Coaches don't always welcome letters from the TSSAA, but the one Red Bank track coach Hugh Enicks got recently has opened the door for some unexpected help. Because Lookout Valley didn't have enough interest to field a complete track team, the athletes from that school who did want to compete were cleared by the TSSAA to co-op with the Red Bank program.
The seven Lookout Valley students now competing with the Lions include sprinters Jamal Jones and Elexis Foster, both of whom rank among the area's top three fastest in the 100 meters. Jones, who rushed for more than 3,000 career yards and signed a football scholarship with Carson-Newman, ran the 100 in 11.31 last week, which ranks third locally.
Only a freshman, Foster has been the early-season surprise in the area, topping area girls' sprinters with a 12.18 in the 100, which ranks her ahead of GPS's Destinee Lansden (12.36), a Memphis signee who won state titles in the Division II 100 meters and 400 meters and was fourth in the state in the 200 last year.
"I was just checking the mail at school and had a letter from the TSSAA saying kids from Lookout Valley were cleared to run for us," Enicks said. "Once they got here and started working with our other kids, I realized several of them had some real talent.
"It's been a big boost for us, and I'm excited to see how much better they can get. Especially Elexis, since she's just a freshman. There's no telling how much more she can improve just this year."
Central senior Chancis Jones hasn't wasted any time re-establishing herself as the area's top jumper. Jones, an Austin Peay signee who won the Class A/AA state championship in the triple jump and finished second in the long jump last year, has a triple jump distance (34 feet, 9 inches) that's more than two feet farther than the next closest area girl.
She also leads area long jumpers with a leap of 17 feet, 2 inches.
Jones is ranked No. 29 nationally in the triple jump with a career-best 38 feet, 2.75 inches, and her best long jump (18-3) ranked 37th best nationally last year. Last summer she won the gold medal in the long jump and the silver in the triple jump at the 17-under USA meet in Murfeesboro and placed third nationally in the U.S. region meet, qualifying for the Junior Olympics.
Jones also helped both Central sprint relay teams qualify for the state meet last year and likely will anchor the 4x200 this year and run the open 100 or 200 meters.
"Her determination really separates her from about every other athlete I've coached," said Central coach Gary Bloodsaw. "She has a strong will to want to win, and regardless of classification she wants to compete against anybody in the long or triple jump because she just believes she's the best."
Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe will host the biggest early-season meet today as the 11-team Warrior Invitational begins at 3 p.m.
The meet will feature a rare chance for area athletes from Georgia and Tennessee to compete against one another. Besides LFO, the Georgia teams participating are Gordon Lee, Heritage, LaFayette, North Murray and Southeast Whitfield. The Tennessee schools included are Hixson, Notre Dame, Ooltewah, Signal Mountain and Tyner.
"We've included teams from Chattanooga because I thought it would be a good experience for all the kids to get to compete against other local athletes they don't normally go against," said first-year LFO coach Houston White. "They had hosted this meet before, but it was relegated to just North Georgia schools, so we doubled the field this year to bring some of the talent from both areas together."