The top individual honors on the Ledger-Enquirer’s All-Bi-City 2018 Cross Country Teams go to a mix of repeat and new winners.
The Girls Runner of the Year is Harris County senior Devin Helms, who methodically progressed to this level of excellence: She didn’t participate in cross country as a freshman; she earned honorable mention as a sophomore; she earned was a first-team selection as a junior.
The Boys Runner of the Year is Smiths Station senior Silas Franklin. It’s the third straight year he has had at least a share of the honor but the first year he has it all to himself. He was a first-team selection as a freshman, then co-Boys Runner of the Year as a sophomore and as a junior.
The Girls Coach of the Year is Danielle McCoy of Columbus. It’s the fifth straight year she has received the honor.
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The Boys Co-Coaches of the Year are Teresa Dean of Northside and Mark Erb of Brookstone. Both are first-time winners.
Helms’ best time this season was 19:11.86 Sept. 18 on the 5K course at Shaw High School, finishing first out of 70 girls, including teams from Columbus, Northside, Bremen and Westover high schools.
At the Region 1-AAAAA championships Oct 25 at Huntington Middle School in Warner Robins, she finished third (19:49.06) out of 30 girls.
At the state championships Nov. 2 at Carrollton High School, she finished 15th (20:37.50) out of 199 runners in the Class AAAAA girls race. Last year, she was 40th (21:44.24).
“I was very proud of finishing 15th in the state,” she said. “I wanted to be top 10, but finishing with that time and placement was a big accomplishment.”
As a freshman, Helms was on the shotgun team — not the cross country team — when Harris County coach Mindy Johnson met her during that year’s spring semester. Helms was in Johnson’s personal fitness class and impressed the coach with her running.
“She was just a natural,” Johnson said. “I kind of recruited her. I just had to have her on the team. . . . She said yes right away.”
Johnson marveled at the progress Helms made in three seasons on the team.
“She went above and beyond our program,” Johnson said. “She connected with other coaches in the community and took to running year round. . . . She has a kind of energy about her. She’s serious. She doesn’t play around. She has a desire to improve each time. She wants to reach her goal and set a new goal.”
The key, Helms said, has been her dedication. She thanked the people who helped her train and learn to improve the mental part of running in addition to the physical.
“It’s just going out every day and working,” she said, “pushing myself to the limit, knowing what it takes to run at the collegiate level.”
Helms accepted a scholarship from West Georgia. She is undecided about her major.
“The coach is really interactive with the cross country team and his motivation drew me in,” she said. “The campus is gorgeous.”
Helms is the first Harris County cross country runner to receive a college scholarship at a level as high as Division II in Johnson’s 17 years coaching the program.
Franklin was the top local finisher on either side of the Chattahoochee River at a state cross championship meets this year.
He placed third out of 175 boys in the Alabama Class 7A race, covering the 5K course at Oakville Indian Mounds Park in 15:35.60, only 11 seconds behind the winner, Vestavia Hills sophomore Ethan Strand.
Smiths Station coach Ron Peters noted Franklin’s time would have won the Class 7A state championship in four of the past five years.
And it was Franklin’s personal record time — he finished seventh (16:01) in the state last year — so he capped his high school career in style.
“That felt great,” Franklin said. “I did my PR where I needed it most.”
Peters praised Franklin’s work ethic.
“He’s blue collar,” Peters said. “He comes to practice and gives 110 percent. He’s really started to get interested in not just training but racing philosophy, how to handle different situations in a race. He has desire, dedication and discipline.”
Franklin won four of his eight races leading up to the state meet this season, and his lowest finish was 11th place. He won the 3K Smiths Station Panther Stages (9:12), the 5K Wildcat Classic in Enterprise (16:32.50), the 5K Smiths Station Invitational (16:10.61) and the Class 7A Section 2 championship in Auburn (16:14.36).
Among dozens of scholarship offers, Franklin chose Troy. He plans to sign in February and major in criminal justice. His two other finalists were Auburn-Montgomery and Alabama-Huntsville.
“It was my gut feeling,” he said, “and it’s what my heart told me to do.”
The Blue Devils won their region’s girls cross country championship for the 22nd straight year this season. McCoy has been the head coach for the past five and was named Coach of the Year each time.
But her favorite memory of this season, she said, was winning the city championship. That’s because the junior varsity runners aren’t allowed to run at the region meet.
“Actually having the entire team there to cheer and support each other and knowing everyone was there for the award presentation,” she said, “that was exciting.”
In the 29-team Class AAAA girls race at the state championships, Columbus was the highest local finisher in 12th. The Blue Devils finished 11th last year.
McCoy said she focuses on guiding the long-term program more than the current team’s performance. That means she is as interested in the middle and back of the pack as she is in her top runners. And that means she also is interested in their success beyond high school.
“You have to develop the kids for where they’re going to be, character traits you’re pulling out of them for when they’re not on the cross country course,” she said.
So she asks her athletes not just about running but also about their friends and how they feel they’re fitting into the school’s culture.
