Fort Mill Times

ON THE RUN: FMMS getting a head start in track

Abbi Griffin (left) runs in the conference meet for Fort Mill Middle. The program is helping the next generation of local prep track athletes get off on the right foot.
Abbi Griffin (left) runs in the conference meet for Fort Mill Middle. The program is helping the next generation of local prep track athletes get off on the right foot.

After the final bell rings at about 3:30 every afternoon at Fort Mill Middle School, the athletic fields fill with soccer and baseball players, the gym becomes home to the basketball or volleyball teams.

But there are others scattered around the campus - three girls running out to the greenway, two guys sprinting up and down an empty parking lot, a group of kids running laps around the field. They are members of the Fort Mill Middle School track team, which, in the girls' competition, recently took the title of top middle school track program in Fort Mill, finishing ahead of both Springfield and Gold Hill at the teams' conference meet in early May.

However, in getting to the top, the team had to be creative in its training methods because of one big setback: the school doesn't have a track.

"We usually just measure out or estimate how far 100 or 200 meters is on the blacktop or the football fields for practice," said seventh-grader Tiaira Potts, a sprinter who runs mainly 100 and 200 meter events and specializes on sprint relay teams.

Abbi Griffin, the school's top runner in the 800 meters and the mile, trains on the nearby greenway trails, which actually makes for nice runs, she said.

"You just have to watch your footing for roots," she said.

Griffin won first place in both of her events in the conference meet, which included all middle schools from the Rock Hill, Fort Mill and Clover areas. She ran a 5:51 to take first place in the mile and a 2:39 to win the 800 meters - and track isn't even her best sport, she said.

"I also play volleyball and basketball. I really like volleyball a lot," Griffin said.

And that sums up the best part of a middle school athletic program, Head Coach Kristina Combs said.

"Some of these kids will go on to be great track athletes, but some are conditioning for other sports, some are just trying it out for the first time," Combs said. "Their character is so great. They're always cheering on their teammates...and they give it their all."

Combs, in her second year at the school, coaches the group - more than 60 kids all together - alongside three other coaches.

The athletes can take part in any event that high school teams offer, with the exception of hurdling events and the two-mile run. They can choose from sprinting, distance running, or jumping events.

Springfield Middle School has a full track, to be shared within the district, Combs said. But rather than transport a busload of kids across town every afternoon, the coaches decided to make due with their own facilities.

"We have to be a little creative," Combs said. "We utilize anything we can - hills, parking lots, greenways. Sometimes we practice handoffs in the hallways."

"We don't make cuts either, everyone gets to run. I think that's a great part of the team. Regardless of the outcome, we strive for personal bests in each race."

Despite the unorthodox surroundings, many of these young athletes have excelled during one or two years of running at the school.

"Tiaira has the best attitude. She puts in a lot of effort and can fill a lot of spots in a lot of different events," Combs said. "Abbi is just a natural runner. She enjoys it, she actually smiles while she's out there."

The girls enjoyed a great season as a group, but success has not been limited to just the girls' side of the team.

One individual standout, eighth-grader Michael Dressing, has been a quiet leader on the boys team and is an athlete that most runners respect because of his talent, Combs said. Dressing, who intends to run on the Nation Ford track team next year, took third place in the conference in the 400-meter dash with a time of 59.2 seconds, and fifth in the 200, running a 25.6.

"My older brother ran track a little while ago, and I have a family that plays a lot of sports, so I got into it," Dressing said. "It feels good (to run well)...You just have to come out, be confident and don't expect to lose."

While Dressing has finished his final season at Fort Mill Middle and is moving on to high school competition, both Griffin and Potts will return next year, as well as many others.

Potts said as an elementary school student, she would run alongside her older cousin during her races, even when she sometimes wasn't supposed to, and has developed an interest in track ever since.

"It's something you can work on for your whole life," Potts said.

For Griffin, she has enjoyed meeting other runners - she is planning on training with a runner from Gold Hill Middle over the summer - and has even grown to enjoy the races.

"It's fun once you get past the nerves of the meets," Griffin said. "When I run, I forget about the nerves. I just focus on putting one foot in front of the other."