Brunswick High School track and field coach Ryan McKenzie is a motivator.
After a meet at Richmond Hill, players were begging McKenzie to treat the team to a post-meet meal. Usually, McKenzie tells his players to eat on their own before meets. He wants to save the big meal for big achievements.
“We don’t stop to eat unless we finish in first, I like to reward them,” McKenzie said. “If I allow them to stop for second place, you’ll want to stop for second place for the rest of your life.”
That didn’t stop the starving, second- year coach from feeding himself. He chose to swing by Waffle House, not even a mile down the road from the school, when one of his players was there as well, in uniform.
“He said, ‘I’m working until (7 a.m.) in the morning,” McKenzie said. “I put in our group chat, that’s the definition of dedication. That’s a kid, he’s not preparing for track — he’s going into the military — he’s just running for the love of the sport.”
McKenzie glimpsed into Ronald Spradley’s life that day. Spradley, a senior at Brunswick High, is balancing work, track and taking care of his 10-month old daughter, Londyn, whose name he has tattooed on his arm. On that day, he had to rush back to Brunswick to clock in for a all-night shift, after a full day at a school and the track meet.
It makes for some long days, particularly on the weekends, but Spradley said he has to prioritize his responsibilities. Before his first season on the track team, Spradley had to resign from football to focus his attention on his daughter. He had a hard time staying away from sports, however, and he decided to try his luck on Brunswick’s brand new track.
McKenzie, who had a fairly deep team to start the season, wasn’t initially sure where Spradley would fit in on the team. He said Spradley’s outright speed doesn’t necessarily pass the “eye test” but his top speed is dangerous.
Now, McKenzie is relying on Spradley to come through in a handful of events for the Pirates’ region meet today at Richmond Hill.
“Initially out of the blocks, he’s nowhere near as fast (as competitors), but his speed is top-end speed,” McKenzie said. “We’ve got an opportunity to compete for a lot of different events on Thursday and place in sectionals for the first time since I’ve been here.”
As numbers have dwindled during the season, Spradley’s role has impacted the Pirates’ team greater. He currently runs the 100- and 200-meter sprint, and the 4x400 and 4x100 relays.
“A lot of people I ran against were committed to D-I schools,” Spradley said. “I’d be nervous, but when I actually ran against them, it worked out.”
Spradley didn’t really expect to impact the Pirates track and field team as significantly as he has this season. It hasn’t been easy, however, being both a high school senior and responsible dad. Time spent on the track means time away from Londyn, who is normally in day care while Spradley is at school or practice. Then his weekends are spent at Waffle House. He started taking on serious 10-hour shifts about one year ago, so all of his training comes after school.
“It hasn’t been hard-hard, but I’ve been working every weekend,” Spradley said. “I thought it would have been hard enough going to school and taking care of a child, but she’ll be at daycare while I’m at practice, and I give her some time to be with her mother before, and I’ll get her after that.”
Spradley decided to test himself further and enlist in the Marine Corps. On June 10, he’ll head to Paris Island for basic training. The rigors of the military cross his mind sometimes when he is training on the Brunswick track.
Spradley had planned for school after he graduates in one month, but he’s now committed to this different direction. He’s not giving up on track, totally. He calls it his backup plan.
“I had to make something happen quick,” Spradley said. “(High school track) is preparing me a little bit for staying in shape.”
The Pirates finished in second place in their previous meet at Richmond Hill, which gives Spradley reason for optimism regarding how the Pirates will fair in the region meet.
Head coach David Bailey knew there would be a learning curve for his young team this year.
With the early departure of Deejay Dallas, who enrolled early at University of Miami to take part in the Hurricanes’ spring camp, Bailey was looking for players to fill the void he left.
His three seniors Trevous Sailem, Quandre Mosley and Devon Peacock participate in a combined 13 events. Slaiem and Peacock are also teammates on the 4x100m and 4x400m relays.
“We’ve been OK, and we have a young team,” Bailey said. “With only three seniors, it’s almost like a rebuilding year for us.”
Some of the extra starts for underclassmen are paying off. Bailey said he is particularly impressed by the breakout season of junior Marvin Dallas.
Dallas, a defensive back for the Red Terrors during football season, is one of the top hurdlers in the state. He currently holds times of 15.52 in the 110m hurdles and 39.14 in the 300m hurdles.
“Marvin is probably one of the top juniors in the state of Georgia,” Bailey said. “If he runs how he usually does, he’ll be standing on the podium to go to state. He works hard, and he’s a special talent.”
As a sophomore, Dallas showed promise, but Bailey said it was a matter of when that promise would translate to state-competitive times.
“I didn’t know it would happen this fast,” Bailey said. “He’s the leader of this team. He doesn’t say a lot but the kids look up to him and they all know him.”
Bailey said the most important part of Thursday’s region meet is experience, but the second-year coach is still confident in the Red Terrors’ prospects at the hurdles and in relay events.
“I want my young kids to get that experience,” he said. “They’ve got talent, but they’ve never been on that stage.”