Long-distance dedication

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 31, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Cathedral track coaches and fans are breathing again now that Claire Kenda’s lower legs are all Icy-Hotted up.

There was a scare after Kenda was bothered by severe shin splints Tuesday that the South State 3,200-meter champion would not be able to go for a state title in Jackson at the MHSAA State Championships Saturday.

But by Wednesday the shooting pain had subsided and the crisis was averted, much to the delight of Cathedral head coach Randy Brumfield, who has high hopes for this freshman who had never run track prior to this season.

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&uot;(Kenda) fell right into the two-mile,&uot; said Brumfield, himself a first-year coach. &uot;She doesn’t necessarily have breakaway speed, but she won regionals and South State without being pushed. I look for her to win it (Saturday).&uot;

What started as a last-minute mutual agreement between Green Wave athletic director Roy Garcia and Brumfield has turned into a promising opportunity.

Cathedral will send 11 competitors (seven girls, four boys) to Jackson this weekend, dominated heavily by eighth and ninth graders, including Kenda.

&uot;I feel like in the years to come if this program is kept up, they have the potential to have some incredible athletes,&uot; said Brumfield, a distance runner at Delta State in the late 1960s and early ’70s. &uot;I believe many more will come out next year when they see the success that has happened.&uot;

With Kenda and Jessie Merritt on the girls’ side and eighth-grader Curtis Maier for the boys, the Green Wave are in no need of a long-distance plan.

Merritt, an eighth grader as well, placed third in the 1,600-meter at 7:29 at South State and Maier’s time of 12:34 was good enough for fourth place in the two-mile on the boys’ side.

&uot;I like running in events longer than just sprints because I’m not quite fast enough,&uot; said Maier, who started out in the mile. &uot;But I’m able to handle long distances real well.&uot;

Kenda, who ran to victory in 15:01 last weekend, said the monotonous two-mile can lull her to sleep.

However, when she hears the clangity-clang signaling the bell or final lap, she comes to full attention and powers to the finish line.

&uot;You know who your sprinters are on the first day because they are fast, but you have to pick the ones out who have incredible endurances to run distance,&uot; said Brumfield, whose daughter Kristina is a sprinter for Cathedral.

Out of high school Brumfield was set to attend Ole Miss on a track scholarship in 1968. Before the year began the Rebel track coach left for another school and Brumfield was left to pick up the pieces.

DSU head track coach O.W. Riley, who was looking to build a program that could go &uot;undefeated&uot; for four years, convinced Brumfield, who ran the mile, two-mile and six-mile, and two other Ole Miss runners to transfer.

Another spontaneous chain of events led the Isle of Capri maintenance manager to coaching duties. With a Natchez-Adams Girls Softball League team to coach and 9-5 duties for the Isle, Brumfield hopes he can help the Green Wave’s program out next season.

&uot;My bosses at Isle of Capri have said whatever I’m doing with the community to keep doing it,&uot; he said. &uot;If they feel the same way next year, I’d love to be a part of it.&uot;

After having a surprising 40 athletes try out for the season, Brumfield’s numbers were reduced to 30 when involvement in multiple sports took precedent.

Still Brumfield is pleased with the efficiency and success the 30 that remained have been able to experience and what it could mean for future years.

&uot;No one has gone down with injuries, so that lets you know everybody made the effort to get in good shape,&uot; Brumfield said. &uot;There is nothing better to see young men and women excelling and accomplishing something in track. It builds character, discipline &045; the whole works.

&uot;We’ve accomplished more than I ever expected. I thought we would go to South State, but I didn’t think we would qualify this many for state.