Hebron Christian Academy students Trey Selman, center, and Johannes van Oort, right, execute high knees with their teammates as the team prepares for their first track and field season in Dacula on March 19. The Hebron track and field team has 28 members and since the school is without a track they share Dacula High School’s track for practice and training. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)
The first day of track and field practice at Hebron Christian Academy will go down as a memorable one for the Dacula private school.
Most of the athletes could barely run halfway around the track. Two athletes had to stop and throw up.
That first day wasn’t pretty, but two months later the program has improved tremendously from where it was in February.
“We want our folks to work hard because that’s how they get better,” Hebron assistant coach Mike Beaudreau said. “We’ve made light years of improvement. From the first practice and the first meet, it’s like night and day.”
It’s the inaugural year of the school’s track program, but the Lions have established themselves as a threat in Region 8-A rather quickly. Hebron has eight boy and girl athletes ranked in the top five in the region. That’s pretty good considering it has just 28 kids — 18 boys and 10 girls in the entire program.
“We’ve already surprised some people and we’re going to surprise some more,” Beaudreau said. “We expect our athletes to do well. We know they have the ability.”
The idea to start a track program came from Beaudreau, an assistant on the cross country team, and Terrence Melton, an assistant football coach.
They each wanted something that could supplement cross country and football in the spring to help improve their athletes. Track and field was the perfect sport.
However, it took some convincing from Hebron students for Melton to accept the role as head coach.
“They just had this look in their eye like they really wanted it. After about two or three times, I said let me think about it,” Melton said. “I went home and talked to my wife. She ran track, so it was a no-brainer for her. I’ve been having a blast ever since.”
Beaudreau and Melton counter-balance each other well with coaching. Beaudreau, who is the former Gwinnett County commissioner and is running for Georgia State Senate, brings the analytical side to coaching. Melton, a former NFL player, provides the swagger.
“We’re a really good team,” Beaudreau said. “He’s the only reason we have a program.”
Hebron Christian Academy has nearly 300 students in its high school, so the 28-member track program had to pluck athletes from other sports. By comparison, Parkview’s track program in Class AAAAAA has more than 300 athletes.
There are no track athletes that focus on just one event. They all do multiple events and some of them up to five.
“I was excited (about track) because I wanted to do a second sport,” senior Josh Heflin said. “I wasn’t about to do tennis or soccer, so I was thrilled.”
Being a first-year program has certainly had its challenges. The team had no equipment and accepted donations from other schools. They were able to buy some new equipment like hurdles with a minimal budget.
The biggest constraint is a track. Hebron Christian doesn’t have a track at the school. That means the athletes will go to nearby Dacula to use its track two or three days a week.
“We’re very thankful for Coach (Mark) Karen and Dacula. They have been more than cordial,” Beaudreau said.
The Georgia High School Association does not allow two teams to use the same track at the same time for practice, so Hebron has to wait for Dacula to finish its practice. So before making the 1.5 mile trek down Dacula Road, Hebron will do core work in the gym and then go outside to do various running drills.
If Dacula’s track is unavailable, for example a soccer game is being played, Hebron will go to Little Mulberry Park for practice.
“Just not having the facility, we have to get creative,” Melton said. “We’re making the best of a tough situation.”
Hebron hopes to build its own track in the near future and there’s certainly space around the football field to make it possible.
“I know we don’t have a timeline, but in the near future we would like to get a track,” Hebron athletic director Taylor Davis said. “Dacula has blessed us beyond belief in allowing us to use their facilities.”
Beaudreau believes a track will not only benefit the progam, but the entire Hebron community.
“Our goal is to have a track built in the next couple of years,” Beaudreau said. “Track will benefit football, cross country and baseball. A track anyone can come use. It’s great for the whole community.”
It is on that Dacula track that Hebron had its earliest defining moment of the young program.
At a meet in early March, the Lions’ boys team were behind about 10 meters on the final leg of the 1,600-meter relay. Junior Trey Selman got the baton and came back to win the race in the final 30 meters to the delight of Hebron athletes, coaches and fans.
“That was a huge moment for us. That was a big turning point for us that night,” Beaudreau said.
Said Selman: “It was probably one of the best races of my life. I play football and it felt as good as scoring a touchdown.”
After the meet, Beaudreau got more good news. A parent from an opposing team came to congratulate him and express some kind words.
“I just wanted to tell you how inspiring your young men are. They just inspire me with how hard they work,” Beaudreau recalled the man telling him.
“That makes a coach’s day. When you have someone from another team tell you they are watching you work hard and is making progress, it validates everything Coach Melton and I are trying to instill in kids,” Beaudreau said. “We’re doing it for Christ. Everything we do, we’re glorifying Him.”
Added Melton: “From the first meet, the kids have competed. From that point on, they got a taste they can do it. It’s been outstanding.”
Beaudreau and Melton also have help from Mike Taylor, the middle school coach, and from Melton’s wife Margaret Fox-Melton. Fox-Melton was a three-time NCAA All-American in track and field at Rice and was on the 1997 NCAA 1,600-meter relay national championship team. Fox was also a member of the Canadian national team for the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
“I like teaching them raw because you can teach them technique correctly,” Fox-Melton said. “You don’t have to fix mistakes from over time.”
It’s with those little milestones of success like at the meet at Dacula that has Beaudreau and Melton expecting big things out of the program the rest of the season. The Lions accomplished another major feat last Friday, winning the boys championship at the Landmark Invitational. Selman scored 32 points in the victory, competing in the high jump, 200, 400 and two relays. Freshman Victor Gipson, who scored 27 points, won the 100 and also scored in the long jump, 200 and 400 relay. Juniors Trent Johnson and Colson Hagan swept the one- and two-mile races, did well in relays and scored 25 and 21 points, respectively. Heflin also contributed with 20 points.
The Hebron girls took third in the Landmark meet behind 24 points from freshman Alyssa Hawkins, 22 from sophomore Maddy Howe and 20 from Emily Chiacharra.
The results are very encouraging, particularly for a first-year program that fully expects to be at the state meet in May.
“Oh no, we are going to have some athletes qualify (for state),” Beaudreau said confidently. “Coach Melton and I have high expectations. We are not low expectation guys, setting the bar low. We’re going to set the bar at a reasonable level and we want to set it high.”
Not many people would have expected that on the first day of Hebron track and field practice.