I absolutely loved coaching track during my 29 years in that profession. My number one was always football but just a step behind was track. My last seven years of coaching was spent coaching the Comanche Maidens. There is just something special about coaching high school girls too. They just have that silent dedication that no one really knows is there until they step on the track and do phenomenal things.
I will say too that coaching high school girls has one really tough challenge. That challenge is telling those girls that they may peak out in their freshman or sophomore year unless they work twice as hard during their junior and senior years. That is just the way the Good Lord meant for things to happen. I always told the girls that they would get prettier and slower while the guys would get uglier and faster! In the majority of cases, girls mature so much quicker than boys therefore when it comes to athleticism; they just reach the summit a little sooner.
I was fortunate to have girls in both Aspermont and Comanche that were willing to do more to keep improving as they got older. However, it wasn’t as if I wasn’t warned when I took the girls that I shouldn’t get too excited about junior high performances since that level of achievement just might not last. I didn’t really buy into that philosophy but I did not ignore that advice either.
My daughter Kim coaches at Taylor ISD just about 17 miles northeast of Round Rock. Last year she kept telling me about this seventh grade girl there at Taylor Junior High and some of the performances that she was turning in on the track and in the field events. I took notice first because the name Kerley in that part of the world means that there is some extra special DNA running through the veins when it comes to speed and raw ability. And second those times and distances that Kim was telling me about were not normal for a seventh grade girl.
I thought that I wouldn’t get too excited because of what I mentioned above: she after all was a junior high kid and maybe she would continue to improve and maybe she wouldn’t. I had seen her play basketball and while that raw talent was on display with her quickness and jumping ability, she was not head and shoulders above the other kids on the team. But then track season arrived in early March.
After the first meet I got a call from my daughter who was just ecstatic over what Virginia Kerley had done in her first meet of the year. She had clocked an 11.87 in the 100 meter dash. Yep there are high school boys who run that race competitively who cannot do that! Kim also told me that “Nene” who was triple jumping for the first time ever had jumped a 33’ and something. Her coaches had only decided to try her in that event about a week earlier.
As the season continued, she only broke the twelve second barrier in the 100 meters one other time. As a seventh grader she had long jumped over 17’ so as she continued to do that week after week that was not a surprise to me. But her triple jump distances kept improving very consistently. She was improving in feet and not inches each week also.
Last week I went to see the Taylor junior high girls run at their district meet in Elgin. As is the case for most of track season in March in the state of Texas, the wind was blowing at about a 15 to 20 mile per hour clip. And is also the case the temperatures continue to decline as the afternoon turns into night. In Texas the junior high kids cannot begin a track meet before the end of the school day during the week. So they rarely ever run a meet in the warmth of a Texas afternoon.
As the long jump began Virginia was hitting in the mid-sixteen foot range. She wanted to make sure that she got a mark because any mark for her is usually a winner against other junior high kids. On her last attempt she really turned it loose and exploded into the pit. I swear that her feet were right at 18’ but her bottom side drug the dirt and that was where the measurement was taken. She had won with a 16’ 111/2 foot jump. Not bad but still not her best. In the junior high meets there are no finals so she did not get a chance to improve with three more attempts.
On she went to the triple jump and her final jump there was a thing of beauty. It was as if she took flight and hit the dirt with a jump of 35’ 81/2”. That was her best jump of the season. That isn’t too shabby for only 12 jumps in competition. Just watching her in that event I realized that her ability seems unlimited.
I mentioned her times in the 100 meters but she has also run the 200 meter dash as well clocking in the mid 25’s. She only ran that race once as she is a member of both the 4X100 meter relay as well as the 4X400 meter relay. Her 400 meter time has always been a split on the relay time because she never had a chance to run that race as an open event. Her best split time was last Wednesday as she turned in a 58. 33 split. She had taken the baton about twenty yards behind and handed it off about twenty yards in the lead as she ran the third leg of that race.
I’m sure that there are coaches out there who can point to kids her same age or former track athletes her age who had better performances. So I am not saying that she is the greatest ever. I am just saying that what she did this year and last is quite a bit above the norm. This year she never had a calm day with no wind or a warm day. And with the abbreviated season I just believe that she has greatness in her future. And the best thing is that she loves the sport. Some kids, even though very talented, hate track and especially the grueling workouts. Not her: she loves what she is doing and is yet to be satisfied with any victory.
This past weekend, she went to the Texas Relays just to watch and see what it was like. She was heard commenting on how those girls just seemed to fly, not really cognizant of the fact that her times and distances this year were better than some of those in Austin. Her day is coming and more than likely next year she will be there at Mike Myers stadium wowing both fans and coaches. I look for it to happen twice at that venue: once in the Texas Relays and the other at the state championships.
Virginia is the cousin of former TCU and current New York Jet receiver Jeremy Kerley and her big brother Fred is a stalwart on the Taylor high school boys track team, so there is a wealth of talent in her bloodlines. The potential is there!
I can hardly wait until she gets a full season of work, decent weather, and a heightened level of competition. There is no doubt in my mind that she will respond. I truly look for her to be highly recruited and hopefully someday those of us who know and love this kid will get to tell people what she was like as a kid and how well we knew her.
As I said, she may not be the greatest ever but as Bum Phillips once said about Earl Campbell: he may not be in a class by himself but whatever class he is in, it doesn’t take long to call the roll. Just remember her name!