October 24, 2021

A ‘Berry’ Good Day: 3 Braves etch names into local sports history

(Rome, GA) — It was expected that the Heard County High School track team might see ONE of its members win the first individual State Track Championship since 2003 this week — but it was never imagined that they would actually witness THREE.

2019 GHSA Class AA Individual State Champions (L-R): Bailey Scarborough, Zaylin Wood, Beth Taylor

Although unexpected, that is just what took place at the GHSA Class AA State Championships at Berry College in Rome where three Brave Track & Field athletes captured state titles over the span of just a few hours Friday.

The performances by the triumphant trio of Braves almost doubled the previous amount of individual championships claimed by all other track athletes in Heard County High School history.

Entering the 2019 State Meet, the Braves had fielded only four individual state champions in school history including Ricky Zackery (Two Mile Run in 1971), Arthez Woodruff (100 Yard Dash in 1982), Jemeka Tucker (Shot Put in 1986), and Shareetha Jackson (Shot Put in 2003).

The very first title in over 16 years came from sophomore Beth Taylor in the Discus Throw competition.

Taylor entered the event with some experience after finishing fourth at the 2018 State Meet, but was still considered to be a huge underdog to defending Class AA State Champion Shakira Ardister of Elbert County.

Taylor had battled the Elbert County senior at the sectional meet in Bremen a few weeks ago with Ardister coming out on top with a throw of 134’6 while Taylor finished second at 117’1 — just short of her personal best, but still around 17 feet behind the defending champion.

Ardister won state in 2018 at Albany with a throw of 128’0″ while Taylor’s fourth place throw as just a freshman was marked at a distance of 107’0″.

Taylor entered this year as the smallest competitor in stature but with a reputation as one of the hardest working Heard County athletes in the weight room as well as on the training field. This work ethic proved beneficial as she electrified those in attendance with an opening throw of 127’10” on her first throw Friday afternoon to set a mark that would not be eclipsed by anyone else during the event.

The throw eclipsed Beth’s personal best by over ten feet as she ran away with the State Championship finishing over six feet ahead of second place finisher senior Kamaya Foster from Lamar County (121’05”).

Ardister struggled to find the same rhythm she had at sectionals and walked away with a fourth place finish (116’02”) just ahead of third place finisher junior Daneshia Wooten (119’09”) from Jeff Davis High School in south Georgia.

Beth Taylor also placed 13th in the girls Shot Put that was won by Ardister.

The Braves’ next state title came in extremely exciting fashion when senior Zaylin Wood launched the Shot Put 55 feet, 2 and 1/4 inches on his very last throw to steal the title from Toombs County junior Caleb Hartley who had set the pace with a throw of 55 feet and 0.5 inches earlier in the round.

Wood dug deep to find the championship on his very last effort after scratching his first two throws in the finals. The State Championship was the second of back-to-back titles for Wood who also won the Class A crown in 2018.

The championship appropriately closed out a stellar senior athletics campaign for Wood who also won a state football title last December and was the overall State Weightlifting Champion for all classes in March.

Following his upcoming graduation, the 6’2′ 275 pound Wood is headed to Middle Tennessee State University to play football.

The third state title came from another unexpected source in sophomore Bailey Scarborough in the Pole Vault competition.

The event was originally slated for Thursday afternoon but was postponed due to heavy rains and rescheduled for Saturday morning.

With more heavy rains and Thunderstorms anticipated for Saturday, the decision was made by meet officials around lunchtime Friday and signed off on by the coaches to push it up to late Friday evening following the completion of the 7A Pole Vault.

7th Place medal Winner Mack Smith

The Class AA field didn’t make the first jump until around 9:00 PM with the stadium virtually empty upon the completion of all of the other events.

The small crowd of Class AA Pole Vault fans took advantage of a rare close-up view as the event got underway and the Braves were all rooting hard for Bailey Scarborough.

Like Taylor, Scarborough came in with some momentum after placing fourth in the event at Albany last year as a freshman.

When the dust settled, three vaulters ended the night with a successful final jump of 12’6″ but Scarborough won the championship due to completing the jump on his first try with no misses at the height.

Scarborough finished ahead of fellow Region 5-AA jumper senior Mitchell Marcuz of Bremen. Also completing the 12’6″ jump was junior Sean Hall from Banks County.

Two other Braves completed their respective Heard High track careers by earning their first ever state medals as seniors. Mack Smith won his with a seventh place finish in the Discus Throw and Jartavious “JT” Thornton scored his medal with a seventh place finish in the 300 Meter Hurdles Saturday afternoon.

Senior Tray Dunson struggled with running on a very wet track Thursday afternoon and did not make the finals in the 100 or 200 Meter Dashes. Junior Tori Caldwell competed in the High Jump and placed 11th while senior Miranda Harbin finished just out of medal contention with a ninth place finish in the 100 Meter Hurdles.

7th Place Medal Winner “JT” Thornton (R) with Coach Cory Shelnutt

As a team the Braves finished in seventh place out of the 40 represented teams with 24 points while the girls finished in 18th place out of 43 teams with 10 points.

Head track coach Cory Paul Shelnutt was very proud of his kids and the effort to turn such a huge corner as a program.

“The old way of thinking was as long as you were breaking school records you were moving the program forward,” said Shelnutt after the meet. “But to now change that entire mindset to not only school records being broken but with some of our kids ending up No. 1 in Class AA — now you’re chasing state titles as opposed to just Heard County titles.”

Shelnutt was very complimentary and appreciative for the hard work put in by assistant coaches Tyler Napier and Kayla Ousley.

Stay tuned to HeardCitizen.com this week for further details on the three State Championship winners.

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