By Gabriel Stovall
McDONOUGH, Ga. — Claud Spinks effortlessly rattled off the achievements of his Eagle’s Landing girls track and field team’s senior class — particularly the three who signed college scholarships Monday morning.
First region track championship in school history.
State runner-up finish.
Several other top 10 state finishes.
Multiple county crowns and individual medalists.
But perhaps the best anecdote to show the impact and imprint of this group of athletes is the story of Deitrich Lodge.
“I tease Detrich all the time that if we made cuts in track, as a freshman, she might not have made the cut,” Spinks said. “But during her freshman year, we kind of threw in the long jump event at the last minute going into the County (meet), and she won it as a freshman, and has won it ever since.”
Spinks said it was then that he figured Lodge could be pretty good.
During a signing ceremony held Monday morning in the school’s media center, his assertions were confirmed as Lodge (Iowa Western), Gabriella Younginer (Tennessee State) and Beyunka Foster (Georgia Southern) made their college choices official in front of teammates, classmates, parents and coaches.
So excuse Lodge for the tears that well up in her eyes when she talks about her and her teammates accomplishments.
“I’ve been crying and emotional lately, because it’s been like, wow. I’ve finally gotten to this point of actually signing, you know?” Lodge said. “So, yeah. It’s really, really exciting.”
Younginer agreed. The senior had to battle through her own set of adversity this season before securing her spot on the Tennessee State state team. Adversities that included a fractured ankle during one of the first meets of the year that kept her out until the Region 4-AAAA meet — which turned into another region crown for the Lady Golden Eagles, by the way.
“I actually didn’t think that I would make it to this point, actually,” Younginer said. “I didn’t think anyone was going to look at me, but I pulled it through and Tennessee State was looking really hard. I went to visit, really liked the school and the coach kept calling me, so I figured I might as well go there.”
It’s huge for Younginer, who at one point was thinking of attending schools such as Tennessee, Western Carolina and Limestone. But all that changed when the aspiring biology major stepped on the back of another runner’s shoe at the end of a race and rolled her ankle.
“I was in a cast and boot and everything,” she said. “It was just kind of a freak accident.”
But it was also an occasion for Spinks to recall why he’s always thought so much of Younginer’s ability over the last four years.
“Gabby kept a really good mindset the whole time,” Spinks said. “She started working out again in the spring, and even though she never got back to where she is going to be, working out with her reminded me of just how great an athlete she is, and how much we missed her on the track that last part of the season. She would’ve scored big for us at state.”
Younginer made it as far as sectionals before her season came to an end. But the impact the signing trio has made on the school’s track and field up-and-comers is something Spinks says will reverberate long after the class of 2015 has departed.
“More than anything this year, the leadership they’ve showed will make our program better for years to come,” he said. “Our younger kids see their leadership and maturity. We’ve got some 10th and 11th graders coming up who are going to be fantastic. As track athletes, these seniors showed them how to conduct themselves.”
That includes Foster, who spent her senior year at Eagle’s Landing after transferring over from Union Grove. Foster said the fit into the Eagles’ family felt surprisingly natural.
“It was definitely an instant fit,” Foster said. “Overall, this season was just perfect. Like, coming here, I didn’t think it would be this great. But it actually was. I love my teammates. I love the coaching, and I look forward to experiencing this again with different people in college.”
Lodge agrees. She said she’s looking she’s excited to take what she’s learned from Spinks and her time at Eagle’s Landing, and parlay it into success at the highest level possible.
“I’ve loved it here,” she said. “Our bonds have been amazing. I can say I’ve created lifetime relationships here. Coach Spinks is a really sweet coach and he’s very caring. My coach at Iowa Western reminds me a lot of him, which is one of the reasons why I signed. I’m looking forward to getting up there and really putting in the effort. It’s only going to be two years (at Iowa Western), but I’m willing to do big things. All-American like. You’ll definitely be hearing about me.”
And Lodge also sees no reason why those she’s leaving behind can’t continue what her group of seniors started.
“You hear people say stuff like, ‘What are you gonna do when certain people leave,’ but as long as you put in the hard work, you can keep the legacy good and going no matter who’s here,” she said. “Winning region championships, going to state again. It’s good for us to finish with another. There’s no reason why it can’t happen here again next year.”