STAFF WRITER DANIEL CLIFTON
MARBLE FALLS — As the Faith Academy of Marble Falls junior high boys 4-by-400 relay squad got ready to head to the starting line at the Austin Christian School Association track-and-field district finals April 24 at Florence High School, they knew the team’s chance to win the meet was hanging by a shoelace. And it was up to them to secure the knot that would bring the district title home in this last event.
“We’re like the smallest school there,” coach Angela Henry said. “These other schools, they could basically stack the events with four to five kids in each one. We only had eight kids for the seventh- and eighth-grade boys team. We were scrambling to fill the relay team.”
What the Faith junior high boys and girls squads lacked in numbers, they made up for with in drive, tenacity, determination, and, yes, faith.
When Henry went over to find the relay team, she spotted them, but they weren’t alone.
“The entire team had gathered around them and were praying over them,” the coach said. “It was amazing.”
Would it be enough?
Adversity. That would probably be one word to describe the Faith Academy’s junior high track squads’ path this year, but it’s not one they would pick.
“We’re usually the smallest team in the meets,” eighth-grader Gus Henry said, “but were determined.”
His teammate Tyler Kwan agreed.
“We kind of take it as a challenge that we are the smallest (in numbers),” Kwan said.
“Yeah, people look down on us because we’re so small, but then when we go out and win so much, they’re like, ‘Wow, y’all are good,’” Gus Henry added.
“Good” might just be an understatement regarding this team, particularly Gus Henry, Kwan, and Susanna Quinn of the girls junior high squad. On their own, the three contribute the bulk of the teams’ points. In track, athletes compete individually in events (or parts of squads such as relays) but teams also earn overall finishes based on points earned during individual races. For instance, a first place in a race could earn 10 points with second earning eight and third earning six.
Those points all go toward the team’s overall standings in a meet.
For a small team such as Faith Academy, capturing team titles in meets should be as likely as snow on a 100-degree day in the Highland Lakes.
“But (Gus Henry, Kwan and Quinn) as individuals earn 35 to 48 points themselves,” coach Henry said. “They get firsts and seconds throughout the meet. They’re just incredible athletes.”
Kwan competes in the 100-meter and 200-meter sprints, the 300-meter hurdles, the triple jump, and the high jump. Gus Henry competes in the high jump, the long jump, the pole vault, the 110-meter hurdles, and the 200-meter sprint. Quinn loves the foot races as she runs in the 100-meter, 200-meter, and 400-meter distances as well as the long jump.
“She blows everyone away,” the coach said about Quinn.
The three compete in those events over the course of one day and sometimes find themselves on a relay team as well. That’s a lot of events, the coach pointed out.
But there’s something inside them, she said, that drives them.
“They just have this tenacity to want to win,” coach Henry added.
But she and others agree it goes beyond the athletes’ efforts on the track. The students demonstrate attributes that not only help them in the athletic venue but also at school and in the community.
“There’s a humility about them,” said Steve Kwan, Tyler’s father. “There’s not anything about the accomplishments that they walk around with … you know, like they’re showing off.”
“They’re leaders on the track and school, but I think what really helps is their faith,” coach Henry said. “Their faith is very strong. They walk their faith, and that’s important because it gives them a sense of inner peace. It’s something they, and anyone, draw on when faced with life.”
While it might be difficult for some people to think a trio of eighth-graders have anything to teach, the Faith students excelled on the track — often against private and public schools with more students — though they didn’t have all the practice equipment other squads had. The Faith junior high team practiced at the Marble Falls Middle School track, but often without things such as hurdles or even high-jump equipment.
Tyler Kwan shrugged it off.
“We weren’t going to let not having something stop us,” he said.
Coach Henry, however, saw it a little differently.
“They are going into the district meet where they haven’t been able to actually practice on hurdles or the high-jump pit for weeks,” she said. “That’s just really not something you want to do as a athlete.”
And it wasn’t just for the district meet, but other meets as well. Still, the Faith junior high track-and-field team found ways to excel. Quinn, for her part, trained alongside the boys in the running events because, coach Henry said, it was one of the few ways she could be challenged.
Like Gus Henry and Tyler Kwan, she didn’t see her efforts as anything out of the ordinary. She just goes out and does the work.
“I like to run, so I guess that’s why I do it,” Quinn said. “I try to be a better runner than I was last year.”
But meet after meet at the middle school level, this Faith trio rolled up first and second places. At the district meet April 24, they continued doing just that. And it wasn’t just Henry, Kwan, and Quinn; a number of Faith students placed high in their events to bring the team within striking distance of the top spot.
When it came to the junior high boys 4×400, the boys basically needed to finish the race to cement a first-place team finish, but the coach found herself one short to complete the relay team. She turned to eighth-grader Case Coleman, who had just finished second in the 1,600-meter run. He was tired.
The boys 4×400 relay took to the track and finished fourth. It was enough to give the Faith boys 133 points and the district title. The smallest team on the track showed how having the biggest heart sometimes trumps having bigger numbers.
“I know most people probably don’t understand how big what they’ve accomplished this year, but it’s really kind of amazing,” coach Henry said. “I’ve learned from them … not letting circumstances or what you don’t have hold you back. They didn’t make excuses. They just go out and work hard and do their best.”
It’s a simple formula for success from which anyone can benefit, she pointed out.