Middle school track and field athletes make impact for NHS
NATCHEZ — From 1999 to 2005, Larry Wesley sat atop the state of Mississippi with five consecutive state championships in track and field. His formula — developing talent.
Now, he hopes to once again reach into his bag of tricks and bring along a core of junior high athletes to once again bring Natchez to the top.
Isrealle Belcher, Taliyah Harding, Kynnadi Robinson, Jade Fleming, Kierra Logan and Shekinah Hoskins are all in junior high, but the six have all competed for Natchez High this varsity season.
“The girls have made a big difference and have been running with the varsity team since August,” Wesley said. “They didn’t have a chance to grow with the middle school, so they had to grow with me.”
Wesley said he picked up the idea after going to the state track meet and realizing how many young athletes were participating.
“I saw a lot of girls in the seventh and eighth grade running and beating the high school competitors,” he said, “I was thinking, ‘What in the world is going on?’”
Wesley admitted that early on, tossing them into varsity competition wasn’t the easiest but is happy with how they responded.
“I was skeptical at first because I didn’t know how they would handle the pressure,” he said. “But they have stayed with me up until this point.”
The group consists of three sprinters, two distance runners and a pole-vaulter.
Belcher, a seventh-grade 800 and 1600 meter runner said she was ready when her name was called to move up.
“I wanted to do it,” she said of making the move to varsity. “I knew I was doing good in middle school and when coach said I was good enough to be with the high school, I was ready for it.”
For Fleming, it came as a surprise.
“I was surprised because I didn’t know I could make it this far, this fast,” she said.
Others, like Hoskins, an eighth grader who runs hurdles, had a few nerves.
“I was surprised,” she said. “At first I had doubts like what if I fall in front of people.”
Another potential bump in the road was meshing with high school athletes, but Harding, a seventh grade distance runner, said it wasn’t hard.
“They treat us like we are their little sisters,” she said. “They motivate us as well.”
Logan echoed the feelings.
“They push us and holler sometimes, but it is so we can do what we have to do,” she said.
Robinson, a seventh grade pole-vaulter, potentially had the biggest challenge ahead of her — conquering an event she didn’t have much experience with.
“Coach Wesley said he needed another vaulter because one is graduating,” she said. “It has been fun practicing, but it is really hard because you have to pull yourself up and have the arm muscles to do it.”
With youth, comes a challenge, but Wesley said it is one he is willing to take because he believes success is right around the corner.
“I hope we continue to be successful,” he said. “Next year we should just keep getting better.”
The girls also feel the potential is there.
“This has been fun and we gain a lot of experience from it,” Hoskins said. “The future is going to be great.”
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