MACON — This season was about continuing a tradition for Charles Hughes.
As part of a family of accomplished track and field athletes, Hughes wanted to end his high school career as a champion. He also wanted to establish a foundation for the next step of his athletic career.
Tradeshia Conner also wanted to create a legacy.
With two more years remaining at Noxubee County High School, Conner knows she should have plenty of opportunities to win state championships. This season, though, Conner wanted to help senior teammate Gabrielle Rice go out a champion.
Hughes and Conner and the rest of the Noxubee County High girls 4×100-meter relay team accomplished their goals last week at the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 4A State meet at Pearl.
Hughes won the 110 hurdles (14.78 seconds), finished second in the 300 hurdles (40.98) and took fourth in the pole vault (11 feet, 6 inches), while the 4×100 team of Rice, Aliysha Jones, Moesha Brandy, and Conner finished first with a time of 48.98.
For their efforts, Hughes and the girls 4×100 team are The Dispatch’s co-Prep Players of the Week.
“He has been strong all year,” Noxubee County track and field coach Tyrone Shorter said. “He has been dominant in track for a long time.”
This season, Shorter feels Hughes, a transfer from Starkville High, became more aggressive thanks to his being a member of the school’s Class 4A state champion football team. A wide receiver, Hughes was coming back from knee surgery in July and said he worked his way back to 100 percent for much of the football season. By the time track and field season materialized, Hughes said he felt 100 percent thanks to hard work in the weight room and plenty of squats.
Even though Hughes didn’t accomplish his goal and break the state record in the 110 hurdles at the state meet, he came away with plenty of rewards. His times of 15.2, 14.91, and 15.24 swept the Class 4A, Division 4, the Region 1, and the North State titles in the 110. He also won the 300 hurdles and finished second and third in that event in the lead-up to the Class 4A meet.
“The biggest thing was me working on my aggression,” Hughes said when asked how his role with the football team helped him in track and field. “I need to be more aggressive in everything I had to do.”
Hughes’ time of 14.55 at the Mississippi State University High School Invitational on March 16 helped build his confidence that he could crack the 14-second barrier this season. Although he didn’t do that and admitted he was disappointed he didn’t run a faster time in the 110 at the state meet, Hughes feels he took another step in his development as a hurdler. At 6-foot-3, 180 pounds, Hughes will follow in the footsteps of his mother and father and sister and brother and attend Alcorn State University in the fall, where he will try to earn playing time on the football team and track and field team.
“I believe I have a lot of room for improvement,” Hughes said. “I wasn’t in the weight room this year like I should have been (because of his knee surgery). Coach Shorter helped me out a lot on the football field and in the weight room. I know in my mind how hard I need to work and how I have to push myself.”
Hughes joked he can hear Shorter’s voice even when the coach isn’t there. He even imagines Shorter chastising him in a motivational way by saying, “Are you going to stay skinny all of your life?” Hughes smiled at the thought of Shorter’s imagined comments and realized the light-hearted comments were designed to push him to realize his potential.
“I am blessed and so glad he decided to come here the last two years of his career,” Shorter said. “He has been a great addition for the football team and the track and field team. He was our MVP in track.
“He is a very hard worker and a very smart kid. He also has a very good work ethic, and I think once he gets stronger it is going to make him a better track runner and a better football player because he knows a lot in both sports. There is no telling where his potential is going to take him in both sports. If he works a little harder, one day you might see him in the Olympics running track or on Sunday (in the NFL).”
Hughes intends to do everything he can to realize that high praise. With a father, Nathaniel, a mother, Gwendolyn, a sister, Morgandy, and a brother, Nate, who all competed in a variety of events in their career at Alcorn State, Charles Hughes knows he has tough acts to follow, but he is up for the challenge.
The 4×100 team also isn’t going to settled for just one title.
Shorter said Conner, who was competing in four events, including the 100, came to him early in the season and told him she wanted to go back to being a member of the 4×100 relay team. Shorter was surprised by the move, but he was willing to let Conner make the move because it was an unselfish act made to help send Rice, the only senior on the relay team, out a champion.
“They were together pretty much all year,” Shorter said. “What made the team really strong is we knew they had a chance to win state. They wanted to send Gabrielle Rice out with a gold medal, and I thought it was classy of them to want to do that.”
The 4×100 team stayed on course leading up to the Class 4A meet by finishing first at the District 4 meet (52.11) and the Region 2 meet (52.00). The team took second at the North State meet (51.44) and then rallied for a victory.
“We always wanted to do it and we had one more chance to do it,” Conner said of the chance to win a state title. “We had to get it for (Rice). I believed in my teammates and believed they were going to do their thing.”
The confidence the team members shared came from the fact they were all close together in times. Although Conner, Brandy, and Jones believe Rice is the fastest member of the team, not of them worried about that or the order they ran in the relay because they stayed true to their focus of getting a championship for their teammate.
“I felt good because we had the old team back and we love Gabrielle,” Brandy said. “Ou motivation was we needed to get her a ring because she has been talking about it since she got on the track.”
Next season, the the sophomores will be juniors and Rice will have moved on, but that doesn’t mean Conner, Brandy, and Jones are going to be satisfied with one state title in a team event. They hope to accomplish even bigger goals.
“We want (to win another 4×100 title), and we know we’re going to have to do a little more,” Conner said. “Not only do we want to win one event, we also want to win more than one event and win the whole thing as a team.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.