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new bern nc | 08-09 dyestat team of the year
This concludes the final part of DyeStat's year-end awards for 2008-09, the DyeStat Athletes and Team of the Year. Selections are made by DyeStat editors and are based a combination of multiple major victories/honors won and performances on all-time and yearly lists. Performances from outdoor track, indoor track, and cross-country are taken into account.

10 Things You Might Not Know About New Bern

By SteveU, DyeStat/ESPN RISE Senior Editor
Photos by Robert Rosenberg, John Nepolitan, Donna Dye, John Dye, and Jeannette Seckinger

There’s never been a team like them.  There may never be another team like them.  It’s too bad the small group of versatile speedsters from New Bern NC didn’t have a film crew following them around all year.  Oh, there will be a book – Coach Nick Sparks, who is, oh, just a tad better known for his best-selling romantic novels, will make sure of that.  If there’s a movie, though, Hollywood would have to follow up with it, and there wouldn’t be much need for dramatization – there was plenty of that as the Andrew and Anthony Hendrix, Fuquawn Greene, Coach “Big” Dave Simpson, Coach Sparks and his son Miles, Daishawn Stryton, and others here and there, crisscrossed the country all winter and spring in search of relay records.  One can only imagine the frequent flier miles amassed in 2009 by these guys: Fayetteville AR, Pocatello ID, New York, Boston, Eugene, and Albuquerque, just to name a few. 

How could Hollywood ask for more?  There were the fast early indoor times, the near-record on the oversized track in Tennessee, and finally the first national record in the Big Apple (3:13.06 4x400).  There was a late winter and early spring that included another USR, but more often near-misses and not-quites, and the frustration of not getting to race the Jamaicans at Penn.  There were the low points of Greene getting suspended at school and the 4x400 getting soundly beaten at Great Southwest. 

But Great Southwest set the tone of what was to follow.  “That set the desire in their heart that they were going to do what they did at Nike,” said Big Dave.  “After they ran that race, everybody forgot about us – they didn’t even put us on the podium for finishing second.  I told them, see, when you’re good, and you don’t do something great, people really don’t notice.  They made up their mind, with their next opportunity, that they were going to go out with a bang.  That drove them at Nike.”

So finally, there were the four victories at NON in Greensboro, including the third national record of the year – 1:28.20 for the 800 SMR – and the delicious twist of coming up just short in the final race, but that monumental effort of 3:08.05 for the 4x400 being the best performance of all. 

The story would have to have some kind of prologue, but how far back would you go?  To the first indoor meet in Arkansas, where their first relay of the year – a scintillating 1:27.02 4x200 – caused Big Dave to completely shift his thinking on what this year could be?  Or the time trial and workout on a cold December day that told Coach Sparks this year would be special?  Or maybe you’d go back even further, to when Big Dave discovered Greene in a basketball gym; or when the Hendrix twins got their first taste of national glory relaying with the rescued Louisiana star, Karjuan Williams, in 2006; or even all the way back to when the coaches and the twins first met up six years ago.

In any case, it’s a great story, and one you’ve heard about on DyeStat all year.  So as we celebrate the 2009 edition of New Bern – also competing as Track Eastern Carolina much of the year – as our first DyeStat Team of the Year, we discover there’s much more to these guys than you might have known.

1. Inauspicious beginnings – The New Bern/Track EC relay crews weren’t always champions and “so cool under pressure,” recalls
Coach Sparks. “Andrew and Anthony considered themselves sprinters when they started running track in middle school, but even so, they ran around 2:20 in the 800m in 7th grade.  That was enough to catch the eye of “Big Dave.”

The twins had a unique way of getting to practice.  “The first day they came to practice, I was standing out on the track,” Big Dave recalls.  “I looked up, and I could see them coming from a distance, and I could tell they weren’t jogging.  They came in on roller blades – and they live six miles from the school.  They had to cross one of the biggest bridges in North Carolina.  I asked them afterward if they wanted a ride home, and they said no, they’d roller blade back.”

“Didn’t have another way to get there,” Anthony shrugs. 

Coach Simpson had also seen Miles, who’d just finished 6th grade, working out at the track with his dad.  “Dave got the twins and Miles, and added Mike Weir to form a 4x800 Youth team that made it to Youth Nationals later that summer,” Coach Sparks continues.  “But once they got to nationals, they were wide-eyed and scared out of their minds.  As the race unfolded, all four of them ran their poorest races of the summer (by far) and the team finished in last place (albeit in the fast heat).”

“That was a bad experience,” says Miles.  “We never experienced anything like that before.  We just cracked under pressure.  Now we look back on it, we’ve come a long way, and it’s like, ‘Wow.’”

