ROCKVILLE – After mourning the deaths of their fallen teammates in the same school year, a high school’s track and field team overcame grief to become state champions in the boys’ division and runners-up in the girls’ division on May 25.
The Northwest High School boys’ track team made Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) history when they became the 4A outdoor state champions for the fourth consecutive year.
The Jaguars won first place with 79 points, as Dulaney High School were the runners-up, with 60 points. Severna Park High School placed third, and Eleanor Roosevelt High placed fourth, with 37 points and 36 points, respectively.
However, unlike with the first three titles, Northwest carried the emotions of a school dealing with the loss of two former track athletes in the past year.
In October, Northwest senior Josh Snyder died in a car crash. Snyder had participated in track and field during his sophomore year and competed for the Jaguars in cross-country for three years.
Then, on April 16, Tray Dawkins, former star hurdler from the class of 2018, was killed in a drive-by shooting in Germantown, Montgomery County Police reported. He had been a dedicated member of the Jaguars track team.
Head Coach Robert Youngblood had two bracelets made to remember Snyder and Dawkins, an orange one for Snyder — based on his childhood favorite color — and a second red one for Dawkins. Some members say they never take their bracelets off. Senior Clarence Foote-Talley said he does not remove his bracelets, even to take a shower. He said wearing the bracelets reminds him to not give up when the going gets tough.
“So then, like, (when Josh died) people were just like, ‘We’re all running for a new purpose now,’ and then once Tray died then it was like, ‘We’re doing it for them,’” Whitney Snyder, Josh’s twin sister and a fellow Northwest pole vaulter, said.
In the state finals, the top four teams in the boys’ 4×100-meter relay finished in a six-tenths-of-a-second spread, with the Jaguars finishing in first place with 42.3 seconds. Yannick Gouanette, Isaiah Bishop, Clarence Foote-Talley and Anthony “AJ” Woods formed the winning relay team; all four are seniors. The Eleanor Roosevelt team finished 0.1 seconds later in second place (42.4).
While the Jaguars did not meet their personal goal for the 4×100-meter relay, Foote-Talley said he was content with the team’s performance. “Messed up” baton exchanges from one runner to the next may have hurt the team’s time, the senior said.
“We’re just glad we won, and we finished our senior year off strong,” Foote-Talley said.
The state championship marked the first time all season that the senior quartet competed together on a 4×100-meter relay team.
During the indoor state championship, Foote-Talley did not compete in the relay because he was injured. The team performed poorly during the indoor state championship and did not place in the top three.
Northwest had three athletes score points in the high jump. Delaney senior Josiah Nilsen won with a jump of 6-feet-9 inches, followed by Foote-Talley in second (6 feet, 6 inches). Northwest freshman Darius Lorfils placed fourth (6 feet, 2 inches).
Junior Bryce Middleton placed in sixth with a 6-feet-even jump but committed fewer fouls. Northwest walked away with 16 points from the high jump.
Foote-Talley beat his own record from the 2018 outdoor 4A state championships — 50 feet, 3.5 inches — to win the boys’ triple jump, clearing 51 feet, 10.5 inches. While some of his teammates were motivated by the deaths of their late teammates, Foote-Talley honored them differently.
“I don’t think Josh or Tray would want us to grieve over their loss. We went out there and did everything for them,” said Foote-Talley. “I personally just tried to think about the good times I had with both of them.”
Meanwhile, in the girls’ 4A states overall scores, Urbana High School became the 2019 outdoor state champions, with a score of 68.5 points. Northwest (56 points) took runners-up, beating Charles H. Flowers (third, 53.5) by 2.5 points.
Snyder said the team’s four captains made a special effort this school year to bring members of the girls’ team closer together. The team captains organized some extra team-bonding activities for the girls leading up to the state meets including having a team sleepover before the indoor state championship.
The idea behind completing the bonding activities was to get the girls to talk to each other outside of practice. Cliques became less visible, and members would cheer for and encourage teammates in other events when not competing themselves, Snyder said.
“It helped that everyone was … It seemed like they were trying to run toward a team goal, not just a self-goal,” said Snyder.
Snyder was injured during an indoor track meet this year and spent the rest of the year acting as a coach for the remaining pole vaulters. Youngblood said her presence during pole vault practices and at track meets was crucial to the team’s success.
“She was our knight in shining armor,” said Youngblood. “She was instrumental.”
Senior Lady Jaguar Cori Brown won the girls’ long jump by 1 inch, jumping 18 feet, 1 inch. Clarksburg senior Brooke Shields took second place (18 feet even).
However, one of the biggest performances was by Taylor Wright, a senior and another one of the team captains, who won four individual state titles for the Lady Jaguars. She became state triple-jump champ, winning by nearly 3 feet, with a leap of 41 feet, one-half inch. Wright clocked 12.29 seconds to win the girls’ 100-meter dash finals, was victorious in the 200-meter dash (25.26 seconds) and conquered the high jump (5 feet, eight inches).
An unexpected result was the Lady Jaguars’ third-place finish in the 4×200-meter relay, Youngblood said. Quince Orchard was the 4×200-meter relay champions, finishing with a time of 1 minute, 41.4 seconds.
The Lady Jaguars followed 0.8 seconds later in third place (1:42.4 minutes), preceded by Gaithersburg in second (1:41.6). Seniors Brown and Agi Mboob and juniors Annabel Dulaney and Alice Adarkwa comprised the Northwest team.