October 22, 2020

Disqualified effort by injured runner inspires track team

(Franklin, GA) — After straining her right quadriceps muscle in  the first leg of the 4 x 100 relay during the Region 5-AA Championship finals last Thursday, Macey Freeman knew her season and high school track career would end that day.

Despite that knowledge, the senior Lady Brave would still go onto to make a huge impact on her team that day when she stepped up to the plate to try and help her squad win a region championship.

Macey had qualified for the finals of the 400 Meter Dash two days before the finals, but as the race approached just a few events after her injury it was assumed she would be unable to compete.

Seeing that her teammates were in a very close battle with the Lamar County Trojans, however, Macey decided she would give it a go even realizing that the best she might be able to do was a last place finish which would earn the team just a single point in the standings.

After consulting with her coach Cory Shelnutt, her parents, and Brave trainer Megan Anthony to rule out the possibility of further damage to the muscle, Macey decided to give it a shot and try to fight through the pain to earn that very important point for the Lady Braves.

In a sport where the team success is often overshadowed by individual accomplishments, Coach Shelnutt thinks Macey’s decision to race may leave a lasting impact on the younger athletes even after she graduates in a few weeks.

“In that moment, Macey really took ownership of her role as a senior and as a leader on our team,” said Shelnutt after the meet. “A lot of times the roles of seniors and upperclassmen is not unlike the role of a wise old man — to be a good example for the underclassmen. You just hope that these younger athletes can feed off of something like that going forward.”

Macey says the decision to race and try to get that point for her team was an an easy one to make.

“I have spent countless days with my team and coaches and even though I knew I couldn’t move on individually that one point I could have gotten for just finishing the race could have helped in some way,” said Freeman. “I have loved every minute of being part of that track team! I wanted to do the race for them and they always supported me no matter what.”

Senior Macey Freeman with trainer Megan Anthony (L) and coach Cory Shelnutt (R) at the region finals (Photo: Jeff Fluevog)

Senior Lady Brave runner Macey Freeman with trainer Megan Anthony (L) and coach Cory Shelnutt (R) at the region finals (Photo: Jeff Fluevog)

As the race ensued, Macey struggled to finish even falling to the track a couple of times, but was ultimately able to cross the finish line far behind the pack and earn the Lady Braves that important point — or so it appeared at the time.

After several more events had passed, Lamar County filed a protest claiming that Macey had received assistance getting to her feet by her teammates after she had fallen on the track.

A conference between all the head coaches took place to discuss the grievance and halted the meet for almost a half hour before the teams voted to disqualify Macey’s hard-fought finish.

Shelnutt feels the decision was unjustified based on his interpretation of the rule and is still not sure that her teammates actually ever touched her, but ultimately the point was taken away and the Trojans went on to win the Region 5-AA crown by 19 points.

Even though the point would have made no difference in the final standings anyway, the coach just hopes that his younger athletes will remember Macey’s effort as they look to build on a strong second place finish next season.

Shelnutt is looking to build a strong track program at Heard that can rival the success of the school’s other big programs over the past decade, but he faces numerous challenges at a small school where many of the best athletes have begun to specialize in their respective sports and no longer participate in the track program.

Despite those challenges in luring the elite athletes back to the track, Shelnutt believes the key to building a winning program is in the numbers of athletes and having kids willing to fight for the smallest of points just as Macey did.

“I would rather have 10 athletes like Macey any day that are willing to scratch and claw for every point — that will be the key to us building success in the future,” says Shelnutt. “That kind of resolve is what being a Heard County Brave is all about.”

Freeman says she enjoyed her senior season perhaps more than any other despite the heart-breaking end.

“Coach Shelnutt never talked to us as if it were an individual sport — he always talked to us like we all had jobs and we all had to get our job done in order for us to win as a team. He made us run together, stretch together and made us all very sore together,” said Freeman. “Once you go through all of these things for months with the same people you form relationships and we formed a great team!”

Freeman’s memorable week ended on a very positive note when she was selected as queen of her senior prom.

Macey’s teammates who did advance to the state sectionals individually will compete this weekend at Gordon High School in Calhoun, GA.

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