ALL-STAR SPORTS WEEK: LAMP’s Heo leads local participants in cross country
By Tim Gayle
Hundreds of track stars compete at the high school level every year in anonymity.
Even the best ones, such as LAMP junior Won Heo, can help their athletic program to a state championship, but their own classmates know little about their accomplishments.
Their efforts received a little recognition recently when the Alabama High School Athletic Directors and Coaches Association added boys and girls cross country to the competition in the 21st Alabama All-Star Sports Week.
“It means a lot,” Heo said. “Even though cross country season ends after November, starting early and competing with other fast guys gives you the opportunity to get better. It also gives you the fulfillment that the work you’ve put in can be shown through something like competing in the all-star event.”
Alabama All-Star Sports Week games kicked off competition on Tuesday with games in baseball, softball and soccer. Early Wednesday morning, the next event held wascross country, the first new all-star competition added to All-Star Sports Week in 20 years.
“We have a committee for every one of our sports,” AHSADCA executive director Alvin Briggs said. “I got the (cross country) committee together and talked about they would go about selecting all-stars for this and through some effort and time, we came up with an all-star cross-country team.
“It gives 40 more athletes in the state of Alabama to be a part of a great week. We’ve looked at some other sports – we always have – so there may be a couple more on the horizon that might join next year.”
Ten all-star competitors from south Alabama and 10 more from the north will meet Wednesday morning at the AUM cross country course to determine state supremacy.
“It’s definitely an honor and a good reward,” Heo said. “It also shows you you’re competing at a high level so it encourages you and motivates you to push yourself harder.”
Won and his teammates brought LAMP its first-ever state championship trophy last year in cross country. And while he was the highest ranking LAMP competitor, finishing sixth in 4A with a time of 16:49.82, it also helps that Heo is a junior since the Alabama All-Star Sports Week competitors are seniors-to-be in every sport except football (which takes graduated seniors).
That earned him selection to the South team, along with Trinity’s Dawson Oliver (who finished just ahead of Heo in the state cross country meet with a time of 16:43.10), Montgomery Academy’s Will Franklin, Saint James’ Jake Maddox and Trinity’s Wells Rutland.
It’s a strong Capital City flavor but that’s understandable since four of the city’s cross country teams finished in the top five: 2016 state champion LAMP, 2015 state champion and third-place finisher Trinity, fourth-place Montgomery Academy (in 3A) and fifth-place Catholic.
With half of the boys’ team comprised of local players, Heo admits there is a level of familiarity not found on most all-star teams.
“We often go to the same meets, so we see them often and compete together, so it gives you a good idea of how it’s going to be,” he said.
Heo’s classmate Grace Phung is on the South girls’ cross country team, along with Sailor Miles of Saint James and Trinity’s Mackenzie LeGrand.
All of the local competitors are familiar with the all-star course at AUM, where the competition will start on Wednesday at 7:30 a.m. for the girls and 8 a.m. for the boys.
“I kind of have an idea how it’s going to be,” Heo said. “Our team runs at AUM very often and we go there for workouts during cross-country season so we already know their trails inside and out. Just running on the course definitely helps you, especially during the race, because there may be a hill or a turn that you might now know about, but because we know this place we already know what to expect.”
Because the cross country season ends in November, Heo said he had to “consistently train and do a little speed work before (the event) but nothing too much.”
He was eager for the all-star opportunity but even familiar teammates on a familiar course can’t provide the details to what he would face on Wednesday.
“You’re racing against 20 other people, whereas in a state meet you’re racing against 100 other guys,” Heo said.