Salem High School track and field coach Darryl McCoy II knew he had one of the best teams in the nation, but last week his team set out to prove him right.
McCoy took his Salem High School team under the name “Ballout Track Club” to the Nike Indoor Nationals at Armory Track in New York City and won the 4x200-meter relay in 1:28.40.
“They stuck to the plan, trusted the process and came home with the victory,” McCoy said. “I always said that [the Tidewater area] likes to ignore this side of Virginia. They don’t think there’s speed down here.”
The team competed under its club division called “Ballout Track Club” because the Virginia High School League doesn’t allow its teams to participate in national tournaments under its school name.
Jonathan Vernon, Josiah Persinger, DaRon Wilson and Peyton Lewis are the four runners that make up the winning relay team.
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Lewis is the anchor.
McCoy said the teammates knew they had won the race once Lewis grabbed the baton from Wilson.
“We knew he was rolling. We saw it on the Jumbotron like our coaches were joking when I said, ‘You was already [smiling] before you crossed the line. We could’ve run faster,’” McCoy said.
Lewis said they won the 4x200 by running as a team instead of four different individuals running a separate race.
Lewis, who has received 26 Division I football offers, also placed second in the boys 40-yard dash (4.59), 55-meter dash (6.28), and 60-meter dash (6.73).
“I was born with God-given natural ability with speed and everything,” Lewis said.
Lewis’ teammate Christopher Cole finished sixth in the emerging boys 55 hurdles (7.83) and fourth in the emerging 60 hurdles (8.44).
“Chris Cole is another guy who does multiple events,” McCoy said. “He’s a hurdler, but Chris Cole can also run the 400.”
Other Salem runners who made notable finishes in New York include freshman Nazeser Miller at ninth in the freshman 400-meter race, and Dominic Wright, Trenton Moyer, Isaiah Barlow and Bryson Hill at 11th in the 4x200 relay, Emerging Elite Division.
The Salem High School track team originally received national recognition at the Liberty Premier Invitational in early January. The athletes broke a school and meet record in the 4x200 relay by clocking a time of 1:28.23, which at the time was the fastest in the nation.
After the Liberty meet, the team was approached by a Nike representative. The representative told McCoy that they were invited to the Nike Indoor Nationals and that Nike would sponsor them, which included hotel rooms, spikes, a travel voucher and a photo shoot that would air in New York’s Times Square.
“That’s unreal to me just knowing that we got Nike. We come from a very small town,” Lewis said. “Having an idea and a goal that we were going to reach in the future and really just coming out here and just blowing up getting our own billboard [in Times Square and] giving us the opportunity to run at these national and [highly] competitive events is unreal.”
Lewis said the team used last season as a year to grow. The group went to the Nike Indoor Nationals and realized that everyone there was extremely fast, but that didn’t discourage them.
“I feel like trial and error has broken us down and made us stronger over the past two years,” Lewis said. “When we all first started running together last year is when we had first constructed everything. And we were doing some pretty good stuff together. But this year we came together knowing that our potential is way higher than what we [could have] imagined.”
The track team is full of football players, and an earlier exit in the postseason for Salem High School this season helped McCoy get them focused on track about a month earlier than last indoor season.
Playing on multiple teams together has helped the boys gain a special bond.
“When you play on that football field, you got to be [in sync] with your brother because he has to have your back,” Vernon said. “And I know those guys have my back, so when we’re running together, it’s not about me. It’s about the other guys.”
“We might as well be brothers because we’ve been together for a very long time,” Wilson said.
The 4x200 relay team all sang McCoy’s praises.
“Coach Darryl, he’s a good coach. He’s more like a father figure to everybody,” Wilson said. “He keeps us in check.”
“Coach McCoy, he even told us ever since last year when we went to nationals that we’re gonna be big,” Vernon said. “And he said, as long as we keep on doing what we’re doing and keep on working hard, then we’re gonna be [on the] national stage and we’re gonna win it.”
Persinger said the team’s practices are intense.
“We come to practice ready to work. We don’t be playing around. You can have fun sometimes, but just know when to take it seriously and to work your craft,” Persinger said. “So you can become better because when I’m racing against Peyton, it gets me faster. He’s faster than me and I want to push myself, so I can keep running with him and eventually get faster than him.”
The club team competes in the Nike Outdoor Nationals at the University in Oregon from June 15-18. The runners will be sponsored by Nike and will compete in the 4x100 instead of the 4x200. Some of the runners will compete in individual events as well.
“My biggest thing is getting these kids proper exposure so they could possibly run in college and get their education paid for,” McCoy said.