BATON ROUGE — The Ruston High School boys track and field team turned February frustrations into magnificence in May.
Spurred on by a near-miss at the state indoor meet, the Bearcats completed a two-month campaign to return to the top spot in Louisiana’s track circles, winning the LHSAA state championship in Louisiana’s largest classification Saturday evening in Baton Rouge at LSU’s Bernie Moore Track Stadium.
Ruston’s runners and jumpers piled up 82 ½ points, topping indoor champion Zachary’s 67, with Ouachita (50) and Catholic-Baton Rouge (48) the other Class 5A contenders.
It was a Ruston red-letter day. The Lady Bearcats finished fourth with 55 points. There were seven event state champions (four by the boys), five school records (three from the girls) and a state meet all-classes record by the Bearcats’ 4×800 meter relay team.
“A great day to be a Ruston Bearcat,” said proud head coach Allen Whitaker, whose eighth year in charge ended with the school’s seventh state track title, his first. The architect of much of the school’s modern history in the sport, former head coach Dave Anderson, was on hand to watch and encourage the RHS competitors.
“When the legend is in the house, it’s extra special,” Whitaker added.
While carrying on the RHS tradition is responsibility continually instilled in each competitor, Whitaker and his assistants – Kai Burrell, Dustin Cochran, Kevin Jackson and Brandon Leggio – saw the boys’ team championship culminate a mission ordained in the wake of the state indoor meet.
The winter storm in late February that shut down north Louisiana almost denied all 318-area code schools a chance to compete at the state indoors, but the LHSAA relented and pushed back the meet by a day so roads could clear. Once in Baton Rouge, the Bearcats fell just short of winning it all and the sting was palpable.
“This started after the indoor season, when we were state runner-ups, and I told our athletes to remember Zachary’s celebration,” Whitaker said. “No disrespect to them, they earned it, but we felt that should’ve been us, and we wanted to turn the tables.”
And that the Bearcats did.
“Our coaching staff does its research, and we play out all sorts of scenarios,” Whitaker said. “We knew our jumps, our sprints, our distance (events) had to be productive. What we had on paper as far as what we should do, we exceeded. We didn’t do as well as hoped in the jumps, but we got rolling on the track.”
It wasn’t surprising Ruston won the first race, the 4×800 relay. They did in faster than any other 4×8 crew in any class had ever done at the state meet (7:56.44) – not even their own school record, but a tone-setter for Saturday’s scoring.
“When we broke that composite record, we knew something special was in the air,” Whitaker said.
The dominoes began tumbling as the Bearcats kept scoring. But so did Zachary, and the schools swapped the lead through the meet, until Ruston made its final decisive surge. Demarion Rhone took third, better than projected, in the 200 (21.38), and with strong entries in the remaining events, the 3200 and 4×400 relay, destiny was flat out grinning at the Bearcats.
Soon, they were hoisting the Class 5A championship trophy.
The Bearcats scored in 12 events, winning four: the 800 (Dyllon Nimmers, 1:57.15), the triple jump (Brandon Green, 49-3 3/4), the 4×100 (41.14, even with a sloppy first exchange, a school record) and the aforementioned 4×800.
Ruston’s boys had five more medal performances: silver in the 4×400 (3:19.54), and bronze by Green twice (long jump, 22-4 1/4, and 300 hurdles, a school-record 38.72), Nimmers in the 3200 (9:49.49) and Rhone’s surprise in the 200.
Other points came in the 100 (Ke’Travion “Bull” Hargrove, fourth in 10.58), Josiah Whitaker’s fifth in the 800 (1:59.60), fourth in the 4×200 (1:28.64), and Jamarion Reed getting sixth in the high jump (6-3 1/2).
The Lady Bearcats didn’t have any field event scoring, but they certainly had a memorable day, with each of their three gold medal finishes setting new school records.
Jada Williams won the 400 meter dash by almost two seconds in 54.02 and ran on the winning 4×200 relay (1:38.55). The RHS girls’ 4×100 rolled to victory in 47.39.
Williams also ran a leg on the runner-up 4×400 foursome (3:53.18). Corlasia Scott snagged silver with a 45.48 in the 300 hurdles.
The Lady Bearcats also received points from Kiona McCallister in the 800 (fourth in a three-second personal record 2:22.16), Lily Garrett (1600, fifth in 5:34.93), a fifth in the 4×800 (9:49.74) and sixth by Tyra Fields in the 200 (25.07).
Favored St. Joseph’s won the girls crown (84 points), trailed by Zachary (73), John Curtis (74) and Ruston (55). Lafayette was next at 26.