CANNONSBURG – Amber Day is a fifth-grade teacher by trade, so she appreciates a teachable moment as much as anyone.
The Morgan County coach came upon the Lady Cougars’ Krista Perry and Rowan County’s Promise Cross talking shop on the infield not long before competing against each other in a hurdling event at a track and field meet this spring.
“Krista was doing some hurdle drills, and Promise was asking her about it, so Krista was showing her how to do the drills and asked, ‘Amber, does this look right?’” Day recalled. “I was like, she was helping her competitor. I know they don’t compete at region together, but still.
“They raced and they were neck-and-neck, and I thought, that’s the way it’s supposed to be, having good sportsmanship and helping out one another.”
Perry and Cross could probably have learned plenty from each other. Cross was named the KHSAA Female Student-Athlete of the Year for track and field, while Perry won the Class A state title in 100-meter hurdles and was second in 300 hurdles.
Perry’s sister, Kailee, won the 1600- and 800-meter state titles. She and Cross, the Class 2A high jump champion and second in both hurdling events, share The Daily Independent’s Track and Field All-Area Athlete of the Year honors.
Kailee Perry capped a storied high school career by defending her state titles in the 1600 and the 800. She also won the 2016 state cross country crown and collected six Class A, Region 7 titles in a row.
Perhaps most impressively, Perry did it while fighting off a recurrence of the anemia that plagued her senior cross country season.
“You think, how many teenagers are gonna start eating livers and all that kind of stuff, and completely changing their diet?” Day said. “She doesn’t drink anything but water to start with. She doesn’t drink Gatorade or any of that. She was already health-conscious, but now she’s had to do so even more.
“She’s an all-around athlete. I guess those are hard to come by, and if I never coach another child like her, I guess I was lucky to get to do it for these few years.”
One of few accolades Perry hadn’t won was a team track region title. Morgan County crossed that off its to-do list for the first time since Day competed for the Lady Cougars as a seventh-grader in 1991 by edging Bath County, 107-102, in Class A, Region 7 competition.
Day had some work to do because Morgan County competed in only one field event and wasn’t represented in every running event, either.
“We kinda strategized, deciding who to let run what, and (which events to) enter the Perry girls in,” Day said. “Some of our other kids ran some events they didn’t want to just hoping that we could earn a few extra points and, in the end, it all worked out great. I was proud of them for just doing what I asked them to do and doing it for the team.”
The Lady Cougars enjoyed it that much more because they came in second to Raceland, 101-100, at the region meet last spring.
“It was just such a thrill and excitement,” Day said. “When you’re a young kid, that’s your life — sports and school and your friends. For a split-second there, I had that feeling again, just giddy and excited. ... I just enjoyed standing back watching them, and a few tears rolled down my cheek, I can’t lie. I was so proud of them and I felt honored to have been the one to help get them get there.”
Morgan County’s second-year coach was named All-Area Coach of the Year for that effort.
Day was part of the Lady Cougars’ last region champion before this one. That 1991 crew coached by the late Gary Holbrook also won the sectional title in a now-defunct format.
“We had a whole lot more kids,” Day said of that team. “Nowadays, I don’t know what they do. I don’t know if they play video games, social networking; we just don’t have a whole lot of kids that participate. So the ones that do come out, they just work so hard.
“It makes me excited for them that it paid off. It was worth coming to practice and it was worth giving their evenings up and Saturdays up for track meets.”
Morgan County boasts one of northeastern Kentucky’s finest sporting facilities, a sparkling 2-year-old track and football complex. That would have blown high school-aged Day’s mind, she said.
“We didn’t even have a track until my senior year of high school,” she said. “We just practiced in the parking lot and ran on the hills and this and that. We were dodging potholes and cars and taking spray paint and cones, like, ‘here’s our lanes; this is your exchange zone.’ I never in my wildest dreams would have ever imagined that we would have the facility we have.”
Kailee Perry ran the area’s fastest mile (5:07.34) and 800 (2:18.53). She won the Dream Mile, a prestigious annual competition in Louisville.
“It was really fun,” she said. “This was my third year doing that. My first two years, I was really kinda scared and intimidated by everyone else. This year, I noticed the rankings, and it still made me nervous, but I don’t think there were any eastern Kentucky people besides me, and I was just like, well, I’m just gonna do my best and try to represent everyone over here.”
