Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
WHEELERSBURG — At this time last spring, Wheelersburg’s relay teams were gearing up for a trip to the OHSAA State Track and Field Championships.
This year, they’ve been forced to only dream about what they could’ve accomplished next.
The group, consisting of seniors Gabby Deacon, Alyssa Dingus, and Lani Irwin, as well as junior Lauren Jolly and others, were expected to return to Columbus and compete for a state title until those hopes were dashed by COVID-19.
But instead of hanging their heads about that uncontrollable circumstance, the girls are choosing to focus on what they’ve already accomplished.
That, in itself, is a key part of the legacy they now leave behind.
“No matter what is going on in life or the world around you, lift your head up, push through and give your all every day, every moment in all you do,” Dingus said. “110 percent, work hard, be dedicated, and be happy. It can all be gone in the blink of an eye. That’s the legacy I think we leave.”
Irwin backs her teammate on that statement.
“I feel that our legacy as a senior class would have to be our determination. We have been stripped of so many senior-like opportunities, but that hasn’t stopped us,” Irwin said. “We’ve pushed for a normal graduation, which we sadly aren’t getting, and we’ve pushed for a prom, and I hope we get that. I know the administration can’t control this situation nor change the rules, but this is something we’ve fought for.”
Never give up. Never surrender. Never go down without swinging. If you watched Irwin compete, you know any of those phrases could sum her up perfectly.
Irwin, like her teammates, never surrendered last year without a fight. It’s just not in their DNA.
Not only did Wheelersburg’s 4×100-meter relay qualify for state, but so did the program’s 4×200 group. Dingus, Irwin and Jolly all participated in multiple events — Dingus the 400-meter dash, Irwin and Jolly in both relays — teammate Paige Emnett won the Division III state discus title and placed second in the shot put, and the now-graduated Libby Miller took part in three events.
But Deacon, Dingus, Irwin and Jolly’s entire body of work is even more impressive.
In 2018, Dingus helped the Pirates’ 4×200 relay qualify for state, alongside Irwin and Jolly, and competed in the 400 dash. Jolly, Irwin and Deacon also helped the 4×100 qualify.
Oh, and in the past four seasons, the school’s 4×100 and 4×200 relay records have been broken while the program has claimed a district title and three SOC championships.
This season could’ve marked their third trip to Columbus … some athletes don’t even get one.
“The bonds I made with my teammates are ones that have made the biggest impression on me across all of the sports I’ve participated in,” Deacon said. “Lani and I were known for our quick handoff and I like to think it’s because we’re such good friends. All of us pushed one another to be better, to be faster. I’m excited to see how Alyssa and Lani do as collegiate athletes, as well as Lauren in her senior season.”
Time and practice … and an unbreakable bond.
That’s the framework Dingus, Deacon and Irwin leave behind. Now, it’s Jolly’s turn to carry the torch.
“I’m the only one left on the relay team. I’m going to have to step up as a leader in training the upcoming girls on how to work hard and how to get 100 percent,” Jolly said. “Next year, I hope that I can focus a lot on my individual events so I can get better at those. Also I would like to form a new relay team and compete at the best of our ability. Things like relay teams take a lot of time and practice so we’ll just have to be patient and see how everything plays out.”
In order to form a new relay that’s just as successful, Jolly’s senior teammates have left a blueprint of how to do so. The main ingredient is togetherness, but the recipe is also aided by friendship, determination, and an undying care for each other.
The girls have dubbed themselves as “sole sisters,” a fitting title to describe one of the best core groups Wheelersburg has seen.
“Me and these girls have been through thick and thin over the past three years. We have made so many great memories together. I can confidently say that they have been a part of forming me into the athlete I am today,” Jolly said. “I have nothing but great things to say about all three of them. They each bring something special to the team. Alyssa is an amazing 400-meter runner. Gabby is great at getting out of blocks and a great sprinter. Lani is a fantastic sprinter and she has become an 800-meter runner also, which has really helped the team, too. I think of these three girls as my sisters. They have a special place in my heart.”
Jolly’s words could be echoed by each of her teammates.
“My coaches and teammates have become family to me. Your coaches and teammates are there with you everyday, through the losses, accomplishments, practices, hard times and great times,” Dingus said. “They pick you up when needed, congratulate you, push and encourage you and you do the same for them. They become family. My coaches and teammates have been the best, they are a huge part of the athlete and person I have become and I will carry their lessons, and encouragement with me everywhere I go.”
Dingus, Deacon and Irwin will now turn their focus towards their collegiate careers, and Jolly will be zeroing in on her senior season as a Pirate.
They won’t be together on the track, but they’ll be together in spirit, and what they’ve accomplished together will always decorate the halls of Wheelersburg High School.
That is something that not even a global pandemic can take away from them.
“I am so proud to be leaving behind two school records in the 4×100 and 4×200, as well as three SOC championships and a district championship. I hope the track and field program at Wheelersburg continues to thrive and grow, as well as get the recognition it deserves,” Deacon said. “I’m glad I experienced going to the OHSAA State Track and Field Meet two years in a row, because not all athletes get that chance. Our coaches push us to be the best we can be in the limited time we have to be high school athletes, and this is true in all Wheelersburg sports.”