After more than 600 votes were cast, Castlewood’s Talford beat out Appalachia’s Ollan Cassell and Powell Valley’s Julius Jones for the best among the boys and Gate City’s Williams eclipsed Virginia High senior Kelsey Harrington and J.I. Burton senior Lydia Blair-James as the best among the girls.
Talford, a record-setter in track and field, made his name on the basketball court where he starred for Castlewood and East Tennessee State.
“No one ever comes up to me and talks about track, but I still like to talk about those old times every once in a while,” Talford told the Times News last month.
In 1988, Talford set three VHSL Group A records in the high jump (7-0), long jump (23-11.25) and triple jump (49-8.25).
“I never dreamed that I could win all three events and the state records in all of them,” said Talford, who also won state titles in all three events during his junior year.
Williams dominated the Group A girls state track scene, winning nine state titles — three in the high jump, three in the 300 hurdles, two in the 100 hurdles and one in the 1,600 — during her high school career.
The 2007 Gate City graduate still holds school records for the 400 (58.26), 800 (2:14.69), 100 hurdles (15.16), 300 hurdles (45.35), 1,600 (5:14.90), 3,200 (12:47) and high jump (5-7).
“Those were great times in high school and it’s crazy to look back now and think it was over a decade ago,” Williams said.
THE OTHER STARS
Here’s a look at the other track and field stars who emerged as the top vote-getters (the rankings listed are provided by research conducted from track and field gurus Nathan Graybeal and Wayne Neese):
• Ollan Cassell, Appalachia — A legend on the regional and worldwide track circles. Cassell was born in Nickelsville and went to high school in Appalachia. In the 1964 Olympics, he won a gold medal as part of the U.S. 4x400 relay team that posted a world-record time of 3:00.07. In 1962, Cassell won gold in the 400 and 4x400 relay and silver in the 4x100 in the World Military Championships. He also won gold medals in the 4x400 and 4x100 and silver in the 200 in 1963 Pan American Games. While at Appalachia, Cassell finished the 100 at 10.74 in 1956, the second best in Southwest Virginia history, and he holds the best Southwest Virginia time in the 200 (21.64).
• Julius Jones, Powell Valley — A football star with the Vikings, Jones also excelled on the track. Before becoming a star at Notre Dame and playing for the Dallas Cowboys, Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints in the NFL, the 1999 Powell Valley grad won VHSL Group A titles in the triple jump, 300 hurdles and twice in the 110 hurdles. Jones holds the Southwest Virginia record in the 110 hurdles (14.02) and has the second-best time in the 300 hurdles (38.74).
• Kevin Mitchell, Powell Valley — Another football and track star at Powell Valley, Mitchell holds Southwest Virginia’s best times in the 200 (21.64), which he shares with Ollan Cassell, and in the 100 (10.44). Mitchell also has the second-best long jump (23-5.75) in the region. Mitchell, who competed in the long jump at VMI, owns eight state championships: two in the 100, two in the 200, two in the triple jump and two in the long jump.
• Brad Swiney, John Battle — The first distance runner in the survey, Swiney was an All-Southeastern Conference indoor track freshman in 2017 at Tennessee. In high school, he won the state championship in the 3,200 in 2013, 2014 and 2015 and claimed back-to-back state titles in the 1,600 in 2014 and 2015. He holds the fifth-best time in Southwest Virginia history in the 3,200 (9:19.02).
• Major Griffey, J.I. Burton — Griffey was another football star who also shined on the track. Before playing football and running track at Wake Forest, Griffey won the VHSL Group A championship in the 200 in 1992 and claimed back-to-back state titles in the 400 in 1991 and ’92. His 48.74 time in the 400 is the second-best all time in Southwest Virginia.
• Nik Huffman, Virginia High — Huffman owns the best throws in Southwest Virginia in the shot put (58-8.5) and discus (181-1). Huffman, who competed in track and field at Kentucky, owns state championships in the discus from 2011 and ’12 and the shot from 2012 and ’13.
• Sam Daniels, J.I. Burton — Daniels was a speedster on the football field and on the track. In 1991, he won both the 100 and 200 VHSL Group A championships.
• Alex Davenport, Patrick Henry — Davenport helped Patrick Henry win its only VHSL Class 1 track and field championship in 2017. Davenport, who went to Virginia Tech, won five state titles: three in a row in the 110 hurdles, one in the 300 hurdles and one as a member of the 4x100 relay. He won a state indoor track title in the 55 hurdles.
• Chad Beasley, Gate City — Beasley won state titles in both the shot put and discus in 1997. He owns the second-best throw in Southwest Virginia history in the discus (176-3). His throw of 56-8 in the shot is the sixth-best throw in Southwest Virginia.
• Kelsey Harrington, Virginia High — The senior became a national running sensation both in cross country and track distance running. She broke VHSL records last season with wins in the 1,600 (4:57.78) and 3,200 (10:37.07); both times are also tops in Southwest Virginia history. Harrington was also a cross country All-American after finishing 20th in the Nike Cross Country Nationals with a time of 18.04.4.
• Lydia Blair-James, J.I. Burton — Blair-James, like Harrington, had her high school career cut short after the cancellation of Virginia’s spring sports because of the coronavirus pandemic. Burton’s all-state senior owns Class 1 titles in the 100 hurdles from last year and 2018. She also won the state 300 hurdles championship last season as a junior.
• Shelli Clendenon, Appalachia — The 1995 All-American and a three-time Southern Conference indoor track champion at ETSU with wins in the 200, long jump and high jump, Clendenon dominated during her time at Appalachia. She holds the Southwest Virginia record for the high jump (5-8), won state high jump state titles in 1990 and ’91 and claimed the state long jump crown in 1990.
• Roshana Jackson, Appalachia — Jackson led Appalachia to the state girls basketball championship and later played women’s hoops at Virginia Tech. Also a superstar on the track with the Lady Bulldogs, she owns three state track titles: two in the 400 and one in the 200.
• Christy Gray Dalton, Coeburn — Dalton won the VHSL Group A championship in the high jump three years in a row (1991-93). Her triple jump of 38-3 and 100 time of 12.35, set in 1993, both rank fourth all time in Southwest Virginia.
• Ashley Honeycutt, Lee High — Honeycutt won the shot put in the VHSL Group AA indoor track championships in 1999. She also won three shot put titles in the outdoor meets from 1997-99 and state discus championships in 1998 and ’99.
• Crystal Reynolds Meade, Pound — Meade holds Southwest Virginia’s seventh all-time mark in the 100 (12.42) and sits 10th in the 200 (25.78).
• Maggie Buchanan, Patrick Henry — The senior owns three VHSL Class 1 championships, two in the 400 and one last year in the 200. Buchanan’s state title-winning time of 57.43 in the 400 is the second best in Southwest Virginia history and her time of 25.53 in the 200 is the third best.
• Tessa Sturgill Sturm, Pound — Sturm’s best time in the 300 hurdles (46.12) earned her the 2000 VHSL Group A championship and is the fourth-best time in Southwest Virginia history. Sturm also won the state title in the 100 hurdles (15.48) that year.