Panther Creek's J Johnson edges Athens Drive's Brandon Ray for 4A 55
Panther Creek’s climb to the top of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A indoor track and field championships couldn’t have been done without meet MVP J Johnson. That much is obvious.
The N.C. State recruit won all three of his individual events: long jump (22 feet, 8 1/2 inches), 55-meter dash (6.36) and 300-meter dash (34.39) and ran an leg on a relay that finished seventh.
But the Catamounts’ ascent to the program’s first state title happened long ago, behind the scenes and in the hallways.
Football coach Sean Crocker encouraged his players to pick up an event or two. New coaches Paul Scruggs and Casey Bagaasen picked up where former coaches Ryan Matthews and Rusty Jenkins left off and began to get more athletes at the large west Cary school to think about the sport.
Scruggs, who left North Pitt two years ago, credits his administration.
“I’ve definitely thrown out some requests like ‘Hey, can we get this?’ expecting to get shot down, but (knowing) it wouldn’t hurt to ask,” said Scruggs, who was relieved to hear back: “If you think it’ll make us competitive.”
The Catamounts’ 40 points – 30 from Johnson alone – topped West Forsyth’s 31 on Saturday at the JDL Fast Track. Not bad for a program that, until last spring, hadn’t won a conference team title in track and field.
Johnson said he remembered when track wasn’t as big at Panther Creek. To turn the program around, Scruggs, Bagaasen, Johnson and others began talking others into trying out.
“We had a lot of seniors who came out, and some of them, this is their first year,” Bagaasen said.
Those hallway conversations helped land baseball standout Ben LaSpaluto, who will play at Gardner-Webb next year. LaSpaluto finished eighth in the triple jump. Senior football standout Justin Smalls was third in the high jump.
It all added up. Both invested time into the program and will now get state rings for it.
“Almost every boy that game got a point somehow,” Scruggs said.“We couldn’t have done this without J, but we got all those individual points to move by people.”