Coach James Johnson is with the boys track team and student supporters after a track meet. (Courtesy photo)

The Chickasaw Middle School boys track and field team hopes to qualify for the state championship for the second time in two years under the leadership of Coach James Johnson. This past weekend the Chieftains won the city championship.

This is a major accomplishment for the school, which hasn’t won a city championship since 2003. However, before heading to the state championship on May 18, the boys have to compete in the Tennessee Middle School Athletic Association (TMSAA) West Tennessee Sectional Tournament.

In order to make it to sectionals, competitors had to place in the top six of their event. Out of the 15 team members that competed in the championship for Chickasaw, 10 are going on to compete in the tournament this Saturday at Whitehaven Stadium.

Cassandra Carpenter, the assistant track coach, has been at every practice and meet and said she has seen the boys improve over time.

“Their confidence began to grow as they began to grow as athletes and students,” said Carpenter. “They never got arrogant when they won their meets and always had an attitude of improving.”

Coach James Johnson and assistant coach Cassandra Carpenter are with the track team after the city championship at Whitehaven Stadium. (Courtesy photo)

The team’s head coach, James Johnson, has been working at Chickasaw Middle as a science teacher for seven years. Along with coaching track and sponsoring the student council, Johnson has won a Teacher of the Year award and New Memphis Educators of Excellence award. He is one of the top performing science teachers in the Innovation Zone.

Not only does Coach Johnson expect the boys to put forth their best effort on the track but in the classroom as well. Johnson, who is a Level 5 teacher, believes academics are just as important as sports. Johnson takes the time to check the team’s progress reports and report cards.

“Before we even have practice, the athletes have to engage in study hall,” said Johnson. “On days where we don’t have study hall, we have workshops.”

These workshops are through a partnership with Rhodes College and Bridges USA. Some of the workshops include goal setting, conflict resolution, team building, leadership     and peer pressure. A big focus for Coach Johnson this season has been leadership and character building.

“Leadership starts with knowing who you are so you can best serve your team members,” said Johnson.

The team has been practicing since the start of February even though their first track meet wasn’t until March 22. The main goal of starting practice early was obviously to prepare for the season but building team morale was as equally important.

“I wanted them to understand before we can even start practice and compete, they have to gel well as a team,” said Johnson. “You have to know who your teammates are so you can assist each other throughout the season.”

One of the team’s mantras is “either we all win or we all lose.” However, Johnson said this journey isn’t just about winning a title, it’s about respecting the process.

“The process is what makes you champion, not the title itself,” said Johnson. “Some people get lost in the process and give up and quit.”

Although the team has had a successful season, some of the athletes have experienced hardships. However, Coach Johnson said his team has used what they experienced as a motivator to excel in what they’re passionate about and that’s track.

“Inside every problem lies an opportunity,” said Johnson. ‘There are a lot of things that distract our youth today but I’m glad they have decided to commit to something that will be an experience they’ll never forget.”

Going to state is an expensive venture. As Chickasaw Middle is a Title I school, the burden will be costly. Individuals or companies interested in donating for the team’s travel expenses can contact [email protected] or call 901-240-8394.