But Appalachia’s ace athlete is learning that there are high expectations that accompany the business of being himself.
In Saturday’s VHSL Group A track and field championships at Radford University, Stuart became the first Lonesome Pine District athlete to win a state title in the 110 hurdles since Justin Hamilton did it for Clintwood.
After qualifying with a 15.63, Stuart won the finals with a shining time of 14.91. He’s still quite a ways from unseating Julius Jones’ state-record 14.02 clocked in 1999. But breaking into the 14s — and winning — is inherently a good thing.
“In the prelims I had a bad start, but I finished first in my heat,” said Stuart, a junior who also collected a third in the long jump with his leap of 22-6. “I’m glad I got another chance in the finals. I’m happy about it. It’s my fastest time all year.”
Stuart, whose basketball skills have hitherto been the chief source of his statewide athletic notoriety, had habituated himself to thinking of track and field — and the state meet in particular — as a pure fun event with little pressure. When he said as much during this year’s Region D meet, somebody pointed something out that, up until then, he hadn’t realized.
“I said the best thing about the state is that you don’t have to worry about anything because you know you’re going to get burned. And then somebody told me that I was ranked first in the state in the hurdles,” Stuart said. “I said, ‘Oh no! Now I’ve got to practice! I’ve got to get serious!’ So I practiced during the week and got better at it.”
After finishing second in the 400 last year, Coeburn sophomore phenom Lindsay Lawson had her heart set on collecting a state title this spring. It didn’t happen. She finished fourth with a 61.46. After playing two consecutive 10-inning softball games as a first baseman with the Region D champion Lady Blue Knights, Lawson was basically out of gas.
“We played Thursday and Friday, and last night’s game was over with at 9:45 and we came up last night. It’s really hot, and it’s been a long day,” said the disappointed youngster. “I’m going to practice a lot harder next year. And try to eat better.”
Her meet ended on a good note, however, when she scored another point for Coeburn after joining Hannah Light, Peyton Dockery and Samantha Cole for an eighth-place finish in the 4x400 relay. For most of the season, Lawson opted to run in the 200 instead of the meet-ending relay.
Virginia High harrier Brian Brillhart collected a state title for the Bearcats, winning the 3,200 in a time of 10:08.33. Lebanon’s John Ulrich took third (10:12.11).
Twin Valley’s Katie Jo Lester, meanwhile, surprised herself by winning the girls’ high jump with a leap of 5-3. She seemed equally pleased with her fifth-place finish in the 300 hurdles (50.06).
“I’m pretty happy about what I did. Last year and my freshman year, I was just glad to be at state and having fun. This year I’ve worked harder and I’ve been more competitive,” said Lester, who is already on basketball recruiters’ radar.
Lebanon — which finished fifth overall in the boys’ meet (31 points) — got a second-place finish in the 400 from senior BMOC Andrew Jesse, who may be headed to Milligan College next fall for baseball and indoor track.
“I came in ranked 13th. I was in the second heat and I was just saying, it’s my last hoorah at Lebanon, so I’m going to go as hard as I can,” said Jessee, who logged a 50.09 just behind Floyd County’s Justin Harris (49.84). “I looked over (at the clock) and I was crossing over on 49 and I’ve never run below a 51. I knew I got first or second.”
Kaylynn Cobb had a productive day for the Pioneers, taking fourth in the 100 (11.07) and third in the 200 (22.25). Teammate Bradley Rasnake finished fourth in the 1,600 (4:38.86). Cobb and Jessee joined Nick Smith and Chris Belcher for an eighth-place finish in the 4x100 relay (44.74).
Lee High was the next most successful Region D boys team in the meet. Dylan Anders finished seventh in the 200 (22.80) and Tyler Graham was seventh in the 100 (11.16). Jesse Parsons took eighth in the high jump (6-2), also joining Anders, Graham and Brandon Robbins for the second-place 4x100 relay team (43.98). Graham joined Craig Copeland, Corey Burgan, and Caleb Bledsoe for a seventh-place showing in the 4x400 (3:38.57).
Powell Valley’s Taylor Barton finished fourth in the discus (147 8½) and teammate Tre Mullins placed fourth in the 800 (2:02.48). Gate City’s Freddie Hicks finished fourth in the 300 hurdles (41.90), also picking up a seventh in the 110s (16.23).
In other events, Twin Springs’ Morgan Weddle took fifth in the 1,600 (5:33.08) and collected seventh in the 800 (2:33.59). J.I. Burton’s Sheniqua Woods placed eighth in the long jump (15-4) and seventh in the 100 hurdles (18.40). Gate City freshman Santana Bishop finished eighth in the 400 (62.49), and Lee High junior Morgan Miles took eighth in the 300 hurdles (50.97). Lebanon’s Addie Coleman was fifth in the high jump (5-0) and teammate Tabby Arwood sixth in the 1,600 (5:33.21).