Kabion Ento never had a high-jump apparatus he could practice on. Dollarway has never had its own track and field course. Henri Murphy competed in only one meet before districts. Joshua Liddell was battling a hamstring injury at the state meet.
And none of those hurdles kept the Cardinals from their second state track and field championship in school history.
For the first time since 1990, the Cardinals brought home the big wooden trophy from a state meet. But performing — make that, excelling — without a track field to call its own is nothing new in northern Pine Bluff.
“I’m so humbled by it,” said coach Darrin Kidd, who was a sophomore on the 1990 championship team in the old Class AAA. “To come back home, being an alum here and having coaches like a coach (Lee) Hardman, coach (Ellis) Berry and coach (Fuller) Cherry, they instilled that (sense of hard work) in me, and I wanted to instill that in my guys.”
As the school day drew to a close Wednesday, the 2014 Cardinals got to reflect on their crowning achievement of the evening before in Heber Springs.
That and memories of coming so close to victory in the 100 meters last year, which floated in Murphy’s mind.
“Last year, I had a senior (Ethan Bly of Heber Springs) ahead of me,” said the junior, who bettered the runner-up finish with wins in the 100 and 200 on Tuesday. “He was pretty fast and I was fast, too, but I didn’t run that many meets last year because I had a lot of baseball games.
“But last year was just a little lesson that I learned. This year, I had to come back and come back stronger. This was my third track meet. I had a lot of baseball games this year, but I had to get a lot of track in.”
Murphy did just that, training with his teammates in the neighborhood just behind the aging Dollarway High campus during eighth period each day. The center fielder would practice baseball afterward.
“It was hard, real hard,” said Murphy, who ran in only three meets this year, of track workouts. “Just had to work hard. … You can’t teach speed.”
Or leaping ability, as was the case with senior Ento.
The Arkansas Tech football signee went into this week with the highest jump among all Arkansas classifications this season at 6 feet, 8 inches. He came within 2 inches of that Tuesday, settling for second to Kahmron Hymes of Crossett (6-7).
But what’s more amazing: Ento has never worked on the event in practice because of no track facility at Dollarway.
“Basically I just went to track meets and kept jumping as high as I could until I couldn’t practice anymore,” Ento said.
Kidd said Ento could jump 7-5 if he had an apparatus to practice on.
“He has the ability,” Kidd said. “It’s just the technique and the practice. You have to take your hat off to him, just to accomplish what he’s doing without a high-jump pit.”
Ento said it wasn’t any more pressure put on Dollarway for extra points in the running events after he came up second in the high jump for the second straight year.
“I knew what all of them was going to do,” Ento said. “As (for) myself, I knew getting second in the high jump was hard to deal with, and then I was down a lot in the track meet. But when they started sprinting and started getting all the points, it made me feel better, and I just tried to do my best in the 400.”
Ento clocked in at 51.51 seconds for third place, while an injured Liddell won his long-elusive gold medal at 50.43.
“It was hurting a little bit, but I’m not going to use that as an excuse,” the Arkansas football signee said. “I was able to push through it.”
Nor did he have to make an excuse of it.
“When I was warming up, it was hurting a lot,” Liddell said. “It was stiff. I couldn’t stretch it. But when I ran, it was doing fine. When I stopped running, that’s when it hurt the most.”
Murphy’s 11.10 seconds in the 100 was just .19 slower than his season-best in the SEARK Relays at Monticello on April 17. Murphy completed a championship double with his victory in the 200 (23.17 seconds). He set a season-best 22.67 in the preliminary round.
Dollarway’s James Smith came in second in the 100, and teammate Jaravion Bouse added a runner-up finish in the discus throw.
The team victory was a long-awaited successful cap to the athletic careers of the senior class, including Liddell and Ento. They lost in the 4A state basketball final to Pottsville as juniors and reached the semifinals of the 4A football playoffs twice.
Their track and field team championship, Kidd said, is a tribute to their natural athletic ability that has been a staple in a small high school with aging athletic facilities. None of which is a track field.
“When we came through, we took pride in football, track, all athletics, and in the classroom as well,” said Kidd, who also played on the 1989 and 1990 AAA football championship teams under Hardman. “You can accomplish anything when you put your mind and your heart into it. And they’ve done that. And it paid off.”