One of the highlights of Conn-Madden Relays weekend is the induction of local athletes into the Newport News Track and Field Hall of Fame.
The Hall was founded in the early 1980’s and held up for about twenty years, before sliding away from activity for a decade. In 2011, the Hall was renewed with the induction of 17 new members, and it has remained steadfast since then.
This year’s class includes four athletes and a coach from two Newport News schools. Representing Woodside was Brandon Burton and Majique Key. From Heritage, Octavia James and Dontae Bugg were selected, as was Jacqueline Bateman, one of the Hurricane coaches since its opening in 1996.
Burton was a star middle distance runner for the Wolverines in the late 2000’s who clocked a 1:52.62 in the 800 at the CNU Captains Classic during his senior year. Burton continued his career as a 400-meter hurdler and quarter miler at the University of Virginia. While at U. VA, Burton was an ACC performer at the long hurdles, with a best of 52 seconds. He also won All-American honors as a member of the Cavaliers distance medley. Burton graduated from Charlottesville in 2014.
Key was the best short sprinter in Woodside history, with best times of 10.95 and 22.23 in the 100 and 200 meters during his senior season of 2011. He also won the AAA state title in the 55 meters during indoor season, with a time of 6.30. Key could not attend the event, as he is in Vermont trying out for the expansion Vermont Bucks team of the Arena Football League. However, in his message, presented by mother Alfreida Gordon, Key thanked Coaches Derrel Johnson and Jerome Rhodes “for always busting my butt… telling me never give up and saying - YOU BETTER RUN KEY!” Said Gordon, “he loved track, but now he’s following his NFL dreams.”
Dontae Bugg was the oldest athlete inducted this year, but Bugg is hardly a greybeard. After graduating from Heritage in 1998, Bugg went on to star at the University of Maryland where he broke the 60-meter indoor hurdle record (7.92) in 2000, and held on to it for seven years. Bugg, now an attorney in Fairfax, VA, had not returned to Todd Stadium in several years, but said that he misses the “competition and camaraderie the most,” adding “I have a ton of memories from here, and a lot of good friends.”
Octavia James has stayed closer to the track since winning a memorable state championship over future Olympian T’erea (then Tierra) Brown of Hampton High in the 300-meter hurdles during her 2005 senior year. She started college in Pennsylvania, but transferred to join the VCU track team. “Our lineup (at VCU) was different then,” said James, who now works as a behavioral counselor at the Behavioral Health Center in Norfolk. “We had a whole bunch of distance runners and a plethora of jumpers, but maybe two hurdlers.” James, who misses the “race day feeling” from track, went on to coach at Tabb High, and later CNU for two years, before settling into her new position. She is excited about the induction of sports as part of the therapeutic process at BHC. “We’re getting into basketball and dancing as part of what they’re doing in therapy.”
Jacqueline Bateman has been a high school track coach for 24 years, but happens to work with legendary Coach Ray Pollard, who has over 40 years of experience with a stopwatch and whistle. While she has maintained that she is happy to be in “class with the other coaches,” she was surprised to get the Hall nod. “I’m more of an undercover person, with the parents, in the classroom and school. This is a special, but surprising award.” During her time with the Hurricanes, Bateman has worked with a number of Heritage state champions, including James. She credits Pollard as a great coaching partner. “We complement each other. If one does this, then the other one does that. Coaching is much more than just giving somebody a workout.”
The Hall of Fame ceremony was held on Friday night, just after the conclusion of the first day of events at the Conn-Madden Relays.
Dozens of the young players that will constitute the future of Virginia prep football had their talents on display last Saturday, as Mach I Academy held its “2 Up 2 Down” 7-on-7 showcase at the Virginia Beach Sportsplex. The event is one of a handful that is constituted up and down the East Coast and includes tournaments in Raleigh and Pittsburgh.
The Mach I Academy, headed by Bishop Sullivan assistant football coach Stephen Evans, is centered on the process of success, and as stated in their mission statement, is focused on each participant being growth-conscious more than goal-conscious. Components of growth consciousness include the principles of faith, character and conditioning, which come together to honor the process of success.
Sullivan was well represented, with Crusader assistant coach Rashad Lilly taking the helm of two squads. Coach D.J. Palmer, a fellow assistant from Stafford, also brought a pair of “Beast Mode” teams to the affair.
In the end, it was one of Lilly’s teams that won the championship for the day, but there was something to be gained for both coaches and players, who braved a cold and windy day to play a little football.
Palmer, who brought a handful of Yellow Jacket players with him, is up to five teams, ranging from U-9 to U-15, with his program in Fredericksburg, and spoke highly of the opportunity to travel south.
“We are so grateful to the people of Virginia Beach. They do so many things for these kids,” said Palmer, who is in his fourth year with the travel team, but has been coaching youths and high school footballers for 16 years. “Without events such as this, we wouldn’t have anywhere to be.”
Palmer’s troops were loaded. His 14-and-under group featured players such as wide receiver Holt Egan of North Stafford and Massaponax tackle Brandon Howard, who was listed at 6’1 and 210 pounds last season, but looked much larger on the Sportsplex field. To his credit, Egan made several outstanding catches, including one leaping grab where he caught the ball behind his head.
“He’s big time,” quipped Palmer.
It was the 13-and-under group that created the most fireworks for Palmer on Saturday. With Todd Smith at quarterback, and receivers Jairen Plummer and Isaiah Daniels at the flanks, the seventh graders moved the ball with ease.
