By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
HOLLY POND —
The joy on Randy Brock’s face when he talks about the Holly Pond track and field team is unmistakable.
The 24-year-old Bronco grad is quickly approaching the end of his first season as coach, and all in all, it’s been a pretty spectacular year.
The same could not be said for Brock’s 2012.
On May 8, he and his wife, Hannah, welcomed a baby boy into the world. Just nine days later, little Randy Lee “R.J.” Brock had passed away, the couple’s second heartbreaking loss after a baby girl named Phoebe Rebecca Lee Brock was born sleeping on June 10, 2010.
Flash forward to Thursday, as Randy scurries about the Holly Pond campus in anticipation of his squad’s departure for the Class 1A-3A State Championship later in the afternoon. Hannah meets him in front of the library, spending a brief moment with her husband before the two run off to round up student-athletes for the trip to Selma.
And that’s how life has been for the Brocks since the season began in early March. Coaching or being married to a coach definitely isn’t for everyone, but for the Brocks, Bronco track and field has helped heal a family in ways they could’ve never imagined.
“I don’t know, just not being able to have our kid, these are our kids,” an emotional Randy said. “I love to see the excitement, and it just makes me so happy to be around them and have them compete because, I mean, that’s what we’ve got right now.”
The timing of this year’s Cullman County Track and Field Championship couldn’t have been much better for Brock and his wife. On April 16, the Green and White girls shocked the area by winning the 4x400-meter relay in the very last race of the meet to edge Fairview for the runner-up trophy. One day later, on the 11-month anniversary of R.J.’s passing, the Brocks finally received their baby boy’s autopsy results, learning he had died due to complications from cystic fibrosis.
“It was like bam,” the coach said of the ups and downs he experienced over the two-day span. “It was awesome we finished second and then it’s like, well, here you go. We got a pick-me-up so we wouldn’t crash too hard after it. It was a pleasant surprise.”
Brock was certainly a sight to see on the track during the latest county meet. As the event drew to a close, he rarely strayed far from the finish line, shouting encouragement as each runner strode by and reacting even more enthusiastically than even the kids to every successful result.
With less than a handful of events left on the docket, Brock threw his team a curveball, huddling the girls and promising to buy them ice cream if they finished in second place. Then, as Haley Higginbotham sprinted down the straightaway all alone out front in the final race of the day, there stood Brock at the end, yelling, leaning forward and crazily pumping his arms the exact way he wanted the runner to pump hers.
The coach raised his arms as Higginbotham crossed the line for the 4x400-meter relay title and waited only seconds to bumrush the exhausted student-athlete and swallow her in a bear hug.
“Most of the kids seem to enjoy it,” Brock said of his passionate coaching tendencies, which he credits to former football coach and current Holly Pond girls basketball coach Scott Adams. “Some of them withdraw from the excitement at first, but it’s turned out pretty good. I think they fed off it this year.”
Indeed they have. Led by an extremely young trio of speedsters — sophomore Megan Barksdale and freshmen Mykenzie Heaton and Melissa Clingman — this year’s Lady Broncos have transformed their track and field program from a cellar dweller into an up-and-coming contender. They not only finished second at the county and sectional competitions but increased their amount of state qualifiers from one in 2012 to a much-more respectable 17 girls and boys.
Barksdale, the lone Holly Pond representative one year ago, couldn’t be more ecstatic about all the changes that have transpired over the last 365 days, resulting in spectators and opponents alike taking full notice of the Green and White’s rising status.
“Last year, we all kind of went our separate ways, but we’re more of a family now,” the sophomore said. “It’s like we’re a team now.”
The greatest example of Barksdale’s point lies in the obvious bonds she shares with her fellow short-distance standouts in Heaton and Clingman. All three consider each other best friends and sisters — even though they often line up against each other in the same events.
“It pushes us,” Barksdale said of the dilemma. “We root for each other, but we’re also trying to beat each other.”
Regardless of how they do at the state meet over the weekend, the Lady Broncos will always be able to reflect fondly on their county and sectional runner-up results. Come 2014, though, second place won’t be near enough anymore.
“Next year, we’re going to be winners,” Heaton said.
Holly Pond will be joined in Selma today and Saturday by Addison, Cold Springs, Good Hope, Hanceville, St. Bernard and Vinemont, while Cullman, Fairview and West Point will head to Gulf Shores for the Class 4A-6A State Championship.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.