Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 20, 2010



EDGARD – Given how both the West St. John boys and girls track teams have performed this season, it would be hard to imagine the Rams not having a lot to say about who walks away with the District 8-1A championship at White Castle today.

And if they have their way, that’ll only be the beginning.

Both the Ram boys and girls have legitimate state championship aspirations in Class 1A and seem to be rounding into winning form as “the ones that count” begin today.

Both squads boast balance, with the ability to rack up points both on the track and in the field, and have proved it all season.

This is not bad for a team that hasn’t had a track to call home.

Its own track is deemed as unfit to use, and the Rams have been nomads this season, most days having to bus over to St. James High School to practice. The trip from Edgard and back again often leaves the athletes returning home well into the evening.

But there have been no complaints, said West St. John boys track coach Martin Sylvain.

“It’s amazing to see the mental toughness and the desire that these kids have,” Sylvain said. “They know what they want. They set this goal long ago to win a championship, and they haven’t let this track situation stop them.”

Last season, the Rams came within an eyelash of placing as Class 1A state runner-up, falling just short of the necessary third-place finish in its final relay event.

“Last year, one of my kids told me, ‘I was so nervous,’” said Sylvain. “Now, they know what it’s like to run in front of those lights. They realize how close they came, and it tells them that they can do this.”

A year later, Sylvain calls this his most balanced — and likely his best — team ever. Under Sylvain, the Rams have often been a force to be reckoned with in the running events. But his track stars had little margin for error, because when the running events would begin, there would be few points on the board in the field events.

Not so this season. The Rams have a number of field standouts that have built a foundation of points in each meet for the runners to build upon.

It all starts with Damon Scott, a senior transfer from Hahnville who has already earned multiple field MVP honors this season — in fact, winning that award twice in the same week as West St. John captured back-to-back meet titles earlier this season.

Scott is a big earner in the high jump, long jump and triple jump and said that he and the Ram program have made for a fine marriage.

“It’s a new atmosphere, and it’s good,” Scott said. “You get a lot of one-on-one work with the coaches, and it helps you improve. When you’re willing to put in the work, they’re gonna give it back to you.”

While it may start with Scott, it doesn’t end there. Demiere Gordon (discus), Blake Carter and Ronnie Feist (shot put) are others who pose a threat to earn first-place points in their respective field events.

“We call it the 40-40 rule,” said Sylvain. “Give me 40 on the track and 40 in the field, and I really feel like we can win state.”

Ravane Owens and the Ram runners will take it. In fact, Owens said the team’s success in the field pushes the runners to excel even more.

“We feel like if the guys in the field beat us, we’re not holding up our end,” said Owens. “We compete with one another, and it makes us work even harder.”

The boys won back-to-back meets earlier this season for the first time in school history and finished second in Destrehan’s meet on Friday.

“We know we’re down in numbers from these bigger schools,” Owens said. “They’ve got more athletes to choose from. We understand that to compete with these schools, we’ve got to work every day to overcome that disadvantage.”

The girls took fourth place in the same meet. Both competed against a slew of schools much larger and deeper and came away with success.

But while it’s been smooth sailing for the boys for most of the season, the Lady Rams have had to navigate some rough waters. A number of athletes on the team to start the season have left for various reasons.

But there has been no folding up of the tent. While the team’s total numbers have dropped, girls coach Stacy Bradford’s athletes have each taken more responsibility. Track specialists and field specialists have fallen to the wayside, as the Lady Rams have made up for lack of quantity with quality, behind athletes splitting time between the track and the field.

“They’re all maxed out,” said Bradford. “We’re still strong in 14 events. We’re holding up against 5A schools. And we’re starting to gel at the right time.”

Kyla Morris is one who excels in both. In the Destrehan meet, she placed first in the shot put and second in the 300-meter hurdles.

Morris said this is the strongest team she has been on.

“I think we’re stronger than ever,” said Morris. “Everyone’s working harder now because we know we need to step up. Everyone’s got a lot of confidence.

“We want it all this year when we get to state.”

Ambria Major, who specializes in the long jump and the triple jump, is another who has answered the call to compete in multiple events.

“We could have had a better start,” said Major. “But at this point I feel like we’re a lot stronger. Individually we’ve all improved. I feel like we’re in real good shape to win district and regionals, and we’ll go from there.”

Bradford said his team’s conditioning regiment makes the multi-tasking possible.

“These girls are blessed to live on the Westbank where we’ve got the levees. And we hit it hard,” said Bradford. “50 times, five times up, five times down. Our times are dropping by two seconds here, another there. They can just keep going.”

The boys boast a senior laden team; the girls one full of youth. Each athlete, and each coach, believes the dream of bringing the school’s first ever state track championship home is within reach.

With or without a home track.