“It’s making sure we’re developing that relationship, so when something doesn’t go right, they know they can talk to you,” she said. “We can joke and have fun, but we also have to have the serious moments and the real-life moments.”
Expect her Blue Devils to have more winning moments as well. They lose only three seniors from this year’s team.
The Northside boys produced the best performance among the local teams during the Georgia High School Association cross country state championships. In the 32-team Class AAAA boys race, the Patriots finished eighth.
The three Northside seniors helped win the region title as freshmen, then had to watch the Columbus boys take home the trophy the past two years. But that order flipped again this year.
“Putting in all the work and some years falling a little bit short, to see it all pay off the way it did, that was awesome,” Dean said. “Our senior boys, they knew it was going to take more than them. They held each other accountable.”
They also accepted a female coach. Dean has been the head coach since 2012.
“Being a woman on a boys team, obviously I can’t relate to them always,” she said. “But to somehow get through to those boys, it feels nice.”
Dean noticed when she separated the boys from the girls at practice, their performance increased while their “socializing and flirting” decreased, she said.
“With boys, you just have to be more blatant and say things how they are,” she said. “I think they appreciate being more upfront. If I sugarcoat things, to them, it’s not being real. There are times they might look a little bit shocked, but it gets through to them.”
Making her first Coach of the Year honor more special, Dean said, is sharing it with Erb.
“I’ve known him for a long time,” she said. “He was at Northside the first year I started.”
That was in 2009, when Dean was the assistant coach. Erb didn’t coach cross country at Northside the one year he was there, but he did coach track, so she still appreciated him sharing running and coaching tips.
“We have a similar coaching philosophy,” Dean said, “getting out there in the summer and challenging the kids to get in the miles and work hard.”
The Brookstone boys won the city cross country championship for the first time in school history, and they dedicated the victory to Erb, who is battling Parkinson’s disease.
Then, after finishing second at the Georgia Class A private-school Area 1 meet the previous three straight years, they captured the crown.
At the state championships, Brookstone finished 10th among the 16 teams in the Class A private-school boys race.
Erb has coached track and field for 30 years and cross country for 29 years. Since moving to Columbus in 2008, he has coached track at Northside (2010 assistant), Columbus High (2011-12 head) and Brookstone (2014-16 head), and he has coached cross country at Columbus (2010 assistant, 2011 head) and at Brookstone (2013 assistant, 2017-18 head).
Now, he also is the dean of students, a social studies teacher and the grade chairman for the class of 2019 at Brookstone. But he is retiring after this school year, so this is a mighty satisfying last season.
“I’ve had a long career,” he said, “and this has been one of the highlights.”
His favorite memory of the season is winning the city championship.
“It was just so exciting,” Erb said. “I think the boys knew it was most important to me, so they made it most important to them.”
LEDGER-ENQUIRER 2018 ALL-BI-CITY CROSS COUNTRY TEAMS
Thanks to Muscogee County School District athletics director Jeff Battles for coordinating the selection process. Coaches at each high school in the Columbus area were invited to make nominations, meet to discuss the nominations and vote on the selections.
Top individual honors
Girls Runner of the Year: Harris County senior Devin Helms.
Boys Runner of the Year: Smiths Station senior Silas Franklin.
Girls Coach the Year: Danielle McCoy of Columbus.
Boys Co-Coaches of the Year: Teresa Dean of Northside and Mark Erb of Brookstone.
Girls first team
Brookstone — senior Emma Yancey; Columbus — junior Heaven Allen, senior Hannah Hutchens and senior Monica Neely; Northside — senior Olyvia Brock; Shaw — senior Kenyanna Davis; Spencer — freshman Mercedez Simon.
Girls honorable mention
Brookstone — freshman Stella Yancey; Calvary Christian — sophomore Emma Elder; Central — eighth-grader Adley Burkes, eighth-grader Abigail Garner, eighth-grader Kiley Murphy and seventh-grader Haley Wilson; Columbus — sophomore Mallie McRae and junior Frances Spikes; Harris County — junior Kambria Layman and sophomore Josie Renner; Jordan — freshman Delia Youngblood; Northside — sophomore Isabelle Snow.
Boys first team
Brookstone — senior Briggs Kalish and senior Caleb Pattillo; Calvary Christian — freshman Andrew McGinnis; Columbus — senior Andrew White; Harris County — senior Kaden Ellis; Northside — senior Jack Forbes, senior Jonathan Myrthil and junior Ben Thompson; Smiths Station — senior Chandler Moulton and junior Savian Taylor.
Boys honorable mention
Brookstone — senior Ryan Drew, senior Sid Saber and senior Noah Stenslie; ; Central — freshman Kegan Dorrill; Columbus — junior Christopher Hunter and senior Michael Williams; Hardaway — sophomore Mojes Russ; Jordan — senior Jayden Cheatham; Northside — freshman Noah Shepherd; Shaw — junior Matthew Alverson; Smiths Station — senior Tristan Breen, junior Gage Dubberly and senior Tallon Hairston; Spencer — sophomore Maurice Mahone.
Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE.