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34th Great Southwest Classic
June 4-6, 2009 at U. of New Mexico, Albuquerque NM
DyeStat on-site with John and Donna Dye

the elite 4x400

USA All Stars - these rabbits wouldn't be caught

by Sal Gonzales

The Boys 4x400m Relay was the marquee event at the Great Southwest Track and Field Classic. Meet officials lined up a pair of foursomes to bring a thundering close to the 3 day meet. The headliner quad was from New Bern High School of North Carolina. In an effort to aid New Bern in their attempt at a National Record an All-Star Team from 4 different states was assembled to rabbit. But these rabbits had no plans on playing second fiddle to the boys from North Carolina.

New Bern, North Carolina

The “New Bern Four” burst onto the scene when they broke the National High School Indoor Record at the New Balance Collegiate Invitational, clocking 3:13.06. Since then talk has centered on the possibility of breaking the National Outdoor Record of 3:07.40 set by Hawthorne, CA in 1985. The New Bern team includes Andrew Hendrix (47.24), Anthony Hendrix (47.03 & 1:51.55), Fuquwan Green (10.39, 21.08 & 49.35) and Miles Sparks (55.33 400H). New Bern enjoyed some early success during the outdoor season as they bettered their 4x400m time to 3:12.8. But a mid-season slump led to a change in training for New Bern as Coach Dave Simpson, “backed off” so that they could recover and have fresh legs for the championship season. Coach Simpson saw this opportunity as the best one for a record because of the competition and the fact that they are only going to run the 4x400m at the GSW. The team does plan on attending Nike Outdoor Nationals but they will run four relays (4x400m 4x200m 800mMedley and 1600m Medley) so a record in the 4x400m is not likely.

 The All-Stars

The team that was selected to push New Bern contained four sub 47 400m men. Originally the four athletes invited to push New Bern were: Tavaris Tate (45.71 Mississippi), Clayton Parros (46.64 New Jersey), Andre Carter (46.85 Georgia) and Marcus Wheaton (46.80 Arizona). The team was to be coached by Russell Tate (father and coach of Tavaris Tate).  The first snag in the plans occurred when Wheaton backed out of the Great Southwest Classic. A replacement was found in Malcolm Nunley (North Carolina). But Nunley’s 38.07 300m Hurdles performance (finishing third in that event) made him a question mark on the All-Star Team. A “behind the scenes” campaign began to add Curtis Beach (New Mexico) to the fold. Beach is a 47 second open 400m runner but he had run 46 in splits in relays. But adding Beach was not an easy task. Beach first sought permission from his New Mexico teammates. He didn’t want to offend any of them by running for the All-Star team. Then a group of people that included coaches and meet officials began the process of making the change. When approached with the idea of subbing Beach, Coach Russell Tate stayed true to his selected team. He showed loyalty to Nunley since he had worked out with the team during Friday’s practice. But ultimately the decision would not be Tate’s as meet director John Haaland and New Bern Coach Dave Simpson made the substitution. As the behind the scenes politicking was going on Beach warmed up with the hopes of running. When finally informed he rushed to join his new teammates. Coach Tate gave Beach his instructions and the team was finally set.

The Race

As part of a last minute decision Clayton Parros took to the blocks in lane #4 to lead out against Fuquawn Green in lane #3. (The All-Star team was seeded to run in Lane #3 but Coach Simpson preferred to have Green run in Lane #3 and chase Parros). Coach Simpson of New Bern, NC was utilizing a new order in an effort to get Green to run a faster split. Green usually runs later in the relay and by the time he gets the baton New Bern has a comfortable lead and Green is not pushed. Simpson was hoping that Green could hang with Parros over the first 200m and then hang on through the last straightaway. The gamble was that Green, a 100/200 type runner, may not have the strength to hang on for the entire 400m. That fear became a reality quickly. Parros broke from the blocks cleanly and pushed out to a strong opening 100. Green was just as quick out of the blocks and he quickly closed the gap. By 200m Green had all but made up the stagger. Parros showed confidence and patience as he stuck to his race and did not battle back or surge on Green. By the 300m mark Parros was pulling away and Green had broken form. By the time the first exchange was made, the All-Stars had a 3 second advantage and they had the stick in the hands of the fastest quarter miler in high school. The battle between New Bern and the All-Stars was, for the most part, over. The only question that remained was; how fast would the two teams run?

Tavaris Tate took off into the night alone and in control of the race. He was never challenged and he was able to run strong and smooth covering 400m in 46.75. As Tate was into the first turn; Anthony Hendrix bolted out in an attempt to make up time. Due to Green’s poor finish over the last 50m, Hendrix had some company for the opening 100m of his leg. But he quickly pushed away from them and attempted to make up ground on Tate. That task proved to be impossible as Hendrix’s 47.32 allowed the All-Stars to extend their advantage.

As Tate blazed down the home stretch; he ran right for Curtis Beach. Beach and Tate did not get a chance to practice their exchange, but the pair executed the baton pass like they had been teammates for the last 4 years. Beach led Tate well through the zone as he picked up speed and Tate pushed through the zone never breaking stride. Beach used his powerful long stride to cover the quarter in 46.45. He utilized a consistent effort and looked just as relaxed and strong in the closing 100m as he did in the opening 100m. New Bern’s third leg was run by Andrew Hendrix (twin brother of Anthony). Hendrix is used to running free during the 4x400 but now he had to give chase. Even though Hendrix was fresh (he and all of the New Bern 4x400 quad only participated in the 4x400m relay) he could not make up ground on decathlete Beach who was participating in his 15th event in 3 days.

left, Anchor Exchange - Curtis Beach NM hands off to Andre Carter GA for the USA All Stars.  New Bern anchor Miles Sparks waits for Andrew Hendrix to bring him the stick.

The anchor legs were studies in contrast. Andre Carter pushed hard throughout his leg in an attempt to run a great split and help his All-Star team to a quick time. The push worked as they clocked a 3:06.35, breaking the Great Southwest Classic record by .38 of a second. Miles Sparks made a gallant effort over 300m but his spirit was broken and he eased up over the final 100m. New Bern fell well short of the US record with their 3:13.18 clocking but they showed guts in the effort.

After The Race

The two teams also experienced contrasting emotions following the race. The All-Stars were treated, well, like All-Stars as they posed for pictures, signed autographs and Curtis Beach was even asked to kiss a baby in hopes that some of his talent would rub off. New Bern was relegated to the center of the field where they dealt with their race. Sparks lost his dinner, Green hobbled holding his hamstring and the Hendrix twins just stood staring in disappointment. They may not have been able to defeat a group of All-Stars or ghost from the past but they proved themselves worthy. They will be the team to beat at NON in the 4x400 and Sprint Medley.

 All Stars

 New Bern

photos by John and Donna Dye