The Gordon Lee boys placed fourth overall at the GHSA Class 1A Public School track meet in Albany last month and a good deal of the credit for that goes to the trio of seniors Jasper Wilson and Wiley Heming, along with sophomore Jake Lee.
All three athletes won individual state titles and combined for 40 of their team’s 49.5 points at state and, today, they stand tall together once again as tri-winners of the 2019 Walker County Boys’ Track Athlete of the Year award.
For Wilson, the 2017 Walker County Boys’ Cross Country Runner of the Year and the 2018 Walker County Boys’ Track Athlete of the Year, he said it felt good to win part of the award once more.
“I worked hard all (track) season and fought off an injury from cross country,” he explained. “So it’s good to get the award after overcoming the adversity I faced in the fall.”
Whether it was the 800, the 1600 or the 3200, the Trojans’ distance specialist did not finish lower than fourth in any individual GHSA-sanctioned race he ran this past spring. He went on to sweep the 800 (2:12) and the 1600 (4:55) at the Area 3-A Championships, while his time of 2:06 in Albany was good enough for fourth in the state finals of the 800.
But it was earlier in the state meet that weekend where he enjoyed his finest moment.
Trailing in the grueling 1600 final as he came down the final stretch, Wilson reached for another gear and found it, passing up the leader in the final 100 meters to win the state title in 4:47 and set what was then a new school-record in the process.
“I was scared. I’m not going to lie,” he admitted. “But I knew if I kept him in my sights that I had a chance to catch him at the end. I almost thought he had me, but I’m very confident in my kick. If I see somebody, I feel like I can catch them. That (last surge) was probably the highlight.”
Wilson’s win gave him three individual state titles for his illustrious prep career after he took home the 1600 and 3200 titles a year ago. He then went on to break his 1600 record at the Meet of Champions the following week as he clocked in at 4:40 against the state’s best competition.
“I could always do better and I probably could have ended it a little better,” he added, referencing the 800 final in Albany. “But I still had a lot of success. I was hoping for two state titles (this year), but I got the one. Still, it was a good way to end my senior year. I can’t complain.”
Wilson will now start training for college as he will run cross country and outdoor track for Carson-Newman.
“I’m very excited,” he added. “We have a good freshman class coming in, so we should be pretty good.”
Heming, who had a breakout year on the basketball court, was nearly unbeatable in the high jump as a senior as he continued the Trojans’ long tradition of success in that event.
He took first place at the Southeast Whitfield Invitational, the Gordon Lee Invitational, two more meets at Heritage High School and one more back on his home turf. In the first of the two meets at Heritage, Heming set a personal-best with a height of 6-6, just two inches shy of the Trojans’ all-time school record.
“I practiced two or three hours (a week) in Dalton and just about every day here at school,” he explained. “I won every meet up until regions and it was great to be dominant like that. It felt really good and it feels good to share this award.”
Heming only managed to clear 5-6 at the area meet, but his fourth-place showing was still plenty good enough to make the state finals. Once he arrived in Albany, however, he was back to his old dominant self as his mark of 6-2 turned out to be enough to win state gold for the first time.
“I had that first miss at 6-2 and I got a little worried,” he said. “But once I cleared it and nobody else did, it was a great feeling to win the state championship.”
College is next for Heming, who said he hopes he can continue his jumping career.
“I’d like to go jump somewhere,” he said. “I’ve talked to some small colleges, but I haven’t got an offer yet.”
Like many athletes in the area, Lee has only been running track since the sixth grade, but he has taken to the sport like a duck to water.
“It’s definitely an honor (to share the award), because (Wilson and Heming) are both seniors and they worked hard for a long time,” he said humbly. “I’m just a sophomore, so it’s cool to share the award with them. Like Wiley said, there are a lot of people around here who are really good.”
Another cross country standout, Lee started out the spring with a fifth-place finish in the 3200 and an 11th place finish in the 1600 at the Southeast Whitfield Invitational, but he continued to improve as the season progressed.
He was third in the 3200 and sixth in the 1600 at a Heritage meet and he went on to win the 3200 and place second in the 1600 at a meet in Chickamauga midway through the season. He then repeated the finishes at the area meet at Darlington, winning the 3200 (11:07) and finishing as runner-up in the 1600 (5:04).
Lee set a new season-best in the 1600 as he placed fourth in the state finals with a time of 4:56, but it was his performance in the 3200 that provided one of the most dramatic finishes for the entire weekend in Albany.
Despite his win at area, he started the state 3200 final as a decided underdog to Commerce’s Brandon Martin, who came in with a qualifying time of 10:45, nearly a full 22 seconds better than Lee’s qualifying time in Rome.
However, Lee stood toe-to-toe with Martin for all eight laps before out-leaning him at the line. His time of 10:18.96 not only broke the Gordon Lee school record in the event, but it was also enough to beat Martin (10:19.02) by a mere .06 of a second.
“It was crazy,” he said. “I never thought I would have won (state) in my sophomore year. It was such a close race. I was nervous about it all week, but it turned out pretty good. I’ll never forget what it was like after I won. It was really fun.”
Lee said he knows he will have to step up even more next year without the likes of Wilson, Heming and others on the team.
“I kind of know that I will have to step up next year in track and cross country and I’ll have to try and be a leader,” he said. “I’m just trying to mentally prepare myself.”