Another honor has come the way of Center Hill track and field coach J.J. Downs following this spring’s MHSAA 5A state championship won by the Lady Mustangs.
Downs has been selected by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) as its Mississippi High School Girls Track Coach of the Year.
The Center Hill head coach led the Lady Mustangs to this spring’s MHSAA 5A state team championship, the culmination of what Downs called “a remarkable season.”
“I’m just ecstatic with the progress that we have made,” Downs said Wednesday. “The girls have won eight straight district titles, we’ve won back-to-back regional titles, the first North State title and the first-ever state title.”
At Pearl, Center Hill outran the field, defeating second-place Hattiesburg 124-84. Among the individual champions, Austin Peay State University-bound Camaryn McClelland won four state titles.
“For me to receive not only the MAC (Mississippi Association of Coaches) Coach of the Year award and now this one is just remarkable,” Downs said. “All the credit goes to all of the great student athletes that have come through the program the last 10 years and all of the student athletes over my 18 years that have helped my development as a coaching as a person.”
The USTFCCCA each year names one boys coach and one girls coach from each of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia. They are chosen for their successes during the spring of 2018 outdoor track season and are selected by a committee of experts from around the nation.
Among the factors taken into consideration, according to the USTFCCCA, were the team score and placement at the state championships, margin of victory, performance against rankings if available, individual championships, and how their team performances stacked up to previous years (e.g. first title in school history, consecutive titles, etc.).
While being specifically honored for the success of his girls team, Downs pointed out both programs have excelled at Center Hill.
“The boys have won seven straight district titles, won their second overall regional title and placed the highest they’ve ever placed at the state meet,” Downs said. “We’re a family out there and you can’t accomplish anything without great coaches, student athletes and parents and everybody involved.”
Each state winner will receive a trophy from the USTFCCCA recognizing their achievement.
The Mississippi boys’ Coach of the Year was Joey Hawkins of Presbyterian Christian School.
All of the state winners are now in consideration for the National High School Track and Field Coach of the Year award.
Bob Bakken is Sports Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.