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ECI middle school track team wins region meet

Dorene Holmes’ middle school track team at ECI brought home some hardware and many awards after competing against eight other teams at the Southeast Georgia Middle School Region Track Meet in Claxton on March 31 and April 1.

The girls team overall placed first in the region, celebrating their fifth time doing so in six years. The Lady Bulldogs earned a trophy for the feat.

The boys team placed fourth.

Emanuel County Institute as a whole, meaning the girls and boys teams combined, finished the day second in the region overall.

In addition, because the region meet recognizes the top six athletes in each event, the ECI middle school track program saw numerous individual award recipients as well as team award recipients on the day.

Jayna Kearson was the highest-scoring girl in the region. She placed first in three events: long jump, triple jump, and discus.

Both Chase Johnson in the long jump and Marcus Williams in the triple jump also had first place finishes.

The girls 4x800m relay team finished first as well; competing on this relay team were Abbey Marsh, Derihana Jones, Maddison Walker, and Ronnee Swain-Russell.

Carlos Salinas took second in the 800m dash, Smith Willoughby took second in girls high jump, and one of the boys’ relay teams, comprised of Carlos Salinas, Gauge Gay, Cory McCoy, and Jacob McBride, took second in their event, the 4x800m relay.

Ronnee Swain-Russell placed third in girls long jump, Smith Willoughby placed third in triple jump, Abbey Marsh placed third in the 400m dash, and Jacob McBride placed third in the 800m dash as well as the 1600m run.

Completing ECI’s third place finishes was the girls 4x100m team made up of Madison Walker, Destine Hirschy, Jayna Kearson, and Ronne Swain-Russell.

Chlorinda Carrillo came in fourth in the girls 100m hurdles. Tyler Foreman came in fourth in triple jump.

Both of ECI’s remaining boys relay teams placed fourth in their respective events. Tray Hunter, Chase Johnson, Rashad Smith, and Marcus Williams competed in the 4x100m relay while Tyler Foreman, Carlos Salinas, Chase Johnson, and Rashad Smith competed in the 4x400m relay.

Emanuel County Institute had seven total fifth place finishes, six of which were earned by individuals while one was earned by a relay team. These included: Chlorinda Carrillo in the 300m hurdles, Abbey Marsh in the 800m dash, Derihana Jones in the 1600m run, Destine Hirshy in the 100m hurdles, Rashad Smith in the 200m dash, Jacob McBride in the 2400m run, and the girls 4x400m relay team of Derihana Jones, Smith Willoughby, Abbey Marsh, and Ronne Swain-Russell.

Rounding out ECI’s competitors receiving recognition were Madison Walker in the girls 200m dash and Chase Johnson in the 110m hurdles. Both of these athletes placed sixth in their events.

“Each and every student did their part and was a valuable member of the team,” Dorene Farnum Holmes said. “No matter if a student placed in the top six or not, each student-athlete worked hard all season and improved their time or distance from the beginning of the season until the end.”

Competing against ECI at the region meet were Claxton, North Tattnall Middle, South Tattnall Middle, Toombs County, Screven County, Metter, Jenkins County, and Bryan County.

“I’m so proud of this team. We finished Day 1 really down, and as we got on the bus to come home, I gave the team a pep talk. We strategized for Day 2, and it was the kids who actually decided we wouldn’t leave anything on the table,” Coach Holmes said.

New to the slate of events was the 4x800m relay. Because rules exist to limit the number of events athletes can do at a meet, combined with the physical toughness and a small roster, fielding a 2400m run crew as well as the 4x800m relay team is very difficult to do with a small group who can usually run distance, or sprint, but not both.

“While we had registered for the 4x800m relay, we had actually never participated in it, nor had we ever even practiced for it. The athletes actually got together and strategized the best athletes and their order to do the relay, making last-minute changes to sub in each team’s alternates. It ended up making a huge difference for us. Those two relays and the above mentioned first, second, and third place wins of the day are what allowed us to take second place overall.”

That decision came from a learning experience earlier in the year. At one of the team’s earlier meets, they opted out of the 4x800 relay and some other events due to fatigue. ECI would fall just 8 points shy of winning that meet. Holmes used that as a teaching moment and impressed upon her athletes to push through and compete anyway; the end result, she assured them, would be worth it. The Bulldogs came to fully understand what she meant on April 1 as they hoisted their trophy and received their medals.

ECI’s middle school team competed in three meets leading up to regions, starting with a March 10 meet in Claxton. These particular meets, Holmes explained, are used for timing, practice, and ultimately preparation for regions. She purposely schedules one out-of-region meet against a bigger school to humble and harden the team.

ECI as a whole placed first in the Claxton meet on March 10. The next week, on March 17, they traveled to Screven County to take on some non-regions competition and finished in second place. Emanuel County Institute middle school track returned to Claxton on April 24 to complete its slate of practice meets, placing second to gear up for region. (A side note here, Holmes said, is the girls team took first place in all of the practice meets with the exception of the out-of-region competition at Screven County on March 17.)

With the first place for girls and second place overall finish for the school at region just shy of two weeks ago, the team sealed the deal on a stellar season. ECI middle school track loses 17 “senior” eighth graders; should those eighth graders compete in high school, ECI’s varsity track team will have a bright future.

In the meantime, Holmes says she has plenty of returning talent. Ten sixth and seventh graders who competed this year have the option to return next year as well.

The rosters for both of this year’s teams follow.

2020-2021 ECI middle school girls track team members: Eighth graders Jayna Kearson, Abbey Marsh, Ronnee Swain-Russell, Destine Hirschy, Smith Willoughby, HalliKate Johnson, Ta’Mya Blockett, Chlorinda Carrillo, Dayla Bethea, seventh graders Madison Walker, Darianna Jones, Erin Stanford, Jayden Henry, and sixth grader Aubrey Anne Cowart.

2020-2021 ECI middle school boys track team members: Eighth graders Marcus Williams, Jacob McBride, Carlos Salinas, Jesse Hirschy, Tray Hunter, Cory McCoy, Gauge Gay, Ethan Goodman, seventh graders Tyler Foreman, Daon Bethea, and sixth graders Chase Johnson, Rashad Smith, and Ja’Shon Branch.

Given the school’s resources, Holmes said the team’s success this year and the program’s continued success over the last few years in general make her extremely proud.

“We have no track to practice on, so we improvise with our football field. We do have a handmade jumping pit but no runways for jumping into the pit. The Bulldog Club generously purchased a mat from the closing of Double Dose Gymnasium this year for practicing the high jump, which we will receive and be able to use next year,” she commented. “We have about five good working hurdles that we share with high school, so the constant raising and lowering of them wears them out quickly. (We started with eight of them two years ago.) We do have discuses, batons, and shot put balls. It never ceases to amaze me of how much we are able to accomplish with so little. It also makes me wonder what we could do if we had all the bells and whistles. Either way, I always impress upon my teams that what we lack in equipment and facilities, we more than make up for it in heart, sweat, tears and hard work. It’s the ECI way! Go Dawgs!”

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