Referencing above image, Audrey Walker, Makiah Holmes, Whittney Clark, Eden Jones, and Fayth Schwartz enjoy gift time at the senior track breakfast the day of the conference meet. The five seniors captain the Mansfield Lady Tiger track team.
Traditions sometimes grow out of the simplest things. A random act may one day have a ripple effect that lasts for generations. Although the origin of the habit may be unknown to most, the care and keep of the custom is sometimes held more tightly than the reason for its being.
So it goes for many a member of the Mansfield Lady Tiger track team. The rituals, beliefs, and attitudes of being on this team run deep. Since 1999, eighteen generations of athletes under the tutelage of Coach John Mackey have come to experience a common lore. Among the most coveted, is what has become the “senior breakfast”.
Many moons ago, the coach found a box of cereal labeled “Tiger Power”. As a motivation ploy, he took it to his team of five back then and made them eat a bowl before the district finals. Good things happened that night. Strong personal performances and qualifications to the state meet punctuated a promising season.
The next year more cereal was involved along with an increased menu to accommodate the larger number of players on the team. Along the way, the coach began sharing gifts to the seniors in appreciation of their hard work and family attitude towards the team. It was still on the morning of districts.
Over time, the membership grew so large the underclassmen began helping with the senior gifts. Tales of glory were added. Letters of appreciation began appearing.
Stories, poems, and pictures came calling as the climate and clarity of being a Lady Tiger track athlete became more focused. Yes, the win count rose. The trophies stacked up. But, if you’d ask the seniors of any particular season those accomplishments never really filled the heart like the fellowship of those morning meals.
Regardless of the food provisions or the gift packages, the prestige simply seemed to come from being appreciated.
Most of the seniors made it to breakfast because of six years of dedicated service to team and teammates. They found a place they could contribute. They felt worthy because time and distance was measured internally. As the coach would often claim,”if you throw one inch further, jump an inch higher, or run a second faster you’re already a success.”
On April 26, the day of the 3A Region 1 West District Championships, it ironically was another five seniors that sat down among teammates to break bread. After completing a breakfast prepared by another tradition in Debbie Mackey, the wife of the coach, the seniors surprised with their own letters of appreciation.
The following are excerpts from those letters. The full contents of the letters are personal, and their intended audience will remain hidden with the writers. But for the purpose connecting the customs and relationships fostered by Lady Tiger track athletes, the following are being revealed with their permission.
“As the end of my senior year draws closer I have been thinking more and more about my time at Mansfield and how track and cross country have influenced me… Track and cross country have been a major outlet for me… Running allowed me to tune out everything… You always wanted me to push myself so that I could be all that I could be… You were there to make sure I knew how much you believed in me…” wrote Eden Jones.
Jones is a four time All-District track athlete. She has achieved All-State status multiple times, has qualified to the prestigious Meet of Champions twice, and has been a heptathlete three seasons. During her freshman year, her high jump and 800m run were major factors in Mansfield winning the 2014 State indoor and outdoor titles. She has qualified to state four consecutive seasons. This year, the senior qualified to the state in six different events. She has been a middle distance runner and a high jumper for most of her career. This season she added a leg to the 4x100m sprint team. She is currently ranked among the top three high jumpers in the state.
“I honestly can’t believe how fast this happened… I never would have guessed how emotional it would make me… I think about my time as a Lady Tiger, I can’t help but tear up because I’m going to miss it so much… Thank you for sticking by my side… I will forever tell the stories of my track… I can’t wait to run at the district… For all of your love and support, our final gift to you, District Champs…” wrote Audrey Walker.
Walker is another four time All-District track athlete. She was a member of the 2014 state championship team. At a younger age Walker competed on all three relays and the 400m dash. As her career progressed she turned into an individual state champion in the 300m hurdles as well as a state finals high jumper. In 2016, she was an All-State athlete and Mansfield’s player of the year. Recently, she was awarded the high point individual trophy at the 3A Region 1 West District Finals.
“I am always going to remember all the silly times… Thank you for all the amazing memories that I will be able to share later with my kids… I got to run and compete with the best… Mansfield Lady Tiger Track has always been one of my favorites to be part of… I’m going to miss the meets, state indoor, outdoor, heptathlon, and getting the famous letter after each season…” wrote Whittney Clark.
Clark will attend her fourth consecutive state finals this year. She has been an All-District or All-State track athlete each of her four senior high seasons. Her specialty is the pole vault and triple jump. She has collected state medals at both indoor and outdoor state finals. She was a meet of champs qualifier her freshman season on the 4x800m relay team. This season she was the conference individual district champion in the triple jump. She was a member of the 2014 state championship team.
“I just wanted to start off by thanking you for everything you have helped me go through… A best friend, a shoulder to lean on, and my biggest motivation… Your dedication to make me better is the reason I am the person I am today… I am truly grateful…” wrote Makiah Holmes.
Holmes has participated in track and field since the seventh grade. Her contributions to the team came in many forms. Over the course of her career she has been a major point producer while being proficient at 10 different events. She has been a medalist at both the indoor finals and district championships. She has been an All-District athlete and has made multiple trips to the state finals. She’s been the lead leg on the 4x100m relay team for two seasons, and was the second highest ranked 100m hurdler in the league this year. She was on the 2014 state championship team.
“Thank you for believing in me… I’m going to miss having you there to make me be the best I can be… I’m going to miss my track family, but I know I’ll always be a Lady Tiger, and I’m honored to say that… You have made that an honor for people to be… I thank God that he put you into my life…” wrote Fayth Schwartz.
Schwartz is the 2017 district pole vault champ. This will be her third consecutive trip to the state finals. She has made the All-District team three times. She has been a medalist at both the indoor and outdoor state finals. This senior season she expanded her schedule to include the 100m dash, long jump, and 4x100m relay. She currently ranks among the top eight pole vaulters in class 3A. She was the manager for the senior high state championship team in 2014.
By the way, the Mansfield Lady Tiger track team won their eleventh consecutive conference title on April 26. It was roughly 14 hours after their senior breakfast.