Prep Track: North Rowan boys win another 1A state title
By Mike London
GREENSBORO — After competing in the shot put, Tydler Watlington happily pointed two long fingers at coach Robert Steele, who was seated in the bleachers 50 yards away.
Watlington wasn’t holding up an old-school peace sign, he was conveying the information to his coach that he’d finished second with a season-best throw (47 feet, 6 inches) and that eight more huge points had been added to the Cavaliers’ column.
Watlington and high jumper Malik Ford, who soared a surprising 6-4, earned silver medals while competing in the shadow of a billboard at North Carolina A&T that read, appropriately enough, “I spy something green.”
Watlington and Ford were part of North’s devastating early surge in the field events, and the Cavs held off a charge by North Carolina School of Science & Math to repeat as 1A state champs.
A lot of what happened right for North on Saturday was meet MVP Johnny Oglesby, who accounted for 38 points with three golds and a silver, but it wasn’t like even Oglesby could do it by himself. North clawed for just enough points to hold off Science & Math 79-75 in a two-horse race.
“Track coaches can almost always figure out who’s going to win a meet the night before,” Steele said. “But, honestly, this one was too close to call. There were two great 1A teams here today. One of them was going to win. The other was going to compete its hardest and still finish a little bit behind.”
North had no margin for error. If, for instance. Neegbeah Reeves, who placed fourth in the 1600, had switched finishes with Science & Math’s Robert Baraldi, who was sixth, the day would’ve ended 77-77.
It was that tight.
“Coach gave us our goals on Friday and everyone knew they needed to live up to those expectations,” said Watlington, who also contributed a seventh in the discus. “All of us, especially the seniors, wanted to do this for Coach Steele. We know how much he loves it.”
Ford isn’t a senior, but he literally rose to the occasion. He strolled to the high jump pit as one of a cluster of jumpers who had cleared 6 feet, but 6-2 was no obstacle and neither was 6-4. On an ordinary 1A day, he would’ve won gold, but Hendersonville’s Grant Rivers notched 6-6.
“Second place wasn’t what I wanted, but it was still the best I’ve felt all year and the best I’ve jumped all year,” Ford said. “Last year, I jumped 5-10 because I was thinking too much. Today, I tried hard not to think and did a lot better.”
Oglesby did what was expected.
The key moment for him came early on in the long jump. He looked stunned when Mount Airy’s Joktan Moore hit a mark of 22-4, but Oglesby, with Steele urging him on from the bleachers, soared 22-6 to nip Moore for the gold.
“When he got that 22-4, I was like, ‘Oh, nooo,’ ” Oglesby said. “I kind of shocked myself that I still won that event.”
Oglesby politely applauded for himself as he climbed from the pit, and no one blamed him. After that, he was on his way. He defended all three of his state titles, but there was one anxious moment when he briefly pulled up lame during his second-place effort in the triple jump.
“My leg was a little sore — not a big thing at all,” he explained.
Apparently he was OK. He was a blur in winning the 300 hurdles in 39.08 seconds and the 110 hurdles in 14.40.
His teammates chipped in. Corey Angle scored five points in the jumps. Pierre Givens added three in the triple. The 4×400, 4×200 and 4×100 relay units pieced together 10 critical points. The 4×200 crew of Xavier Robinson, Daylon Gray, Eric Gadson and Jareke Chambers had the best finish. They placed fourth.
It came down to the next-to-last event — the 3200. Science & Math had three strong entries, and North, which was trying to hold a 78-47 lead had none. Had Science & Math runners gone 1-2-3, it would suddenly have been 78-71, but the Cavaliers got help from Mitchell and Chatham Central. They limited the Unicorns to a 1-3-5 finish and 20 points.
That meant North led 78-67, and with only the 4×400 left on the docket, the Cavaliers owned another state title — their 21st under Steele (counting boys and girls, indoor and outdoor) since 1990.
“Our kids just keep improving, and we found a way to get it done today,” Steele said. “We were focused, we were determined, and we wanted it. Not that winning is everything, but it does feel good.”