2. Finding Fuquawn, Part 1 - Fuquawn and Miles met for the first time later that fall, when both of them played on the same Pop Warner football team.  Up until then, Miles had always been the fastest kid around, in any sport he’d played.  But that changed.  Coach Sparks recalls a conversation about that.  After practice one afternoon, I asked Miles whether he was the fastest kid on the team.  He says, ‘I think Fuquawn is faster than I am.’  Then I say, ‘You could probably take him.’  And Miles thought for a long moment.  ‘I don’t know, Dad,’ he says.  ‘He’s pretty fast.’”

Speed didn’t equal success, however.  “We were the worst team on Planet Earth, let me tell you,” Miles says.  “We were a bunch of skinny, white suburban kids (except for Fuquawn) who’d never played football in their lives.  It’s not just that we didn’t win, we didn’t score a point until the last game.” 

 “We lost every game,” agrees Fuquawn, “but I didn’t really know Miles was until high school.  Miles was quarterback and I was a running back.  We were talking about it today … joking about how we didn’t win any games.”

3. Finding Fuquawn, Part II - Big Dave’s first memories of Fuquawn come from both the gridiron and basketball court.  Neither sport would wind up suiting him, but he certainly showed what his best attribute was: that speed.

“They put him on the kickoff team,” Dave recalls.  “He used to run by everyone on the field … then stop … then he would turn back around and catch the ball-carrier.”

But it was actually during a basketball practice that coach and athlete first me.  “He hates this, but I’ll going to tell you,” Dave begins with a laugh.  “One day the basketball coach told me he wanted me to come in and see his team.  So I’m in the gym and I didn’t know who Fuquawn was.  He grabs the rebound and he turns around, takes three steps – travelling – then he gets to the top of the key, takes off from the free-throw line, throws the basketball hard against the backboard … then before the ball landed at half court, he got it.
 Green Springs "Waterworld" in New Bern

“I’m serious.  I told the coach, ‘I don’t know about basketball, but that boy right there can fly.  You’ve got to introduce me to him.’  Two weeks later, he qualified for the triple jump and the long jump for the state meet.”

4. Serious fun – Athleticism can be developed by a lot more than just structured workouts.  A unique structure in a park called “Green Springs” by New Bern folks became an informal athletic training ground for Andrew, Anthony and Miles, as well as simply a way to blow off steam. 

Built by a local over a period of fifteen years, says Coach Sparks, it’s a pier/dock/climbing structure that, complete with zip-lines, rope swings, diving platforms, and climbing ropes.  “It would probably be considered illegal in most places around the country.  That it’s dangerous goes without saying; in the past, people have died there.  Miles and the twins routinely dive into the water from 30 feet, and play tag for hours.  All three can swim like fish.”

“It’s a death trap on the Neuse River,” laughs Miles.  “You can run, jump, swing off ropes, dive … there’s no lifeguards, nothing out there.  It’s pretty dangerous.  You don’t have to pay (it’s not owned by the city or county), so there’s no liability.”

“It’s like a 5-story building with no walls,” says Andrew.  “Diving boards, swings .. basically somewhere to jump into the water and have fun all summer.”  Is it a great way to develop athleticism?  “Yeah, you don’t ever get no break out there – you’re always either swimming or running.”

Coach Sparks adds that in their first years of running, after practice, most of the team would congregate at the Sparks home, where they would spend their evening hours, hiding from, and shooting at each other with air-soft guns.  “All have numerous scars from their wars,” he laughs.

5. Good things come in fives - Miles is the oldest of five children in his family.  Fuquawn is the middle child in a family with five children.  Andrew and Anthony are the oldest of the five children in their family.  Big Dave also has five kids.  And obviously, Nicholas has five kids. 

6. Multi-talented – Coach Sparks says the twins and Miles love to fish and that Fuquawn has enjoyed hunting deer with his dad over the years.  All four love to go target shooting in the woods.  Miles also won a “Blue Marlin” tournament off the North Carolina coast this summer, hauling in a fish that was 10’11” and weighed over 400 lbs.  “You need patience, high quality equipment a good captain, and strong forearms,” he says.

Miles also has a black-belt in Tae Kwon Do.  “When I was 10 or 11 years old, I was 3rd in a World Championship event, in sparring, in Arkansas,” he says.  “My mom was a gymnast and I’m naturally flexible.  I love sparring with people, too.  I’m getting back into it. 

He adds that a lot of what he’s learned in the sport has carried over to the track.  “At the end of every practice, we’d talk about perseverance, dedication, honor, stuff like that.  It just got ingrained into my head.  Don’t quit when it gets hard, push through it, and you’ll reap the rewards.”

7. Early indications – At the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009, the coaches and athletes quickly realized that 2009 could be special.  For Coach Sparks, it was a workout in early December.  “They ran a 500m time trial,” he says.  “It was cold and windy, but Anthony ran 1:02.0, Andrew ran 1:02.1, Fuquawn ran 1:03.8 and Miles ran 1:03.9.  For practice that day, after they’d recovered from the time-trial, they ran 30x200 with a 1 minute rest; the twins averaged 31 while Fuquawn and Miles averaged 33.”

