By Rubin E. Grant
Just before the start of the state cross-country meet last Saturday, Homewood junior Jon Fielding Stogner received a text message from Crawford Hope.
Hope had been the Patriots’ top runner all fall but was not allowed to run in the sectional and state meets for disciplinary reasons. All he could do was cheer on his teammates from home.
“He texted me that he believed in me,” Stogner said. “That inspired me.”
Stogner was so inspired that he went out and won the Class 6A boys race in the 64th Alabama High School Athletic Association Cross Country Championships at the Oakville Indian Mounds Park & Museum.
Stogner finished the 5K course with a time of 15:51.8, bettering senior teammate Carson Bedics, who clocked 15:57.96 to take second.
“It’s hard to believe I won,” Stogner said. “I knew Crawford was our top guy, but I had to step up and compete at a high level. Everyone on the team did.”
Homewood coach Josh Donaldson had no doubt that Stogner would step up.
“I knew what he had in him,” Donaldson said. “He’s been running behind Crawford all season, so I knew he had what it took to take this race.”
Bedics’ second-place finish was just as impressive, considering he dealt with a foot injury that sidelined him for much of the summer.
“He had a serious injury, and he really came back and ran hard,” Stogner said. “We were so excited about finishing 1-2.”
Homewood had four runners finish in the top seven with senior Jackson Merrell coming in sixth at 16:11.68 and sophomore Jack Harchelroad finishing seventh in 16:16.70.
Their efforts propelled the Patriots to their eighth consecutive Class 6A state championship as Homewood finished with 38 points, easily outpacing second-place St. Paul’s Episcopal with 80 points and third-place Cullman with 97 points.
“The guys stepped up to the challenge,” Donaldson said. “I asked them what they were willing to sacrifice to reap a reward, and they sacrificed and they reaped the reward of a state championship.”
Homewood Girls Log Second Consecutive Championship
Meanwhile, the Patriots’ girls won their second straight championship and their third in four years.
The Patriots finished with 33 points, well ahead of second-place Fort Payne with 68 points and third-place St. Paul’s with 97 points.
As usual, senior Lainey Phelps led the way. She won her second straight title and third in four years with a time of 18:14.69, far ahead of Isabel Valenzuela of St. Paul’s, who finished at 18:38.31.
“I wanted to go out hard,” Phelps said. “I didn’t quite hit the 2-mile time I wanted, but I did what I needed to do. I am glad to do what I did for the team.”
Donaldson is running out of superlatives to describe Phelps.
“What more can you say about Lainey,” he said. “She’s something special. Her drive and determination to go out there and put it on the line each race and even in the training she does sets her apart. She sets goals for herself and then pushes herself to attain them.
“We’re definitely going to miss her next year.”
The Patriots had three other runners in the top eight. Freshman Marin Poleshek was third with a time of 19:12.54, senior Celie Jackson finished sixth in 19:30.69, and junior Victoria Thompson was eighth, clocking 19:47.20.
The Patriots swept the team titles for the second consecutive year. Donaldson said it’s a tribute to the hard work the runners put in.
“They bring energy every day,” Donaldson said. “It’s truly remarkable what these kids accomplished.”