My favorite champ

“Is he the best you ever coached?”

My daughter asked me this question four years ago today as we made our way to the 2018 NCAA Track & Field Indoor Championships in College Station to watch ULM’s Alton Clay compete in the weight throw.

She asked this question after I had given her a little history about Clay. Besides his immediate family, I’m not sure there was anyone – at the time – more apt to tell his story.

All-City defensive end in football. District MVP in basketball. Top public-school finisher in the 2013 LHSAA State Outdoor Meet in both the discus and the shot put.

There wasn’t a day during his senior year at North Caddo Magnet High School when Clay went home rather than practice. I should know. I was there, as the head football and track coach.

After giving 14-year-old Caitlin Elizabeth Byrd’s question a couple of seconds of reflection, I confidently replied:

“Yes, he is.”

Sitting next to her in the car, I could sense disappointment, so I asked her what was the matter.

“I wanted you to say that I was the best you ever coached,” Caitlin Elizabeth Byrd said.

My answer: “I will one day.”

Well, that day has come.

Most people only dream about meeting their favorite athlete. Some get to meet their athletic hero once or twice. Mine came into this world on March 16, 2004 and has lived under the same roof with her mother and me ever since.

I remember her first day of throwing the discus and turbo javelin at Lee Hedges Stadium. She was still wearing her green Upward basketball jersey from a game earlier that morning. The discus was a little suspect, but I knew she had potential when she threw a bomb with the turbo jav, causing her dad to yell “BOOM!” so loud heads may have turned along Youree Drive.

Remember that, Caitlin?

I remember her throwing a real javelin for the first time in the lot beside Ellerbe Road Methodist Church. It was like she had been throwing it her whole life. Of course, I had to put the video on slow motion and post about it on Facebook.

Remember that, Caitlin?

After an epic road trip to the 2016 Altis Throws Camp in Tiffin, Ohio, Caitlin dropped some bombs at the AAU Regional Qualifier in Covington and then continued at the AAU Junior Olympics in Houston, where she finished eighth in the nation to earn Junior All-America status.

Remember that, Caitlin?

It’s not just about watching her compete in track and field. I remember a rainy Friday night in LSU’s Bernie Moore Stadium at the 2014 LHSAA State Outdoor Championships, huddling with spectators and athletes under the stands to get out of the weather. I looked down at 9-year old C.E. Byrd, who was looking at me with the biggest grin, her lips trimmed with a light blue stain from a celebratory snow cone. My North Caddo long jumper, Lagarion Taylor, had won a state championship that afternoon and C.E. was enjoying the spoils of his victory.

Remember that, Caitlin Elizabeth Byrd?

In two months, my favorite champ graduates from The City of Byrd. With a throw of 115-5 at last year’s Region I-5A Meet, she is only five feet shy of the school record in the javelin. And while I love watching her compete, and equally love watching her work hard to chase her goals, if she decided to hang it up today, I would support her decision and be thankful to her – and to track and field – for all the good times, and even the bad times.

Throwing is what C.E. Byrd does. It’s not who she is. She is so much more than a medal, or a record. She is a child of God with a heart of gold. She uses her gifts to glorify God. She is my favorite champion, and the best I’ve ever coached.

Remember that, Caitlin.