By Gabriel Stovall
McDONOUGH, Ga. — Devin Dixon and Betty Jackson outrunning the competition in Henry County cross country championship meets is nothing new.
But for their coach, Eagle’s Landing High’s Claud Spinks, seeing their duplicate success never gets old.
The duo repeated as individual County champs this past Thursday at Hampton’s Nash Farm course during the County meet. And for Spinks, their success was equal parts sweet and expected.
“I think both of them are quite a bit ahead of the next closest competitor in the county,” Spinks said. “Devin hasn’t been challenged at all in county all season, and Betty, she’s had some girls try to go with her, but she’s gotten so much stronger this year. She’s finishing races even stronger than she has before.”
For Jackson, it was her third straight county crown — a feat Spinks said he thinks could be a first for the local meet. The junior crossed the finish line at 20:17.90, a full 23 seconds ahead of Union Grove senior Ellunde Montgomery.
Jackson’s time set a personal record for her, on a course that Spinks said was a little soggy, given the amount of rain the area has received this past week.
“For her to PR at Nash Farm — I mean, the course itself is in pretty good shape. (Meet host) Ola did a great job getting it together. But it’s usually going to be slower when it’s softer, and for to PR at Nash Farms on a Thursday after school is just a testament to how much better shape Betty’s in.”
In addition to Jackson’s county title trifecta, she’ll also be the state’s top returner in the 800 meters once track and field season rolls around. Jackson finished second in last year’s Class AAAA meet. And with another full year to pad her stats, Spinks isn’t being shy about her potential place in Eagle’s Landing cross country and track history.
“Betty now is obviously in the top two or three total ever here,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s anyone who’s won three consecutive county championships in Henry County, much less four, which she has a chance to do. And of course she’s one of the two or three best girls in middle distance running in track. Probably, if you take into account her whole body of work, she could be the best ever here.”
As for Devin, he captured his second straight championship in as many years with a finishing time of 16:59.70 — not bad for a guy who’s really just breaking into the sport.
He finished almost a minute faster than Union Grove junior Walker Inman.
“Devin’s now got a good, solid 16 months of running under his belt,” Spinks said. “But he hasn’t raced as well as his workouts have looked. I think you’ll see that happen later in the season with his confidence increasing. I don’t think he’s understanding yet how good he’s gotten.”
There’s a whole cache of big-named colleges in the region who understand it, though. Spinks said “virtually every big named school in the southeast is talking to him.”
“You can’t really contact the runners until July 1 of their rising senior year,” he said. “I had people lined up ready to talk to Devin as soon as the date on the calendar changed. And I expect it will be the same for Betty when that time comes for her.”
It’s all pretty gratifying for Spinks, now in his 11th year coaching at the school. In the same breath he lauded Jackson as one of his best girl runners ever, he said he’d put Dixon up there with some of the greats he’s coached on the boys’ side — guys like Georgia Bulldogs runner Zack Sims or Oklahoma All-American Jamel Wood.
“It does make you feel good,” Spinks said. “When we go places and people will point to Devin and say, ‘Hey that’s Devin Dixon. That’s the kid we’ve heard about.’ And they say the same thing about Betty. It really is pretty cool to hear that as a coach, and it feels good to know that those kids are getting the accolades they deserve.”