Photos by Bill Roseberry
Alton finished eighth at the 3A state meet, the program’s highest finish ever. (From left) LaJarvia Brown won her second state title in the triple jump and also medaled in the long jump and 300-meter hurdles, while Katie Mans was eighth in the high jump and Jewel Wagner was sixth in the shot put to help spur the Redbirds.
The Alton Redbirds are entering uncharted territory when it comes to girls’ track and field.
The 1960s and early ’70s belonged to the AHS boys’ track and field program. The Redbird boys won three state titles during the ’60s. Unfortunately the girls haven’t enjoyed anything close to that.
As a sophomore, LaJarvia Brown became the first female trackster to win state gold, corralling the title in the triple jump. On May 23 Brown did it again as a junior, jumping 41 feet, 2 inches to win her second consecutive Class 3A state title in the triple jump. This time she had some support, too.
Brown was joined by junior Jewel Wagner, who was sixth in the shot put (40-9.75), and freshman Katie Mans, eighth in the high jump (5-3). Brown added a fifth-place finish in the 300-meter hurdles (44.31) and a sixth in the long jump (18-3).
The Birds tallied 24.5 points to finish eighth as a team, their best finish ever. AHS was sixth in sectionals and fifth in the Southwestern Conference, but outperformed all the schools from those events at state.
With his trio of talented tracksters back and a talented crop of middle schoolers coming into the program, head coach Terry Mitchell has his sights set on a state trophy for Alton.
“That’s our goal and we were shooting for that today,” Mitchell said. “We were shooting to finish in the top three in the state today and when we got down to the last three events of the day we were in third place in the state with 23 points, so we were right there. Ironically, the teams that all finished ahead of us were represented in those last three events. That shows that we’re right there.”
Brown wants to put the spotlight on her hometown. The Redbirds are hungry to take a bite out of the state competition.
“That was the goal, to make people realize that Alton does have talent,” Brown said. “People look over Alton like it’s nothing.”
Brown has been helping inform track pundits that Alton does indeed have talent. After she won the title in the triple jump last year, she set the all-time record in the event with a jump of 41-6.25 this season. Her jump at state on May 23 became the third best mark in state history.
Her success is spurring her teammates to excel, too.
“It’s awesome,” Mans said of Brown winning at state. “She’s going to go so far next year. She’s only a junior and she keeps winning and winning and winning.”
Wagner added that Brown’s experience is a benefit, saying, “She’s been up here more than we have — it’s Katie and I’s first time — so she has more experience than we do.”
While Brown helps motivate Mans and Wagner, the success of her teammates helps inspire her, too.
“The success of our whole team is the ultimate goal and when I see people from my team stepping up, it just makes me want to step up to,” Brown said. “It will be good for all of us.”
Mitchell is bottling the excitement from the current success of the track program and conveying it into work for improvement.
“We have a program we’re going to be doing this summer with the girls and I’ve already talked to the middle school girls as well,” Mitchell said. “Twice a week at West we’re going to be doing workouts and teaching them various things. In the fall a lot of the girls are going out for cross country and getting serious about it. Then in November we’re going to start a weight training program for the winter, so we’ve got some plans.
“Even this summer any of the girls who are interested in doing some AAU or USA track, we’ve got some forms and things that they can fill out and some clubs they might have some potential in joining.”
If the success of the prep program isn’t enough, the Alton eighth-grade program finished ninth at state this season and won the state title in the 4x1 relay, so there is another influx of talent coming.
Mitchell believes the key is the distance program and sprints, which the Redbirds will make an effort to improve in the offseason.
“If we can improve our sprinters and our distance program, I think we can be a real contender next year,” Mitchell said. “And that’s really good for the city of Alton.”
Wagner added, “We’re all aiming to get a higher place at state next year.”
And with Brown, Wagner and Mans leading the way, Mitchell is certain higher placements are possible and the future is bright.
“Katie, Jewel and LaJarvia, all three of them are great people,” Mitchell said. “If that’s going to be the mold that our athletes are coming from in the future, I think we’ve got a great future for Alton in track.”
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