When Persephanie McRae became Durham School of the Arts’ track and field coach two years ago, she inherited a program that was halfway there toward becoming an area powerhouse.
The Bulldogs have a rich history of track and field success on the girls side, but no so much with the boys team, which hadn’t earned a league championship since 2003.
That changed Tuesday as the Bulldogs edged Franklinton – and ended the Red Rams’ three-year run of dominance – for the boys crown at the Northern Carolina Conference championships, which were hosted by Franklinton.
DSA earned 187 points to slide past Franklinton, which wasn’t far behind with 178 tallies. It was effectively a two-team race for the title as third-place Warren County was far behind with 71 points.
“We knew we had a hill to climb to win the conference,” said DSA senior Wesley Pratt. “We knew we were the underdogs, but we pulled together and got it done.”
Pratt was one of the Bulldogs’ numerous stars as part of the program’s historic day. He was the winner in the 300 hurdles and 400-meter dash while running a leg for DSA’s victorious 4-by-200 relay.
Even though he is a senior, this is Pratt’s first year as a member of the track team at DSA. He ran track as a ninth-grader at Kestrel Heights but competed in the sport solely on the club level during his sophomore and junior campaigns.
“I’ve run pretty much all my life,” Pratt said. “DSA isn’t known for its sports, so I wanted to try to help bring a state championship to DSA. We want to try to put DSA on the map.”
DSA’s girls finished off the sweep by taking its fourth consecutive NCC championship in runaway fashion. McRae’s Bulldogs piled up a whopping 270.5 points to easily outdistance runner-up Franklinton (138.5).
One of the Bulldogs’ most high-profile contributors on Tuesday was freshman Angel Bowden, who claimed firsts in the 100 and 300 hurdles (with a personal best of 49.29). Bowden also tied for first in the high jump (with a personal best of 5-4) and was part of the Bulldogs’ winning 4-by-200 relay foursome.
“I really didn’t think I could do something like this right away (in her high school career),” Bowden said. “Especially in the 300 hurdles – it wasn’t long ago that I was doing 1:07.”
Even though the Red Rams saw their boys conference reign come to an end, there were still plenty of highlights for coach Clennie Wilkins’ squad.
Franklinton won three relays (4-by-800, 4-by-100 and 4-by-400) along with earnings firsts in the discus (Ekwon White) and shot put (Michael Smith).
“I had explained to our guys that DSA was much stronger this year,” Wilkins said. “We had to come with our ‘A’ game, but we slipped up in a couple of area. We are young, so we feel like we can use this as a learning experience. We have to come ready to compete hard every day.”
Wilkins was tabbed as the NCC boys coach of the year for the third consecutive campaign, while McRae, a former student-athlete at Lees-McRae College, was the pick as the girls coach of the year.
“Coach McRae is really good coach,” Bowden said. “She does everything she can to make sure we do really well. We are all like one big family.”
The NCC athletes of the year, as voted on by league coaches, were N.C. School of Science and Math’s Emily Brinson and Warren County’s Darius Southerland.
Southerland, a senior, was the winner in the 100, while Brinson, a junior, won the 200 and was second in the 400.
Franklinton will serve as the host for the N.C. High School Athletic Association’s 2A Mideast Regional, which will be held concurrently with the 1A East Regional on May 13 beginning at 9:30 a.m.