by Jerry Byrd // North Louisiana Track & Field Correspondent
Like father, like son.
The District 1-5A track and field meet will be a family affair when Airline and Captain Shreve host the meet on Thursday afternoon.
Byrd head coach Juan Plaza remembers well his son’s first meet. It was the Peak Performance Invitational at ULM in Monroe. Jonathan Plaza, who was 7 years old, threw the turbo javelin and won the event. It was love at first gold medal.
“The gold medal hooked him,” Plaza said.
Jonathan continued to develop during summer track, competing for the club his father founded–River Cities Track Club. His resume includes two age group national championships.
Father and son are soaking up all the moments as Johnathan begins the final few weeks of his high school career. Like last Thursday night, at the podium of Lee Hedges Stadium in the rain as the Jackets collected the runner-up trophy at the Wesley-Payne Relays, Caddo’s parish meet.
“It’s been a dream come true,” Plaza said of having the opportunity to coach his son. “He has been at every Byrd meet for the last eight years. I am going to miss having him there at the meets with me.”
Plaza is ranked No. 2 in District 1-5A in the javelin with a best of 151’4. Benton’s Caleb Hood leads the district rankings with a 174-3, which ranks No. 5 in all of Class 5A.
Another father and son have enjoyed a good Spring on the track. Captain Shreve’s Kendrick Law took over the head track and field job when Coy Brotherton moved across the river to take the Parkway head football position. Law has coached his son, Kendrick Law Jr., who leads the Gators into Thursday’s meet.
“I thank God,” Law said. “It’s a blessing and I pray he stays healthy. It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to coach a great athlete, but more special when he is your own son. It has been fun to watch him grow and develop into the student-athlete he has become.”
He said his son’s strength development and knowledge of the sport have impressed him the most.
Law has the fastest time in the district over 200 meters (22.05) and anchor leg on Shreve’s district-leading 400 meter relay (42.01). While his time in the 100 (10.77) and mark in the long jump (22-8) may not lead the district, they are still up there with some of the best performances in Class 5A.
In the long jump, Law is tied for No. 7 in all classes and ranked No. 5 in Class 5A. His 10.77 is No. 8 in Class 5A. Parkway’s Dariusz Patterson has the top long jump in District 1-5A with a jump of 23- ½ . Another Panther, Jaylan White, leads in the 100 (10.63).
Speaking of Parkway, head girls coach Kent Falting has had much to smile about this season. Not only have his throwers put the Lady Panthers in a position to win the district title–something no team other than Captain Shreve has been able to do in the last five years, but Falting, who also serves as the head cross country coach, has been able to coach his son, Gabe, who, despite being a freshman, has run his way to the top of the district rankings in the 3200.
“It’s been a truly great experience to coach Gabe this year,” Falting said. “I never tried to coach him before high school because I didn’t want to be too overbearing. However, he grew up around the team and that led to an incredible work ethic and drive.”
Gabe Falting even gets text messages from former Panthers his father coached–like Hayden Kingfisher and Sarah Funderburk–both before and after his meets.
Here are some other athletes and teams to watch at the District 1-5A Meet on Thursday at Lee Hedges Stadium.
Parkway Girls’ Throws Group – Sophomore Mikeala Williams, who was the District MVP in basketball, leads the district in the girls discus with a best of 116-4. Lady Panther freshman Chloe Larry, who threw the javelin for the first time about three weeks ago, leads the district in the javelin with a best of 112-2.
According to Louisiana Milesplit, her throw is almost ten feet better than any other freshman in the state of Louisiana. Larry’s javelin teammate, Peyton Pipes, who signed a letter of intent to play soccer for ULM earlier this spring, has the second best mark in the district with a 110-11.
In the shot put, the Lady Panthers have the No. 2 and No. 3 spots. Amoree Williams (32-5) and Jayla James (31-10 ½) will try to knock off Byrd’s Christanna Kirksey (35-2), who lead the district in the event.
“We’ve been blessed to have some incredible talent to show up and throw,” Falting said. “ All of our throwers excel at multiple sports and push themselves past most high school students. These girls want to beat each other, not just their opponents.”
The Girls’ 1600 meters– This race features three of the Top 9 milers in Class 5A. Benton sophomore Isabelle Russell has posted the fastest time in the event with a 5:22.60, which ranks No. 6 in Class 5A. Parkway’s Joslyn Crosby and Byrd’s Bryn Peters, who signed last week with St. Edward’s University (Austin,Tx), are not far behind. Crosby has recorded a best of 5:28.76, good enough for No. 8 in Class 5A. Peters recorded a 5:29.18 at last week’s Wesley-Payne Relays, which broke her own school record in the event.
Airline’s Brianna Taylor – The Lady Viking junior has recorded the fastest times in the district in both the 100 (12.14) and 200 (24.85).
Captain Shreve’s Stephanie Fuller – The Lady Gator was a big reason Shreve won the last five district titles. She has a district best mark of 17-0 in the long jump, which ranks No. 10 in Class 5A. Her jump of 35-9 ½ in the triple jump, which is ranked No.7 in Class 5A, trails only Natchitoches Central’s Kimberly Cain.
Natchitoches Central’s Kimberly Cain – Cain has the best performance in the triple jump with a 36-3, which ranks No. 4 in Class 5A. She is also on top of the District 1-5A rankings in the girls 400 meters with a time of 59.67.
Benton’s Jamie Willis – The sophomore from Benton, who did not get a season last year due to covid, is making up for lost time and making a name for herself in the hurdles. She leads the district in the 100 meter hurdles (15.33), where she is tied for fifth in Class 5A, and 300 hurdles (47.77), which is ranked No. 10 in all of Class 5A.
Haughton’s Jiana Stewartburgess – Haughton’s junior is tied for the lead in the girls high jump with Parkway’s Williams at 5-0. The mark is ranked No. 13 in Class 5A.
Natchitoches Central’s Oluwagbe Ojemakinde – Ojemakinde leads the Chiefs in the field events where he owns the best marks in both the shot put (52-5) and the discus (158-3). His performance in both throwing events are ranked No. 2 in Class 5A.
Natchitoches Central’s Devon Sowell – Sowell lead the Chiefs on the track where he has the best times in the 110 hurdles (14.79) and 300 hurdles (40.19)
Benton’s Jacob Marcinkus – The District 1-5A Cross Country champion led the Tigers to their first district championship in 5A in the Fall, and appears to be ready to have the same impact this week at district. Marcinkus, who signed with ULL earlier this Spring, leads the district in the 3200(9:42.73) and has the No. 2 in the 1600 (4:31.06) trailing only Parkway’s Madison Langley’s 4:28.20. If need be, Benton head coach Scott Reeder could call upon Marcinkus in the 800 meters as well.
Boy’s Sprint Relays– An event usually owned by Haughton, the Bucs will be in the mix again, but Shreve comes into the district with the fastest time of 42.06. In Class 5A, only Zachary has posted a faster time. Haughton’s sprint relay has a best of 42.81, which ranks No.8 in Class 5A. Look for one or both teams to dip under 42 seconds on Thursday. The 800 meter relay, which will be run before the 400 meter relay, could provide clues to which team is in top form, but Natchitoches Central (1:29.30) looks to retain their No. 1 spot in district. If all teams perform well, it could make for a crowd at the finish line. Haughton (1:29.63), Airline (1:30.63), Parkway (1:30.70), and Southwood (1:31.49) have all impressed. Shreve will have the pieces in place to be in the mix. The Gator’s best time this season is 1:31.65.