Hargis: Jackson disappointed but stirs big crowd

Hargis: Jackson disappointed but stirs big crowd

May 27th, 2011 by Stephen Hargis in Sports - Columns

Howard's LaQuisha Jackson runs the final leg of the 4x200 relay during Spring Fling in Murfreesboro, Tenn., on Thursday. Staff Photo by Jake Daniels, Chattanooga Times Free Press

MURFREESBORO, Tenn.-The most obvious way to measure LaQuisha Jackson's success is the electronic timer announcing how quickly she has covered 100 or 200 meters.

The ways of measuring her influence and stardom throughout the state are much more numerous.

Each time her name was called before an event Thursday at the TSSAA girls' track and field meet at Middle Tennessee State University, the overflow crowd began buzzing with anticipation.

As she stepped into the starting blocks for the 100, athletes from other classifications, awaiting their turn at the awards table, stood on tiptoes and TSSAA track officials stopped what they were working on and craned their necks to watch.

Even TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress made a special trip to the venue for the sole purpose of seeing for himself what all the fuss has been about for two years.

In short, Howard's junior sprinter has become the rock star of the Spring Fling.

"I'd bet she's the reason a lot of people came here to watch track today," Childress said. "I left softball to get here in time just to watch her, and she's the most unbelievable thing I've seen in a long time. 'Wow' is about all you can say."

Jackson has become so accustomed to wowing the crowd that Thursday's meet was the first time in her stellar career that she returned home disappointed. Although she won her third consecutive Class A/AA 100 state title, her time of 11.78 seconds fell short of breaking her record of 11.46 set last year.

The inexperience of two new teammates in the sprint relays was too much even for Jackson to overcome. A botched baton exchange in the first leg of the 4x100 had the Lady Hustlin' Tigers in eighth place by the time Jackson took the baton for the final leg. She rallied them to a fifth-place finish. When she took the baton for the 4x200, Howard was in fourth but closed for a second-place finish.

However, that effort left her so severely dehydrated that she was unable to run in her final scheduled event of the night, and perhaps her strongest, the 200 meters.

"She was dizzy and I really wasn't comfortable having her push herself again in another event," Howard coach Jennifer Mitchell said.

As sports fans, most of us are obsessed with speed, and Jackson is the fastest female sprinter in state history, having never lost an individual sprint.

During a sectional qualifying meet at Red Bank two weeks ago, Jackson was far enough ahead of the competition that she slowed with more than five yards remaining in the race. Her time that day (11.49) was just off her state record, but it was still faster than that of South Pittsburg's all-state tailback Raquis Hale, who qualified for the boys' sectional that day in 11.52.

Cleveland's Vincent Yarbrough was the nation's top prep basketball prospect before his senior season, and Red Bank's Gerald Riggs was the nation's No. 1-rated running back prospect by several recruiting services going into his senior season. Former Baylor track star Willie Idlette once scored 52 points by himself, leading Baylor to a team title practically by himself.

Similarly, Jackson will go into her final season ranked among the nation's top five sprinters, and now she will have the disappointment of Thursday to inspire her.

"I know my time in the 100 wasn't bad, but I came here expecting to break my record," said Jackson, who still ran the 100 faster than anyone else, regardless of classification. "I hate to say I'm disappointed, but that wasn't my best race.

"But I've got next year to get better and hopefully come back here and do something really special in my last high school races."