The varsity boys track team won the state championship a few weeks ago. The headlines read, “first time ever champions” – we were wrong. There is very little written about the boys state title earned in 2005, but we’ve recently discovered it happened. It’s amazing what our track and field teams have accomplished since the sport started at O’Neal 23 years ago and yet still – without a track.
First track and field coach Jolene Smith quotes in the 1998 Talon – “With a core of strong, young competitors and a dynamic spirit, the O’Neal track team looked forward to an exciting first season. They attacked it with the realization that running consists of much more than just strong legs and healthy lungs. It also includes mind games, calculated distances and racing strategies, when to pace and when to race. It was not even always about moving forward. As in other aspects of life, moving backwards for a while can bring immense rewards when forward motion is finally resumed. The outcome of the season was not its goal. To enjoy the sport and make it a permanent part of the life of each team member was a much more worthy outcome of this inaugural season. Coaching such an energetic group makes it all worthwhile…but, who knows, maybe the next ‘Prefontaine’ is right here at O’Neal.”
There is not much on record for track conference championships, but this year the boys team pulled off a conference title and the Girls’ 4x800M of 10:53.11 set a new school record for the event. The team went on to the state tournament and the boys secured their second state title and the Girls’ 4x800M relay of Grace Simpson, Taylor Edrington, Caelan McHarney and Molly Kuzma AGAIN broke the school record by 8 seconds with a time of 10:45.12 and brought home the gold for that relay. Though they were state silver medalists, the 4x400M relay team of Boyd Kenny, Nathan Briannas, Aaron Siering and Jalen Lindsey added a new school record with a time of 3:38.14.
“They show and up and perform,” Head Coach Marcus Millard shared. “Their consistent level of relentless determination to improve every single week is truly special. It’s nothing short of a family trip to Disney World… It’s magical.”
Molly Kuzma, a state champion for cross country as well as for multiple track events during her 6-year career and this year’s female Athlete of the Year for O’Neal, is headed to Johns Hopkins University for track and field as well as cross country in the fall. Preceding her for college recruits, most recently has been Alana McRae ’18 to Cincinnati Christian University to field the University’s first ever track team and Aleksandra Majka ’14 to University of Chicago. In her first year at UOC for indoor track, Aleksandra won first place for the all-time freshmen women’s record in 60-meter hurdles.
The girls track team won their first state championship in 2007. Stated in a press release – “On Friday, May 19th, The O’Neal Girls’ Track Team won their first 1A/2A North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association Championship at Durham Academy in Durham, NC. Last year, the team came in second place. This year, under the leadership of first-time head coach, Vincent Healy, an intense training program was put into place and the hard work paid off. Fourteen schools competed in the championship. According to Coach Healy, character had a lot to do with the success of the team. Healy states, ‘The girls have always been unbelievably supportive of each other and the boys’ team. There hasn’t been a single race in which one of the girls wasn’t mobbed by her teammates at the finish. I couldn’t be more proud of how they conducted themselves at the meet and all season long. It’s been more rewarding coaching these girls than I could have ever imagined it would be.’”
Running at O’Neal started with cross country, three school years prior to the inaugural track team, in the fall of 1994.
The first team was all boys. Quoted from Coach M. Colby in the 1994 Talon – “The first year for Cross Country at O’Neal was very successful. As a team we finished second in the conference thanks in part to our two All-Conference runners Parker McConville and Wade Tucker. As with any team, though, we relied on the commitment and motivation of every person to reach our goals. Congratulations on a great first year.”
It didn’t take O’Neal very long to dominate within their conference. The girls team won its first conference title in 1996 and held the title through 2000. The boys team joined in winning their conference title in 1998 and held that title through 2004! Since then, the boys won in 2007 and 2018 and the girls won in 2006 and 2018. Individual titles and “Runner of the Year” are consistently sprinkled along the way.
Though the girls have not won a cross country state championship, Molly Kuzma did secure the individual state title last fall. The boys’ team has won the state title 1998, 2000 and 2004.
Presently, O’Neal’s cross country and track and field teams are the largest of sports teams at O’Neal. In fact, this year, cross country’s team had 22 members. Track and field had an astounding 45 members!
It all goes to show that success can be achieved even if you have missing parts, like a track!
Falcons Fly to 50
O’Neal is excited to share its history with readers as it quickly nears its 50th year in educating and cultivating youth in becoming successful, effective contributors to communities large and small. The official celebration starts school year 2021/2022. This weekly blog will focus on different aspects of the School as it grew through the years. With every entry, there is just as much more information to gather than what is already written. Readers who have been a part of the O’Neal community are encouraged to reach out and share their O’Neal memories. It is with great hope that the efforts of many in contributing information and photography can be published into a book for reflection and reference as the School continues to prosper for the next 50 years.
Please send your memoirs and photos to:
The O’Neal School
c/o Kathy Taylor, Director of Communications
P.O. Box 290
Southern Pines, NC 28388