Over the years, Rome High’s first big track and field meet of the season has been the Rome Invitational, and Saturday the 2020 version of the event proved to be the biggest of them all.

Rome High welcomed nearly 20 teams — six of which finished in the top 10 at the state level last season — and almost 750 athletes to Maddox Track at Barron Stadium for the early-season event that allows local fans one of their first opportunities to see Rome go up against some stiff competition.

“There are some really heavy hitters over here today,” Rome coach Nick Bridges said. “We’re dealing with some state competitors. We’re really excited about the turnout. It was a great day.”

Bridges said more teams from the Atlanta area, like Douglas County, Clarkston and Riverwood International, wanted to be at the event this year, which for him shows the type of competition the Rome Invitational offers.

“Track is very important down around that area,” Bridges said. “They have a lot of club teams so a lot of folks run year-round. They get up here to Rome and they see our facilities and see how well we run a meet, and so they love it.”

Top finishers on the day for Rome included Patrick Motes, Jah’Lia Evans and Ja’Taria Jackson, all of whom came away with first-place finishes.

Motes’ performance in the 3200-meter run earned him a first-place finish and his time of nine minutes, 44.88 seconds was a meet record and a personal best for the runner. He also took third in the 1600-meter run with a time of 4:39.79.

Jackson came in first in the 100-meter dash with a time of 12.61 seconds, and Evans took first in the 100-meter hurdles with a time of 15.32. Evans took second in the 300-meter hurdles with a time of 46.79 finishing just over a half-second behind Hillgrove’s Brooke Lofton.

Evans and Jackson were also part of the team that won the 4x100-meter relay. They were joined by Enesyice Kennemore and Jasmine Dennis on their way to a 48.92 finish.

In the team competition, Alexander took first place for the boys, getting by with a one-point finish over second-place Hillgrove. Douglas County came in third, while North Paulding took fourth.

In the girls’ competition, Riverwood finished in first place ahead of Hillgrove in second, Alexander in third and Carrollton in fourth.

Rome’s boys set some personal records on the day with two of them coming in the discus event. Kole Goodson’s throw of 107 feet, 7 inches was a personal record as was Ian Williamson’s distance of 103 feet, 7 inches. Jay Wise took second place in the triple jump with a distance of 46 feet, 7 inches for a personal best.

Another top performer for Rome was Connor Johnson who cleared 13 feet, six inches for a second-place finish in the pole vault.

The Invitational gave Bridges an early look at his team and how they’re able to hold up against some of the toughest teams in the state. Bridges is in his fourth year as head coach at Rome and has enjoyed being able to see his teams grow throughout the years.

“This is the first time in my 18 years of coaching that I’ve been at a place for four years,” Bridges said. “These are my babies. These seniors are the ones I started with.”

Bridges said he was glad the rain had moved out, the weather still played a factor during the competition.

“There was a tough head wind today,” Bridges said. “It got us most of the day when we were in the homestretch there. It kind of knocked us around a little bit. I think we’re going to just continue to get better. Our kids know only one way and that’s to give all out, and that was evident all day. We may not be the most talented, but we’re going to still continue to fight and see how we can find a way to win.”

Rome High will be back in action again Thursday at Barron Stadium.

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