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Preview: Peach Belt Track and Field Championship

Preview: Peach Belt Track and Field Championship

By Jim O'Hara

ROME, Ga.--The university’s track program was looking for a conference to compete in. The conference was looking for a program to host its first-ever track championship meet.

The match was a natural one and this weekend Shorter and the Peach Belt Conference come together at Barron Stadium when Shorter, which up until a few months ago was not affiliated with any conference as a track team, hosts the inaugural PBC Championships.

“It’s going to be a great experience,” Shorter director of track Scott Byrd said about the event that will be held Friday and Saturday, adding that the association between Shorter and the PBC has already developed into a strong relationship.

“They have committed themselves to track and to running a quality championship meet,” the head coach said about the Peach Belt, which like the Gulf South Conference Shorter’s other teams compete in is an NCAA Division II league but unlike the GSC has started competition in track. “They’re excited we’re doing this and we’re excited to be working with them.”

Byrd said that Shorter began to look at becoming a track-only associate member of the PBC when another Gulf South member, Alabama-Huntsville, and Nova Southeastern took the same route to join the Peach Belt and help the conference meet the NCAA minimum sports sponsorship, which requires six teams to formally conduct a league championship.

“Through last fall we didn’t know what conference we’d be in or if we’d be in one at all,” Byrd said, adding that when all the pieces fell into place and Shorter was accepted into the Peach Belt, the idea of having the Rome university serve as the host of the first championship was not far behind as the conference was well-aware of just how strong the Hawks and Lady Hawks are on the national collegiate scene.

“(Shorter) is a great addition to our league,” said PBC commissioner David Brunk said in the release that announced Shorter’s arrival and at the same time that the championship would be in Rome. “We are beginning our track and field championships this year and having a program of the caliber of Shorter University immediately elevates that championship.

Shorter enters the meet eager to make their first season as an NCAA Division II program one that picks up where it left off last year after the Hawks and Lady Hawks capped what had been a significant impact in the NAIA ranks with the men’s team winning back-to-back national outdoor championships and both teams producing numerous individual national champs and All-Americans.

But while the Hawks and Lady Hawks will not be eligible to compete in the Division II National Championship this year and next year, when Shorter concludes its three-year NCAA transition process, the teams will be eligible – the university’s teams that compete in the Gulf South are ineligible for conference honors – to win Peach Belt championships.

Byrd, however, knows that chasing for crowns will not come easy, quickly pointing to those Peach Belt schools that have committed to running top-caliber track programs.

Arriving in Rome to seek instant recognition includes Alabama-Huntsville, Augusta State, Clayton State, Columbus State, Montevallo (women only), North Carolina-Pembroke and Nova Southeastern.

The PBC meet will begin on Friday at 3:45 p.m. with an opening ceremony and the first field events scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. The meet concludes on Saturday with the last event scheduled for 2:45 p.m. followed by a closing ceremony.

The event will feature 20 women’s events and 20 men’s events, with the winning individual (or team in relays) being named first-team all-conference and runner-up earning second team laurels.

“We’ve never lost a conference championship,” said Byrd, who saw the Hawks and Lady Hawks capture the NAIA’s Mid-South Conference titles in the five years it fielded teams, “so that’s a good motivator for the kids.”

Although several Shorter standouts that are red-shirting this year will not compete, the Hawks and Lady Hawks have already proven that have the talent to make a run at the titles.

On March 19, senior All-American jumper Tamala Daley became the Peach Belt’s inaugural Women’s Field Athlete of the Week when she set two NCAA provisional marks at Georgia Relays in long jump (19-4.75) and in triple jump (41-1.5).

Earlier this month, senior sprinter Allen Huntley and freshman jumper David Johnson broke into the PBC spotlight when they claimed the conference’s respective Track and Field Athletes of the Week when Huntley had NCAA provisional marks in the 100 (10.42) and 200 (21.12) at Rome-Shorter Relays and Johnson won the triple jump (47-11) at the Relays to become the first Peach Belt men's track athlete to set an NCAA provisional mark and finished second in the long jump with a leap 22-3.5.

A week later, Johnson was once again recognized as the conference Field Athlete of the Week when he improved on his triple jump effort going 49-3.5 at the Auburn Tiger Classic.

This week, Huntley was named NCCAA Track and Field Student-Athlete of the Week after he finished sixth in the Men's 200m Dash in a time of 21.59 (2nd in the NCCAA) at the Sea Ray Relays hosted by the University of Tennessee. In qualifying he ran an impressive 21.17; which was third amongst all competitors. He also ran the second led for Shorter's Men's 4x400m Relay that finished 19th in a time of 3:19:31 (5th in the NCCAA).

The PBC meet marks the start of what will be a busy month ahead for Shorter, whose reputation for holding quality championships has spread.

Next week, Shorter – it is a former member – will host the inaugural Southern States Athletic Conference Championships at Barron, but will not compete in the NAIA conference’s event.

The teams then focus on adding to their national titles when on May 2 Shorter heads to Joliet, Ill., to compete in the National Christian College Athletic Association National Championships, with the Lady Hawks entering the event having won the NCCAA Indoor National crown in February.

Shorter has also bid on hosting NCCAA Outdoor Championships next year, an event that brings in more than 900 athletes from across the country.

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