By Rubin E. Grant
Will Stone walked into the Homewood library recently and an aide in the media center jokingly quipped, “I thought we got rid of you last night.”
“Last night” was a reference to the Homewood High School graduation on May 20. Stone received his diploma, finishing third in his senior class of 288.
He was back at the school the next day for an interview about one of the greatest track careers in the history of the school.
His litany of accomplishments:
• Gatorade Cross Country Runner of the Year for Alabama in 2016, 2017 and 2018
• 2019 Class 6A Bryant-Jordan Scholar Award Winner
• 8 team state championships (4 cross-country, 2 indoor track and field and 2 outdoor track and field)
• Cross-country state champion (2016, 2017, 2018)
• Indoor track and field state champion in the 800-meter run (2019) 1,600m (2018, 2019), 3,200m (2018, 2019), 4x800m relay (2017, 2019)
• Outdoor track and field state champion: 800m (2018, 2019), 1,600m (2018, 2019), 3,200m (2018, 2019), 4x800m Relay (2017, 2018, 2019)
• School records in 1,600m (4:15.76) and 3,200m (9:15.14)
When it’s all added up, Stone was a 14-time individual state champion.
“I don’t know if you can find the words to do justice for what he accomplished,” Homewood track coach Tom Esslinger said. “He was the most decorated athlete I’ve ever had.
“But what is more impressive than Will the athlete is Will the person. He’s a leader in the school and the community. You talk to folks in the community and they have nothing but the most positive things to say about him. He’s the kind of guy you want your kids to grow up to be.”
Stone doesn’t take sole credit for his achievements and accolades. He pays tribute to all the members of the Homewood track program.
“I had a lot of success that I couldn’t have foreseen,” Stone said. “It was a product of all the efforts, not only me, but my teammates and coaches. My teammates kept me accountable. I ran for them as well as myself.”
Of all his accomplishments, Stone puts his final relay race, the 4×800 at the state meet earlier this month, near the top. He ran the anchor leg, teaming with fellow seniors Jack Gray and Logan Justice and sophomore Crawford Hope.
“We were trying to break the school record, which is 7:59 and we finished at 8:00.01, just off it,” Stone said. “It was devastating to not break it, but it was also the last time I got to run with my teammates.”
He and Gray grew up across the street from one another in the Hollywood community. They have a lengthy bond.
“We’re the best of friends,” Stone said. “We’ve gone through thick and thin since elementary school and we finished high school together. I am going to miss spending time with him.”
Gray is headed to Rice on a track scholarship, while Stone will attend Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee, a private Christian university of about 4,000 students. His parents, Tim and Tammy Stone, are Lee alums.
“They were excited I chose Lee,” Stone said. “They didn’t put any pressure on me. I also considered Auburn and Samford, but when I went up there to visit Lee, I just loved it. I had a good feeling about going there and I liked (track) coach (Caleb) Morgan.”
Stone will head to Lee as the 2019 Bryant-Jordan Class 6A Scholar-Athlete winner, which came with a $3,500 scholarship. He also was awarded a $3,000 scholarship for being a regional winner. Stone finished high school with a 4.33 grade-point average and scored 35 on the ACT.
The Bryant-Jordan Student-Athlete Program was created in 1986 by the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in conjunction with the Alabama High School Athletic Association. One objective of the program is to recognize and honor Alabama students who have by ability and effort achieved a level of excellence in the areas of academics and athletics that is commensurate with their potential.
“Personally, that was my favorite highlight of my high school career,” Stone said. “Winning that Bryant-Jordan award is like the umbrella over everything I’ve done.”
Stone plans to study pre-med, perhaps biochemistry, at Lee with an eye toward going to medical school.
While the future beckons, Stone is just now coming to grips with high school career being over. It went by far too quickly.
“I really can’t believe it’s over for me,” he said. “But like it or not, it’s over now. There are definitely things I’m going to miss. I won’t see my friends again in this setting until our reunion, but that will be a different kind of event.”