“This group has been together for a few years,” added the coach. “In fact, they made it to the AYF National Championships last year. These kids know each other,” said Palmer, who added that earlier in the morning the group had played a ninth grade team and held their own in a 12-6 loss.
Although his teams are successful, Palmer is just as proud of his system for gathering players.
“Unlike most of the other teams, we don’t do tryouts. We coach everybody. Usually what happens with us is that somebody plays on one of our teams, and then brings a friend to play. And those friends bring their friends.”
Of course, there is a limit. “We do have to stick to a limit of 16 with the travel teams, because obviously, only seven at a time can play. But the guys who aren’t on the travel team still come to practice and work out with us.”
Several of the players enjoyed the opportunity for extra exposure and a chance to play some tough offseason competition.
Quarterback Taylor Eggers played his sophomore year with Miles Godwin in Richmond, but suffered a concussion in the “fourth or fifth” game, leading to him splitting time behind center with another QB over the rest of the season. Looking to gain an advantage and a shot at more playing time, Eggers will be transferring to Trinity Episcopal next year.
It is Eggers’ first year in the 7-on-7 league, but he looks to enhance his college options with the move.
“I like the exposure (of playing in the league) and the chance to earn more college visits. Already, Eggers, who looks like a college-sized signal caller at 6’3” and 205 lbs. has taken two unofficial college visits, to Alabama and Auburn. Asked which of the schools he preferred, Eggers enthusiastically remarked, “I loved Auburn!” The University of Georgia is next on his visit list.
Meanwhile, young receiver and free safety Ze’marion Harrell waited for his next game. The Landstown Middle student and player will be enrolling at Bishop Sullivan next year, and aims to make an immediate impact for Coach Chris Scott.
Asked why he chose Sullivan, the quiet and reserved youngster said, “For the school, the academics, and the football.” Harrell is well familiar with the 7-on-7 league having played for several years. “I know all of the coaches, especially Coach Steve (Evans), added Harrell. He called the Mach I experience “wonderful,” and felt that his first three games had been “good.” He stands 5’9”, but already possesses the hands of a quality receiver as evidenced by the handshake grip he gave to a reporter.
Several more tournaments like this will take place later this spring, including Recruit757.com’s own Battle, which will pit 757 players against 804 and NoVA competitors.
|From MileStat.com (Photo by Mary Ann Magnant)|
Through the tears in his eyes, J.E.B. Stuart senior Michael Klusner tried to explain the significance of his win in the 5A Boys shot put on Friday morning.
“I did it for Jeremy,” said the senior, who was seated in a chair just beyond the far bleachers at the Boo Williams Sportsplex.
Jeremy Munga was a football teammate of Klusner’s at the Falls Church school. He was slated to be a slot back and safety for the Raider team. The two were preparing for the upcoming season last July when Munga went on a boating trip from which he never returned.
“He should be here,” said Klusner, sporting a red wristband with “R.I.P. Jeremy” highlighted in white letters. “He was on the boat and did a backflip into the water.” Holding back more tears, Klusner finished his thought. “He never came up.”
Still, Jeremy was with him on Friday morning. He used to text me all the time (saying) “you better win state next year.” I went back through his texts again (before today).
During the same week of Munga’s passing, Klusner, and the Stuart community were struck with tragedy again when Austin Fitzpatrick, another football teammate of Klusner, committed suicide.
“He was supposed to be the star of the team. He could jump, run, he could do anything,” said Klusner of Fitzpatrick. “He was working out with us that day (of his death).
The pressure began building up on the Raider thrower at Munga’s funeral. “People were coming up to me at the service saying, “go and win states for Jeremy.” I could have cared less about winning states – this (effort) was for him.”
And what an effort it was. The 5A shot-put was supposed to be a Battle of Richmond, with Xavier Ivey of Hermitage and Connor Scott of Lee-Davis both sharing the top seed with a throw of 55-10.5. Klusner’s own best throw of 53-5 had him firmly entrenched in third, almost two-and-a-half feet behind the leaders, and nearly four feet ahead of the fourth seed.
But there was a secret, unknown to his opponents. “I knew I had a chance,” said Klusner. “I was throwing 55 feet in practice, but they didn’t know that yet. I knew I could catch them by surprise.”
On his third throw, Klusner glided, turned and threw the 12-lb. ball 54 feet and six inches, enough to nudge into the lead over Ivey and Scott.
Klusner’s lead held firm through the final rounds, and won Klusner and Stuart their first state track title of this millennium.
It was not a moment lost of the Stuart coaches. Leonard Reynolds, who has coached with the Raiders for the better part of 20 years, could only shake his head when reminded of the fact. Distance coach Peter Guevara, a newer member of the coaching staff, and 2012 Stuart graduate, was able to find words.
“(In Klusner) we have a guy working hard with a purpose and determination. Hopefully, that will inspire our other athletes.”
There was help from another source. Reynolds was quick to point a reporter back toward the infield where Washington-Lee throwing coach Josh Patulski was preparing his 6A state title favorite, and future Auburn thrower, Benedict Draghi.
“Coach (Patulski) had a lot to do with this,” said Reynolds. “We were basically here to talk with (Michael).
Patulski joined forces with Klusner last year. “We started out in the summer. I was a glider myself, so I like to be able to help a guy out.” Although the two represent different schools, both Stuart and W-L are members of the former National District.
Klusner will continue his education, and throwing career, next year at Tiffin University in northeast Ohio.