan Cooper and I shared athletes a lot. We had nine kids who were playing soccer and running track, which really helped both programs.
“Luke played soccer and ran track, and that was real beneficial to both programs. He’s a dang good soccer player.”
Other key contributors were thrower Cedric Booker Jr., a seventh grader, and distance runner Juan David Lopez (eighth grader).
“Cedric’s really improved,” Hensley said. “He’s worked really hard and done a good job for us. Juan David Lopez was our No. 2 distance guy and was having a good year.”
Victor Luquin is a promising seventh-grade distance runner.
• • •
Seventh graders Melissa Reynoso, Brianna Butler, Karrah Dean and Mary Pendleton headlined the girls team.
“I was really excited to see our kids run this year,” coach Lauren Trivette said. “I felt like our (4×200) team was going to be really successful. We had some girls return from last year that made some real progress, such as Brianna Butler and Melissa Reynoso in sprints and relays. Karrah Dean and Mary Pendleton also returned for distance. We also had some new girls this year that would have done some great things.”
One of the newcomers with whom Hensley was impressed was eighth grader Leslie Torres.
“This is her first year running track, but she was showing a lot of promise early in the year,” Hensley said. “Our girls sprint program was looking pretty good, looking better than it had in years. We were really excited for it. … Melissa Reynoso was our leading sprinter and she ran anchor on the 4×200.”
The 4×200 team included Butler, Janiela Soto and Torres.
Hensley also noted the progress of Pendleton, Dean and seventh grader Danielle Bryant.
“Mary Pendleton was doing a good job for us on the distance program,” Hensley said. “(Pendleton), Danielle Bryant and Karrah Dean all ran as sixth graders. They continue to show improvement and they’ll really help us in the distance events.”
The trio is one of many causes for optimism for 2021.
“I’m upset that track had to come to a halt because of the circumstances,” Trivette said, “but I’m excited to see what next year holds.”
The girls team included Anastasia Atkin, Chloe Shelton, Chrysaline Dean, Emma Briggs, Madison Casey, Micaly Wilson, Natalie Horton and Quartnee Baker. The boys team included Adrienne Arnold, Jahzyah Booker, Zeke Campbell, Keelin Corbin, Blaise Holt, Reid Kegley, Issac Kite, Jose Lopez, Cesar Martinez, Brayden Phillips, Logan Pickard, Angel Reynoso, Eyvi Saldana, Dakota Schwenke, Emilio Soto, Adam Tharaldson, Conner Tipton and Thad Tipton.