Gators grab AA state title

May 1—The Gatewood Gators brought another boys track and field state championship back to The Swamp over the weekend.

Competing at the Georgia Independent Athletic Association (GIAA) state meet at Brookstone School in Columbus, the Gatewood boys edged out Trinity Christian for the Class AA team title, 103-98. It's the third track state championship for the Gators in program history, and all have come since 2019.

Head coach Jeff Ratliff and staff each year construct a track team with a few track-focused guys while also pulling help from the Gatewood baseball and soccer teams. Depth was a major key in winning this most recent championship. The Gators had state champions in only three events and runners-up in two, but scattered throughout the meet results were a myriad of top-eight finishes good enough to add to the team's point total.

"I'm just really proud of the guys," Ratliff said. "We had a good nucleus. Some of them have been running since we ended football season. We were a solid team in the fact we were able to qualify enough kids [for state]. In track you either have to have a couple of big point-getters or you have to have a lot of those nibblers, 10 or 11 guys that are good and find a way to win like we did this past weekend."

Deciding the championship came down to the wire Saturday. It was an athlete's dream. Baseball players fantasize about coming up to bat in the last inning. Basketball players envision hitting that game-winner at the buzzer. Football players run through two-minute drill scenarios in their heads. For track athletes, it's the mile relay. The Gators trailed Trinity by three points heading into that last race also known as the 4-by-400. Four runners each run a lap, handing off the baton in between. It's an event the Gators had excelled at during the 2024 track season, losing only in the opener and at the region meet.

Gatewood actually qualified two teams for the mile relay finals where leader Trinity had only one. Again, depth was key. The first Gator team of Jack Wooten, Kaden Keiser, Jackson Lundy, and Blake Callaway won the race with a season-best time of 3:34.33. Highland Christian Academy nipped Trinity at the end to take second, and Gatewood's second team finished sixth to bolster the Gators' overall score.

"When you know you need to win the last race to win the meet and you go out and do it, you can beat your chest a little bit," Ratliff said. "It feels good."

The Gatewood boys also won the 4-by-100 relay as Jackson Hewatt, Jayden Daniel, Callaway, and Lundy combined to post a new school record time of 44.22, edging out region rival Brentwood's 44.60.

The senior Callaway had a lot of bounce in his step at the state meet. He hit a personal record to win the high jump at 6 feet, was second in the triple jump (41 feet, 8 inches), and finished third in the long jump (20 feet, 8 inches). Callaway was second in the boys high-point standings.

"Blake Callaway is an incredible talent," said Ratliff. "He had a great year of football for me. He had a great year on the basketball court, and is probably our best soccer player. He's our best guy out there on the track. He's a tremendous jumper and he can run."

Other top-four placers for the Gators included: freshman Landon Moreno, fourth in the long jump and triple jump; Jayden Daniel, second in the pole vault (10 feet, 6 inches) and fourth in the 110-meter hurdles; Jackson Lundy, fourth in the 400-meter; John VandePlanque, fourth in the 300-meter hurdles; and the relay team of VandePlanque, Wooten, Keiser, and Luke McNeill, fourth in the 4-by-800.

It was a Gatewood sweep of the 4-by-400 at state as the Lady Gators won their race as well. The team of Natalie Sills, Madeline Capps, Presley Moss, and Lanie Nistler finished a comfortable eight seconds ahead of Edmund Burke to win the mile relay with a school record time of 4:13.99. The sophomore Moss was also runner-up in the 400-meter dash and fifth in the 200. Lexi Moss was second in the pole vault, and the 4-by-100 relay team of P. Moss, Capps, Sills, and Nistler finished runner-up as well. The Gatewood girls wound up fifth in the team standings.

JMA boys bring back some hardware

John Milledge only sent a handful of boys to compete at last weekend's state meet, but they still managed to place fifth in the team field.

Leading the way was junior MJ Mitchell, who won both the 110-meter hurdles (14.92) and the 300-meter hurdles (40.09). He showed some serious grit in the 4-by-400 relay when he broke his ankle, but still managed to hand off the baton on the way to a fifth-place finish for the Trojans in that event. Mitchell was fourth for the boys high-point award.

His brother Jaden Dorsey was crowned the fastest man in Class AAA by the narrowest of margins. He posted a 10.90 in the 100-meter dash, which was just one-hundredth of a second faster than Brookwood's TJ Thomas. Dorsey's time also set a new school record for JMA.

Speaking of school records, another fell in the 4-by-100 relay when Bryce McDonel, Dorsey, Jalan Butts, and Javian Butts combined to run a 43.47 for third place. The sophomore McDonel was also fourth in the 400-meter dash.

In girls action, junior Calah Foston was the highest finisher for the Lady Trojans. Her throw of 32 feet, 8 3/4 inches was good enough for fourth in the shot put.