By Jeffery Armstrong
The 2003 Clayton County high school Track and Field Championships started Tuesday evening at Tara Stadium with preliminaries in girls running events and finals in boys field events.
The Lovejoy Wildcats are the defending boys county champions, while the Riverdale Lady Raiders are gunning for their third straight county title.
Current Lovejoy cross country and track coach Richard Westbrook was enjoying the scene, especially since he's not the County Meet Director this year.
This is Westbrook's final year at Lovejoy n he has accepted the position of boys and girls track and cross country coach at new Luella High School in Henry County. Luella will open in the fall of 2003 with freshmen, sophomores and a few juniors.
"I see this as a big challenge for me, trying to start a new program again," said Westbrook, who's coached at Lovejoy since 1990. "The people at Luella called me and said they believed I was the guy to build a cross country and track team there. It's exciting to know people look at me in that way."
Westbrook certainly has done plenty to merit the admiration. When he arrived at Lovejoy from Riverdale, the school only had two runners. One of those runners, Mike Tolcher, was also a golfer.
Less than two years later, Tolcher won the 1992 county championship in the 800 meters with a time of 2:03.00.
"Tolcher's win was good for the school," Westbrook said. "We started to get noticed on the state level."
Westbrook's boys track and field teams have six county titles and finished as the runners-up four times from 1992 till now. The girls' track teams have fared even better n they've won seven county titles from 1992 till present day, finishing second twice.
The boys and girls cross country teams have won 13 straight county titles, shattering the previous record of eight straight by Riverdale.
Now Westbrook has to start over. Luella will bring in students from Henry County High who aren't really track or cross country stars. He said the three keys to building successful track and cross country programs are education, motivation and success.
"It's going to take a lot of sacrifice by the cross country runners at Luella to make it," he said. "For track, I will have to do much fundamental teaching. I'll get them some experience in invitationals to help them along. It will be a big test for me; I hope I pass."
Westbrook said that while he's looking forward to coaching at Luella (which will be in Class AA), he wishes his 2003 Lovejoy track teams were stronger.
"We lost several of our boys to graduation and a lot of our good young girls to Mundy's Mill," he said. "Coach [Damon] Blythe has done a real good job with what we have here. They should be much stronger next year."
One Lovejoy athlete who benefited from Westbrook's coaching is freshman harrier Georgia Williams, who said he had an impact on her during cross country season.
"Coach Westbrook told me to never give up and he pushed me to do my best at all times," said Williams. "I'll miss him a lot. He's made me see that running is my passion. I know he'll do well at Luella High."
Westbrook said he's getting plenty of support from parents, administrators and coaches at Luella, just like he's had at Lovejoy.
"We're having an open house at Luella soon. I hope I can find some runners," he said.