State championship schedule
Where: Grisham Stadium, Carrollton (Class 6A, Class 5A)
Berry College’s Valhalla Stadium, Rome (Class 4A, Class A Private)
Hugh Mills Stadium, Albany (Class 3A)
Tickets are $7 per day
When Tim Cummings arrived at Riverside Military during the 2016-17 school year, he made a few changes to how the track and field program operated.
He started by adjusting the attitude at practice, turning what had been lackluster training habits into serious sessions. Cummings required runners to perform six or seven 400-meter laps at each practice, with another voluntary sprint thrown in afterward to build his team’s work ethic.
The longtime Athens Christian coach even made it his mission to spruce up the school’s indoor track facility, which allowed his athletes to train for the outdoor season throughout the winter months.
“(Cummings) brought a different mentality,” said Demi Lasisi, a senior captain for the Eagles. “I got here the same year he did, but I heard from people who were here before that practice was mostly people messing around, doing one lap and then leaving.
“He showed us we have to work hard for everything and that nothing will be given to us.”
Lasisi and his teammates have fully bought into their coach’s philosophy, and now they’re on the brink of a state championship because of it.
Riverside Military will be one of seven Hall County teams with athletes competing at state meets this weekend at three locations across the state. The Eagles, competing in the Class A Private meet, are one of the favorites to win at Berry College’s Valhalla Stadium in Rome, which will also host teams from Classes 7A and 4A.
“These kids have done everything I’ve asked them to do,” Cummings said. “They have a great attitude and a strong competitive spirit. We’re excited to see what we can do at state. It’s always fun to be in the hunt, and we’re definitely in it.”
Class 6A Gainesville and Class 5A Flowery Branch will also vie for state championships at Grisham Stadium in Carrollton. North Hall is part of the Class 3A event at Hugh Mills Stadium in Albany, where one East Hall individual qualifier will also compete.
Chestatee sent three individual athletes and West Hall two to the Class 4A meet in Rome. Each site has a different order of events, which are set to run today-Saturday.
The Rome event, for example, has its track preliminaries slated for today, though Riverside Military will not have to attend due to Class A sectional times also serving as prelims. Cummings said the Eagles will spend the free day doing light work and icing down, but he expressed little concern about his athletes’ ability to handle what should be sweltering heat this weekend.
In fact, he hasn’t had much to be concerned about at all this season.
Riverside Military won all but one of the meets it participated in this year, Cummings said, even while seeking out events loaded with teams from larger classifications. The lone outlier was a second-place finish at a 16-team competition.
With most of their sprinters and relay teams among the top three in Class A private schools, the Hall County champion Eagles have a good shot to close the season with what would be the biggest win of them all.
“We’re confident going in,” said James Seymour, who will compete in the 800-meter race and the 1600-meter relay. “Our team is excited, so much that we wish the meet had happened last week. If we do what we know we can, we’ll come back with a ring.”
That would be a major feat for a team comprised of mostly juniors. Lasisi and fellow captain Charles Dimnwaobi are the only seniors on the squads, though they’ll still carry large loads at the state meet.
Dimnwaobi will compete in five events, as will junior Isaac Teasley, and Cummings believes both have a solid shot at earning high-point recognition.
Lasisi, meanwhile, is set to enter in three events, but he’s focused on one specifically.
At last year’s state meet, Lasisi made a false start in the 400-meter relay. The infraction, coupled with the absence of two seniors who attended graduation instead of competing, hurt the Eagles as they finished fifth overall.
“I was the nervous one last year,” Lasisi said. “After I had that false start, I made it my goal this year to make every relay I was in better than the last one.”
His contributions have helped position Riverside Military for a state championship this time around. Cummings expects a three-team race for the title in Class A private schools, with Athens Academy and Eagle’s Landing Christian serving as the other contenders.
Given the strength of his sprinters — who will run Saturday — Cummings said he’d be pleased if the Eagles can exit Friday’s field events with 20 points.
“Our expectation is to try to score about 200 points,” said Teasley, the only athlete in his classification to crack 48 seconds in the 400-meter dash. “If God lets everybody stay healthy and go, I feel like we can surprise some people and even break state records.”
Winning state would be enough for Riverside Military, and that looks like a distinct possibility thanks to the team’s skill and renewed commitment to work ushered in by Cummings.
The 40th-year coach already has 10 GHSA and 20 Georgia Independent School Association titles to his name, but he said winning one in such a short time with athletes under strict military requirements would be “special.”
“It took us a while to say, ‘This is what we do at practice,’” Cummings said. “And with the winter work we do at our facility, I think it was all a change for them. But I got them thinking about and visualizing a state championship within the first 30 seconds that I got here, and now we have a chance to do that.”