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Pickle, Oatts lead way to 4th-straight 1-AAA crown
Prince says Bearden has chance to win state track title; BHS girls 3rd led by Hirst

KINGSPORT — During Bearden’s last period of East Tennessee dominance in boys’ track and field — three regional crowns from 1974 to 1976 — the Bulldogs won its only state championship, that coming in 1975.

Steve Prince was a key contributor in 1975 as a distance runner.

Now as head coach with a school-record fourth consecutive 1-AAA Sectional crown earned last Friday at Dobyns-Bennett High School (winning 112-76) versus No. 2 William Blount), Prince looks to cap things off with a boys state title in 2006.

While qualifying in 12 events for the Class AAA meet in Murfreesboro May 22-26, “This is a very hungry bunch, they’ve come away empty-handed [three] years in a row,” Prince said, clarifying “empty” to mean no state title. “We won the runner-up trophy in [2003], which surprised everybody. We were very happy with that.”

However, in 2006, “These seniors are now like, ‘hey, it’s our turn, we’re ready,’” Prince said. “I think it’ll be close between us and Hamilton, and Cordova’s going to be tough; and you never know what Houston will have, they’re so strong in the pole vault and field events. There could be a dark horse out there. Hunter’s Lane is also in the [mix].”

Prince will take three hard-core experienced senior veterans back to state: defending discus state champ Eric Pickle, sprint standout Nathan Grace and hurdles champ Jay Oatts.

Meanwhile, freshman standout Mary Hirst was the Lady Bulldogs’ top performer after winning the pentathlon by 273 points (2,624) while also winning the high jump (5-foot-4) and leading the BHS girls to a third-place sectional finish.

The Bearden girls qualified for state in eight events, six of those field events. More on the Lady Bulldogs later in this story.


Topping the BHS boys’ “big three” list is Pickle, 2005 discus state champ and All-American who signed with the University of Virginia Monday, May 15, while looking to repeat in discus and add a shot put state title next week.

“I’m undefeated in shot this year, so I’d like to keep it that way,” Pickle said. “Also, another goal, I’d like to get the state record in discus if I can. I’ve thrown a lot of throws in practice this year that would shatter that.”

Grace will go to state as sectional champion in the 400 (:50.14) while finishing second in the 200 (:22.69). “This will be the fourth year Nathan Grace will be at state, and third year Pickle and Oatts have been to state,” Prince said of his top three seniors.

Prince said Oatts, 110 and 300-meter hurdles sectional champion, returns to state after breaking a 32-year-old school record in the 110 (:14.46), eclipsing John Cox’s record of :14.5. “I was there for that one [Cox] and I got to watch this one [Oatts], so that’s really cool to see that happen,” he said.

Among the “pleasant surprises” at KD-B May 12 was Jonathan Blue’s long jump region victory (21-feet) after an injury had apparently sidelined him.

“Jonathan Blue was warming up, hurt his knee in the long jump, and we didn’t even know if he was even going to jump,” Prince said.

Bearden’s 4 X 400 team of Oatts, C.J. Gunn, Sean Cunningham and Grace finished on top (3:23.19).

The BHS 4 X 100 team of Oatts, Cunningham, Gunn and Blue took second (:43.52), while the Bulldogs’ 4 X 800 team of Jonathan Williams, Chad Vaughn, Ben Fennell and Andrew Shankles was third (8:21.05). Gunn also qualified in the 400, finishing second (:50.52) while Cunningham also qualified in the 400 (fourth, :51.23).


Danielle Elliott qualified for state after a third-place finish in the triple-jump (33-10.00). The Lady Bulldogs’ 4 X 200 was third (Jeanna Davis, Kelly Fuller, Jennifer Scott and Christian Taylor) at 1:47.52, while its 4 X 100 was fourth (Davis, Elliott, Scott and Taylor) at :51.13.

In the “throwing events,” Sarah Himmelreich took second in the shot put (33-05.75) followed by Taylor Rotella in fourth (33-01.50), while Amity Mulvey was second in discus (122-02) followed by Sarah Canter in third (107-10).

“Karen Shotwell is responsible for that,” BHS girls head coach Barry Faust said about Shotwell’s coaching in the throwing events.


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