At first, the track and field team at Riverside Military Academy couldn’t fathom Tim Cummings’ vision for the program after the coach first set foot on campus in 2017.
One region title, a Hall County Championship and a Class A Private state crown later, it’s safe to say the third-year coach has transformed the Eagles into a well-oiled machine. And for another year, Cummings has Riverside Military on the map as the lone school in Georgia to host a high school indoor track meet.
The school’s third annual Riverside Military Indoor Winter Challenge is Saturday at the John L. Beaver Field House in Gainesville. The defending state champions welcome in a number of teams from Georgia, Tennessee and Florida, and get an early helping of the competition more than one month before the outdoor season kicks off.
“We work hard every day in here, and it pays off when it gets to (the) outdoor facilities,” said junior Jermaine Harris, one of several returning pieces from last year’s team that brought Riverside its first-ever GHSA title. “It puts us a step ahead of everybody. But overall, this (facility) is a true blessing from God.”
It’s also an opportunity for Riverside Military to introduce itself as one of the distinguished programs on the sheet. Cummings noted Baylor School (Tenn.), with a combined nine state titles between its boys (2) and girls (7), as another bringing a handful athletes.
North Hall and East Hall are the two other Hall County programs that will compete at the event as well.
“You still gotta stay humble, but it’s a good amount of competition to get us right before the outdoor season,” added Harris, who competes in the high jump event, and runs in the 400-meter relay and 1600 relays in outdoor.
“(Coach Cummings) came in here two years ago when we weren’t anything, turned us into region champions. Next year after that, turned us into state champions. So, I feel like he made an impact.
“Now, schools are seeing that, how we’ve come up. And they just want to get a taste of what Riverside is all about.”
For three decades, the state of Georgia lacked the resources and/or facilities to hold a proper indoor track meet. Cummings changed that narrative during his first season at Riverside Military in 2017, organizing the inaugural event formally called the Riverside Indoor Invitational.
“Everybody talks about doing one, but just like my daddy used to say, ‘Everybody’s talking about the weather, but nobody’s doing anything about it,’” said Cummings, who had a big influence in creating the state’s lone indoor high school meet.
“It’s kind of gotten crazy. But it’s a lot of fun. “It’s turned into a neat meet.”
Cummings has seen a rapid rise in participants since hosting between eight to 12 schools the first year. Of the 25 schools registered — more than double the amount from two years prior — Cummings expects up to 500 athletes in attendance.
“My sophomore year is when we first started indoor meets. ... And now it’s (over) 20 teams,” said senior Stephen Aleandre, another returning member of Riverside Military’s state championship team. “People know who we are now.”
The GHSA states that track teams may compete in one indoor meet, and the meet will not count as a part of the 10 meets allowed per athlete provided the meet is after the date for practice to begin and prior to the date to begin regular competition. However, athletes can compete as unattached with no limit during the indoor season, according to Cummings.
Due to the military boarding school element at Riverside Military, and half of his roster still participating in other winter sports, Cummings said the majority of his team will register as unattached this weekend.
“We have so many disadvantages at Riverside. You know, our football team doesn’t even get together until August. All those other boys are running 7 on 7s all year. ... And then they have the military part they have to deal with. They all had a two-hour drill period earlier today before they came to practice. ... This is one thing that is a bit of an advantage for us.”
While the spike in entries for the meet is encouraging, Cummings is still working diligently to improve the quality of the indoor facility in hopes it meets the criteria for the GHSA to support a full indoor track season. Cummings said he is in the process of persuading state legislature to award the school a $500,000 grant to go toward rubberizing the entire track inside the John L. Beaver Field House.
“We’re the only state in the south that doesn’t have an official indoor season,” Cummings said. “Our kids, for years they’ll go to Birmingham Crossplex, or they’ll go to Clemson or they go to University of Tennessee. They go everywhere around us. ... But they have nowhere in Georgia to go.”
For now, the Eagles use this weekend’s meet as a building block for defending their Class A Private title in the spring.
“Winning back-to-back at state is, going to be tough,” Aleandre said. “We got a long ways to go. A lot of the guys from last year, the seniors from last year left, so we’ve gotta step up this year. ... It’ll be a great opportunity for us to compete, get better.”
Riverside Military Indoor Winter Challenge
WHEN: 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 19
WHERE: John L. Beaver Field House at Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville