E.A. Sports Today

Patently Fair

Ohatchee senior gives Calhoun County its first girls cross country state champion in the final race of her high school career

Ohatchee’s Jayda Fair has no one near as she heads into the final stretch of the Class 1A-2A girls state championship race. On the cover former Ohatchee coach Casey Howell visits with Fair and her mom after the race.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today
 
OAKVILLE – The first time Jayda Fair ever ran a cross country race a lot of people didn’t think she’d want to do it ever again.
 
It was as a seventh-grader on an unfamiliar and uncomfortable tract at Noccalula Falls and the time she ran that day was not the kind to be remembered.
 
This cross country stuff wasn’t for her, she reckoned, but her coach at the time, Casey Howell, saw something. He worked with her, she stuck with it, got appreciably better as that first year and her career went on and Saturday, in her final high school race, she reaped the ultimate reward: raising her arms as a state champion.
 
The Ohatchee senior wrapped up an eventful final month of her high school career by winning the Class 1A-2A girls race on the Oakville Indian Mounds course.
 
In doing so, she became Calhoun County’s first ever girls state cross country champion and just the second in history. Ian Nelson became the first champion from the county when he won the 3A-4A boys race for a Jacksonville team coached by now Pleasant Valley coach Brad Hood back in 2006.
 
“Just happy, I guess,” she said in describing her feelings post-race. “I’m glad this is my last race and I finished it doing the best I possibly could.”
 
Fair’s winning time of 20:01.56 was a full minute better than her Calhoun County Meet-winning time, 33 seconds better than her sectional-winning time – the two races that started this career-closing Triple Crown – and some 15 minutes faster than that time she posted in her first race all those years ago.
 
One of the first to greet Fair at Saturday’s finish was Howell, who has since moved to Cold Springs, where his boys team ran away with their race and the girls finished second in a rare three-way tie for first in theirs.
 
“I thought I’d never see her again (after that first race),” Howell recalled. “It was hot that day and their timing got messed up so they stood on the line with umbrellas I bet for 30 minutes.
 
“The funniest part about Jayda, I don’t ever remember a memory of her until sectionals (that year). She ran the whole year and started – I went back and looked at it this week just reminiscing – at like 30-something, then she went to 25-26, then couple more 25s and then at sectionals that year she ran at 24:01 and I was like this girl has a chance to be good.
 
“She didn’t run track (that spring) so I didn’t see her for a year. That summer she started hanging with the bigger girls and all of a sudden something clicked and that girl became our No. 1 and she pushed everybody.”
 
A runner who’d much rather set the pace than sprint at the finish, Fair and Reagan Parris were together for the early part of the race, but somewhere around the end of the first mile Fair started pulling away and eventually left the field. She won by 28 seconds over the Cold Springs eighth-grader.
 
When you think about, in effect, Fair’s win denied her former coach the chance for a team state championship sweep.

“After the first mile I knew I had to break away during the second because otherwise she would catch me in the third,” she said. “The second mile I had it.
 
“I couldn’t slow down for anything even if I thought I had a big lead. I had to keep going as strong as I could just in case she decided to sprint the last 100 meters or something.
 
“At the finish line I was just amazed; oh, my gosh, it really happened. I really did it.”

The moment seems to have finally hit Jayda Fair (C) that she just won the state championship.

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