“I remember that workout because it was cold,” says Andrew, “but it probably has something to do with how well we ran this year, seeing how we started out running real good that early in the season.”

 “I’ll tell you when I knew,” says Big Dave.  “We went down to Arkansas and we’d been doing the Clyde Hart training program, a lot of 600s, a lot of 500s.  And Fuquawn had run a 1:24 600 in practice.  In the first relay (4x200), they ran that 1:27.02 (US#1 for the season).  Right then, it changed my whole attitude about the season.  I turned around and said, Fuquawn, you’re not running the finals of the 200 (he’d already run 21.39 in the prelims).  We’re going to see what we’ve got in the 4x400 and it’s going to determine what we’re going to do this year. 

“So we’ll pulled them out of the finals of the 200 and the 400 (Anthony and Andrew had run 47.73 and 48.15 prelims), because we wanted a strong 4x4.  We only ran 3:19.28, but Fuquawn tied up the last 100 meters of the 400.  We knew at that point it was going to be a special season.”

8.  Blessed survivors - In the summer of 2008, Andrew, Anthony and Fuquawn were in a car accident during a trip from Raleigh back to New Bern. 

“It was late and they had a little Mitsubishi Mirage, a two-door,” says Big Dave.  “Fuquawn was in the passenger seat, Anthony was driving, and Andrew was lying down in the back.  Evidently, Anthony fell asleep at the wheel, and Fuquawn noticed it and tried to reach over and grab the steering wheel, causing the car to come back across the lane, and flipped three times.”

The boys each kicked out and crawled out of windows and, realizing each other was alive, walked to a house half a mile away to get help.  When they didn’t get any, they went back to their car to find police and fire crews there.

“They were standing back and saying, ‘Where’s the people that were in this car?’ says Big Dave.  The kids said, ‘It’s us.’  Then the crews said, ‘No, we want to see the people that were in the car.’  And again, the kids said, ‘It’s us.’

“The police and firefighters could not believe the kids walked away from that wreck and were standing there like they were.  At about the same time, 30 miles away, there was the same type of wreck, and three people were killed.”

“They were like, the people in the accident should be dead,” recalls Andrew.  “If it wasn’t a miracle, I don’t know what it was.”

9. Meeting Dad – Before the Hendrix twins left for Rend Lake Community College earlier this month, they got a big surprise – they were found by and met their father for the first time.  He had left when the twins were infants.  Recently, the father – who had come to North Carolina when being re-stationed at Camp Lejune – and his wife had started trying to find his children using Facebook.  The father knew his children were twins, and their first names, and that they still might be in New Bern.  He finally found someone who knew them and contacted them using Facebook.  The twins’ mother called him back and a meeting was arranged.

The twins, who have both shown a strong interest in the Marines, were stunned to find their father – a full-blooded Jamaican – was a 20-year man in the Marine Corps himself.  They also found they had raced their own half-brother and didn’t know it.  “In 2007, we ran in the first heat of 4x400, and one of the teams we were running against was Teaneck NJ,” says Big Dave.  “Their half-brother, Alan Barrington, ran on that team.  Their father was in the stands and did not know Anthony and Andrew were his kids.  Now Alan’s running at Pratt CC in Kansas.”

So what was their reaction?  “They’re not emotional kids,” says Big Dave.  “But Andrew walked right up to him and said, ‘Listen, we don’t have to talk about the past.  We’re just so happy that you’re in our future.’”

“My momma said he was a good guy, he just made a bad decision,” says Andrew.  “It was good to finally meet him.”

“It was something new and different,” says Anthony.  “I’m glad we met him.”

10. The future is now – It was originally thought this summer that Big Dave and Fuquawn would follow the twins to Rend Lake, with the coach taking an assistant’s job for the team and Fuquawn – who lives with the Simpsons – finishing high school there.  But Coach finally decided the move was too much of any upheaval for himself, his wife and children.  So Fuquawn will return to New Bern, where he has nine credits left to graduate.

Meanwhile, Miles is also graduating early.  Whether either will run for New Bern in the spring, or just compete for Track EC remains to be seen.  But New Bern has some short sprinters who could combine with Miles and Fuquawn for another strong 4x200, or maybe other relays as well.

“We definitely hope to keep it going,” says Big Dave.  “Miles might be able to run in the spring.  He’s going to graduate early, but he’s not going to leave.  We have 3-4 other quality athletes.  We could definitely a good 4x200, possibly a 4x400.  We may have better 200 sprinters than we actually had with the twins.”  Fuquawn will also get more of a chance to shine in the 100 and 200, which he has had limited training for the past two years.