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Saturday Sports Buffet: A day in the sun – Fifth anniversary arrives of Eagles’ run to title

By Richard Greene | Published Saturday, October 21, 2017
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Taking Off

TAKING OFF – Decatur’s Taylor Clayton leads the Eagles out of the starting blocks. The Eagles won the 3A title in 2012 with just 56 points – 21 better than second-place Lytle. Five Eagles finished in the top 23. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

On the eve of the 2012 state cross country championships, the Decatur Eagles loitered in the hotel room of coach David Park as he tried to watch a football game on television.

“The night before, they kept hanging out in the hotel room,” Park said. “I think they were scared. They’d worked so hard and they were fearful what they thought they could do would clash with reality.

“I remember telling Coach [Kristina] Edwards they were going to do really good or bad. There would be no in between.”

A few hours later under the bright sun on the Old Settlers Park course in Round Rock, the Eagles’ nerves disappeared into a quiet confidence and then an electric performance. With five runners in the top 23, the Eagles celebrated winning the Class 3A title with just 56 points. Decatur beat second-place Lytle by 21 points.

“I remember crossing the line pumped because I thought we did it,” said Travis Kyle, a senior on the 2012 squad. “We ran our hearts out.”

The Eagles finished ninth in 2010 and followed it up with a fifth-place showing in 2011. Of the teams in the top five at the state meet in 2011, only Decatur brought back its entire squad for 2012. The Eagles knew entering the summer of 2012 that the opportunity was there to climb to the top of the medal stand.

After a hard working summer, the Eagles turned heads at their first time trial with several runners under five minutes.

“We had five or six guys under 4:40,” said Taylor Clayton. “After that, we knew we could not only win 3A but could go to big meets and make some noise.”

Running with the top teams in the state, Decatur held its own.

“We won a majority of our meets or were the first 3A team,” Kyle recalled. “Alvarado beat us at one meet and that really got under our skin.”

At the 9-3A meet, Decatur dominated, winning with 20 points. The Eagles followed that with an equally impressive showing at regionals, winning with 31 points and five runners in the top 10.

Michael Smyers said the success was due to the team’s bond.

“We were like a brotherhood. We stuck together nonstop,” he said. “I think it’s what it took. You and your friends have to be a team and a family.”

The night before the state race, Kyle sensed the nervousness of the team.

“This was all we wanted for so long. We were excited and a little nervous,” he said. “This had to be our time to do it.”

When the gun fired off, Clayton took his spot at the front of the pack. He led the race through the first mile.

“We went out in the first mile about 4:35. We were moving,” Clayton said.

He held in with Lytle’s Cesar Gonzalez and Coldspring-Oakhurst’s Christopher Speaks early before drifting to third and finishing in 16:37.

Turning a corner at the second mile, Clayton caught a glimpse of the first 20 spots in the field and saw several of the Decatur white jerseys.

“I saw Travis, Michael [Smyers] and Austin [Poole],” Clayton said. “I knew we were not only going to win this thing but win it big, if we didn’t die.”

Kyle recalls seeing many of his teammates, including Michael Smyers, near the end.

“As I passed Michael, I yelled, ‘finish this,'” Kyle said. “When we finished, the girls were all there cheering and smiling. We knew this was going to happen.”

Daniel Smyers finished 12th in 16:59 followed by Kyle in 18th in 17:19. Michael Smyers was 20th in 17:21. Poole sealed the title, finishing 23rd in 17:23.

The five years have flown by since their title day in the sun.

Clayton is in the middle of his junior cross country season at Texas A&M. Michael Smyers is working as an electrician apprentice. Kyle just graduated from Texas and will soon start physician assistant school and is working with the physical therapy team at Fit-N-Wise.

“I still think about it every day,” said Kyle. “There’s a patient that came in with his state title ring. I told him next time he comes in I’ll have to wear mine. It doesn’t feel that long ago.”

Finishing on Top

FINISHING ON TOP – The Decatur Eagles won the 3A title in 2012. The team included (bottom row) Michael Smyers, Taylor Clayton, Travis Kyle, Daniel Smyers, (top row) Coach David Park, Brandon Rivera, Austin Poole and Travis Wilson. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

SIDEDISHES

  • After last week’s loss to Argyle by Decatur in the 4-4A Division I opener, there seemed to be some panic among the masses. But I don’t feel there is truly reason for it. Decatur still has a strong opportunity to bring home the second seed in the league. But it will not be easy. As a whole the league is much better than last year with Wichita Falls Hirschi and Gainesville making huge strides this season. And unfortunately, Decatur plays those two next.
  • Chico and Bridgeport were on the wrong end of lopsided games in their district openers last week. But both could wrap up playoff spots as early as this Friday with wins in their five-team districts. Chico faced winless Olney and Bridgeport took on one-win Krum.
  • Last year’s Wise County Coach of the Year Dusty Crafton led her Lady Yellowjackets into a match Friday with a chance to win their third straight district title. Remember, the program had not had a winning season before she had arrived.
  • Last Saturday, I made the decision with just more than two minutes left to leave Apogee Stadium after UNT went four-and-out at midfield. Unable to make a stop for much of the second half, I didn’t expect UNT to get the ball back. But they did with 58 seconds left and Mason Fine orchestrated one of the greatest drives in school history, which I watched on the big screen from the pedestrian bridge.
  • Speaking of UNT, you may have noticed a new byline in the paper last week – Reece Waddell. He will be taking over as the main sports writer for the Messenger later this fall. He is currently the editor of the North Texas Daily. Give him a nice welcome when you see him. I’ll still be around and attending a few games here and there, but I’m stepping over to the dark side (news) for the most part.

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