Nobody values a well-thought-out script more than Hallandale track coach John W. Battle III.
With a résumé that counts professional director, playwright, actor and founder of the John Battle Theatre Ensemble, Battle is well versed in placing actors in a specific role that fits.
That drama background will serve Battle well as he preps a potentially all-star cast featuring Kimani Rushing, Lamisha Simmos, Chanel Freeman, Aisha Nelson and Dariel Green for a run at the “Big Show.”
“The distinct correlation to drama and track is you can find a role,” Battle said. “You decide if you’re part of the supporting cast or a star. That depends on how much work you put in. In both drama and track you have to step into the spotlight and shine when it is on you. Those opportunities don’t come often. You have to seize the moment and shine like the star you are.”
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In holdovers Rushing (100 hurdles, 300 hurdles, triple jump, relays), Simmons (100 hurdles, 300 hurdles, discus, relays) and transfers Nelson (high jump, triple jump), Freeman (100 hurdles, 200) and Green (sprints, relays), Battle has more than ample firepower on the track to dethrone Jacksonville Bolles for a state title in Class 2A. Briana Pollock (400, 800, relays) and Keausha Bradley-Macklin (sprints, jumps, relays), meanwhile, are expected to provide invaluable depth.
The overriding theme if Battle wrote a script chronicling this season would be redemption. Last year, Hallandale was on the brink of winning the 2A state crown, only to lose by one point to Bolles.
“We took that loss pretty hard,” Rushing said. “Based on how the day was going, we thought we had it in the bag. It really hurt us. We went in so confident. That destroyed us. After the meet we were in a daze. Finishing second has given us a drive to push us and remind us that it can’t happen again.
Rushing and Simmons went 1-2 in the 300 hurdles, 3-4 in the 100 hurdles and both teamed up to lead the Chargers’ 1,600 relay to fourth place. In the flrunners.com preseason poll, Bolles is ranked No. 4 overall and 1 in 2A, and Hallandale is No. 5 overall and No. 2 in 2A.
Under Battle’s tenure, Hallandale has developed a reputation for performing at its highest level in big meets. Besides his drama background, Battle credits an annual fashion show, geared toward raising funds for the track team, to get his team prepared for the spotlight. The idea, Battle said, is to force his athletes out of their comfort zone, which ultimately preps them for competition under pressure.
“A fashion show puts them in an uncomfortable, foreign situation,” Battle said. “They are performing in an event that is not their strong suit. It forces them to walk out on their own and show the star that they are. When you are in the finals, you have been there. You know how to walk out there and perform under a different light.”
That invaluable gift to block out nerves is a big reason why Rushing, who Battle has tabbed “Big Pepper” — “because she has to be the hottest thing on the track for us this year” — is poised to make that jump to super stardom.
Rushing enters this season a leading preseason 2A girls’ track Athlete of the Year candidate and one of the most coveted prospects in Florida. A year ago, she ushered her arrival in dramatic fashion, setting school records in the triple jump (41-00), 100 hurdles (13.73) and 300 hurdles (42.80), which ranked second, third and third in Florida, respectively.
Rushing credits Battle for using his unique motivational technique to get the best out of his athletes.
“Coach Battle’s drama background is what gives him his personality,” Rushing said. “It’s never a boring practice with him. One day he might do a goofy dance to loosen us up. Another day he will tell us a joke. He makes you feel whatever role you have, it’s important. It just gives us this drive where we can’t let him down. This year we need to win states and give it back to him.”
Broward season outlook
2014 STATE CHAMPIONS
Boys: 4A – St. Thomas Aquinas; 3A — Chiles; 2A — Miami Booker T. Washington; 1A — Westminster Academy.
Girls: 4A — St. Thomas Aquinas; 3A — Northwestern; 2A — Bolles; 1A — Holy Trinity.
Feb. 20-21: Louie Bing Classic (Ansin Sports Complex); Feb. 28: All-Broward Catholic Conference Meet (St. Thomas Aquinas); March 7: Archbishop McCarthy Invitational; March 7: Dade Christian Crusader Invitational; March 7: Hallandale Invitational; Pine Crest Panther Relays; March 14: Dade Christian Crusader Invitational; March 18: BCAA qualifiers — North (Blanche Ely), South Central (South Plantation); March 19: BCAA qualifiers — North Central (Piper), South (Flanagan); March 21: Walt Disney World Track & Field Open (Disney Sports Complex); March 21: Bob Hayes Invitational (Raines); March 21: Westminster Academy Invitational; March 22: BCAA Championships (Dillard); March 24: Cardinal Gibbons Field Open; March 25-28: Texas Relays (University of Texas); March 27: Dade Christian Last Chance Invitational; March 27-28: FSU Relays; March 28: City of Miramar Relays (Ansin Sports Complex); Disney High School Track & Field Showcase; April 2-4: Pepsi Florida Relays (University of Florida); April 6-13: District championships; April 20-25: Regional championships; May 1: Class 1A and 2A state finals (University of North Florida); May 2: Class 3A and 4A state finals (University of North Florida); May 23: Golden South Classic (Orlando); June 4-6: Great Southwest Classic (Albuquerque, N.M.).
BOYS’ TOP 10 TEAMS
St. Thomas Aquinas; Hallandale; Boyd Anderson; Dillard; Cardinal Gibbons; American Heritage; Northeast; Blanche Ely; Pine Crest; Calvary Christian.
GIRLS’ TOP 10 TEAMS
St. Thomas Aquinas; Hallandale; Pine Crest; Northeast; American Heritage; Boyd Anderson; Calvary Christian; Dillard; Blanche Ely; Westminster Academy.
TOP FIVE BOYS
Antwuan Musgrove, Hallandale 110 hurdles, 14.24
Antwuan Musgrove, Hallandale, 300 hurdles, 37.58
Isaiah Taylor, West Broward, 100, 10.48
Isaiah Taylor, West Broward, 200, 21.20
Javon Patterson, Boyd Anderson, 800, 1:52.04
Damion Thomas Jr., Northeast, 110 hurdles, 14.05
*Rasheed Tatham, St. Thomas Aquinas, 400, 46.79
*2014 state champion
TOP FIVE GIRLS
Krystal Sparling, St. Thomas Aquinas, 100, 11.34
Diamond Spaulding, St. Thomas Aquinas, 200, 23.00
*Julia Montgomery, Pine Crest 1,600, 5:03.34
*Kimani Rushing, Hallandale, 300 hurdles, 42.80
*Kimani Rushing, Hallandale, triple jump, 41-0
*Alexa Cruz, St. Thomas Aquinas, 3,200 10:43.79
*2014 state champion