A first-place finish for the boys and a second-place finish for girls led the Cardinals to a No. 1 overall championship.
If you look up the word “dominate,” you just may find a photo of the Ocoee Middle track team following its Wednesday, May 8, performance at the OCPS Middle School Championship.
There, the Cardinals ran circles around the other 49 total schools (25 in the boys division, and 24 in the girls division) at the event, held on the new track at Boone High School. The boys took home first place, while the girls took second.
Their combined total also was good enough to take first overall among all schools.
“We did something remarkable that had never been done at our school before, and I was like, ‘Wow,’” said boys coach and Athletic Director Marcus Spencer. “They were so excited.”
On the boy’s side, the Cardinals had runners place in just about every single event and some in first and second. That was the case in the 100m — in which Javon Saint-Flina finished first and teammate Jayden Gillens finished second — and in the 200m (with Gillens finishing first and Saint-Flina second). Other first-place finishes included the 4x100m relay.
Going into Wednesday night’s meet, there was a real belief that after their four-meet season, the Cardinals could do something special.
But for a lot of the runners on the team, they just didn’t know how special the afternoon was going to be.
“All the hard work paid off, and we came out on top,” Saint-Flina said. “I didn’t expect us to do this well, but we went out there and dominated them.”
That kind of winning was a highlight for the runners on the team, but there was one thing that really stood out to athletes such as Gillens.
“The way the crowed cheered us on,” Gillens said. “And people coming up to us saying that we were fast.”
For the girls team, the Cardinals found success in numerous events to grab the silver medal.
Led by runners such as Micah Hannah and Breauna Thomas, the Cardinals earned medals everywhere, including gold in the 4x400m relay, 800m and 1,600m. The two golds in the 800m and 1,600m came by way of excellent running from Hannah.
Seeing the girls team do so well at the county championship was, in Spencer’s words, a welcomed surprise.
“If you had told me at the beginning of the year that our girls would have come in second, I would have said, ‘I don’t know,’” Spencer said. “Our first track meet, our girls lost to the team who won county — Robinswood Middle — but I can actually say they put up a fight and put up the second most points.”
Since the start of the regular season in early March, it’s been a process of learning and growing for both the girls and boys teams. The maturation of young athletes is one of the most rewarding aspects of coaching, Spencer said.
“From where those guys came from, since I started knowing them — since sixth grade — I’ve gotten to see them grow,” Spencer said. “That’s the one great thing about the job — to get to see them grow and see them put in the work. The sky is the limit.”
And although there is usually only about 25 or so runners on most teams, for the boys, there are around 50 runners who play a variety of roles. Some are distance runners, while others are sprinters or field athletes.
It may sound like a lot, but for Spencer, it’s a way of letting young student-athletes get a taste of what it is like to compete and be on a team. It’s a way of building character and fitness in a student.
But most of all, it’s the simple act of giving kids a shot at doing something that they otherwise may never get a chance to do again.
“I give other kids opportunities, who will probably never play another sport or never run track again in their life,” Spencer said. “It’s middle school — kids come out and you just try to give them opportunity. Running for your school — there is nothing like it.”