Morgan County also ran the area’s fastest 4x400meter relay (4:18.23). The Perry sisters, Heaven Carver, Janesey Lewis and Jenna Hampton all spent time on that team.
Cross ran the area’s fastest 300-meter hurdles (45.51) and posted the top high jump (5 feet, 7 inches), long jump (17 feet, 6 inches) and triple jump (34 feet, 9.75 inches). She was Class 2A’s high-jump champion and second in the 100- and 300-meter hurdles.
At the All-Area photo shoot at Boyd County last week, Cross called the high jump traditionally her top event, and it’s one she is shooting to win a national championship in. “I just tried the 200 last week, though, and I ran a good time,” Cross said, “so that might be my favorite event now.”
Cross is also an All-Area performer for the Lady Vikings in basketball and soccer. She had completed a week of summer basketball games immediately before All-Area track commenced, and she had to miss a soccer tournament in order to compete in a national track meet in North Carolina on Sunday for Team Kentucky.
“It’s so stressful,” Cross said with a grin. “It’s gonna be so, so hard (competing in all three sports), but it’s all gonna work out.”
Ashland joined Morgan County as a region champion. The Kittens shared the Class 2A, Region 6 title with Mason County, tying with 152 points atop the team standings. This marks their fifth straight region championship.
Ashland placed a team-high eight members on the All-Area team. Bekah Howard ran northeastern Kentucky’s fastest 3200 (11:52.10) and was fourth in the Class 2A state meet in the mile.
The Kittens owned the area’s fastest 4x1, 4x2 and 4x8 relays.
Emily Trogdon, Abbey Greene, Angelina Patel and Lillian Sebastian completed the 4x1 in 52.48 seconds. Sebastian, Patel, Greene and Kate Reese ran the 4x2 in 1:51.13, and Howard, Mary Alice Thornburg, Haley Fielding and Reese got the 4x8 done in 10:12.25.
Lawrence County softball speedster Halli Caudill took her talents to the track sprints and ran the area’s top 100 (12.31 seconds) and 200 (26.59). She was second in the state in Class 2A in the 100.
West Carter’s Presley Kiser was the area’s top pole vaulter (10 feet, 8 inches). That was third in the state.
Menifee County’s Emma Hacker was second in northeastern Kentucky in the long jump (16 feet, 5.75 inches) and triple jump (34 feet, 8.75 inches) and tied for fifth in the high jump (4 feet, 8 inches). She came in fifth in the state in the 100-meter hurdles, third in the triple jump and fourth in the long jump.
Bath County had three All-Area representatives. Amelia Oldfield ran the area’s top 400 in 1:00.83. She was third in the state meet in that event. Isabella Copher was second in the area in the 3200 (12:07.77) and fourth in the 1600 (5:33.68). She placed fourth in Class A in the two-mile.
Madelyne English posted northeastern Kentucky’s top shot put (34 feet, 11.5 inches) and discus (118 feet) marks. She came in second at the state meet in the discus.
Raceland’s Isabella Joseph and Sarah Wilburn qualified for the All-Area team. Joseph notched the area’s second-highest jump (5 feet), third-longest triple jump (32 feet, 8 inches) and tied for fifth-farthest long jump (15 feet, 1 inch).
Wilburn was fifth in the area in both shot put (31 feet, 9 inches) and discus (102 feet, 11 inches).
For East Carter, Riley Brown was second in the 800 (2:25.03), fifth in the 1600 (5:42.26) and sixth in the 400 (1:03.94). She was sixth in the 800 at the Class 2A meet.
Kaylee Lewis joined Brown from the Lady Raiders. Lewis was second in the area in the pole vault (8 feet) and tied for fifth in the high jump (4 feet, 8 inches).
Greenup County’s Lauren Hannah placed third in the area in the shot put (32 feet, 6.25 inches) and fourth in the discus (108 feet, 3 inches).
All-Area Athlete and Coach of the Year honors were determined by the newspaper’s sports department. The All-Area team was composed of top finishers in each event as well as high finishers in multiple events among northeastern Kentucky schools over the course of the season, as reported to MileSplit.