Byne rekindles X-country program, finishes 2nd at state

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- Dawson native Trevor Permison played almost every sport imaginable when he attended Terrell Academy as a youngster.

Cross country, however, was not one of them.

So when Permison, now a teacher and first-year athletic director at Byne Christian, was told that the school wanted to field a boys cross country team for the first time in almost 20 years, he wasn't sure what to expect out of his meager group of six guys who came out for the team.

But as it turned out, what he got was a group of determined young men who far exceeded everyone's expectations.

The Saints -- led by senior Josh Hughes -- finished second overall in the varsity and junior varsity meet at the Georgia Christian Athletic Association State Championships this past weekend in Buford, losing to overall winner Old Suwanee Christian by merely one point in the varsity division.

"It all came together so quickly, I never imagined they would do as well as they did," Permison said Monday. "But since most of the kids who came out for the team had just finished soccer season, they came in driven and in really good shape. And I think that showed by how (well they fared this weekend)."

Hughes, who came in third overall, was the top finisher for Byne, followed by fellow seniors and good friends Kasey Sanders (7th) and Robbie Smith (10th). But when Hughes was asked about the remarkable achievement by a first-year program, he said he actually thought the Saints should've won it all.

"We were happy, yeah, but we could've done better," Hughes said. "Afterward, I realized that if I had just beaten the one guy ahead of me, it would've given us enough points to win. So I beat myself up over that."

But he shouldn't. After all, once soccer ended, Hughes and Co. went straight from the field to the cross country path, getting just three weeks of practice in before the state meet. Hughes' father mapped out a 5K course on Old Dawson Road and the team -- which also consists of JV members Tyler Hughes (Josh's younger brother), Quinten Sanders (Kasey's younger sibling) and Chris Dyal -- met each day after school and ran the 3.1-mile distance, rain or shine.

The reason for such a short window to prepare, Permison said, was the fact that the GCAA hadn't held a state cross country meet in a number of years because of low participation among member schools.

But when word spread that the state meet was being rekindled in Buford this year, Byne jumped at the chance to compete.

"I'm not really sure when the last year we had a team was, but I know the girls won it all back in 1991 and I think (it dried up after that)," said the coach, who added that the school didn't field a girls team at the same time because there wasn't enough interest. "So when it all started coming together, I just asked the kids in my class and around school if they wanted to run, and those six guys stepped up."

Amazingly, Byne only ran in one practice meet before the state championships, and the results awed Permison.

"We went and ran against a bunch of GISA schools at Southland's meet a couple of weeks before state and I was shocked at how well our kids did," Permison said of Hughes' fourth-place overall finish, coupled with a seventh-place from the elder Sanders. "We kinda came out of nowhere at that meet and didn't even have any uniforms. We just had white T-shirts and shorts on."

Permison then added with a laugh: "I'm sure the rest of the teams and coaches were looking around wondering, 'Who the heck are these guys?' Especially after how well they ran."

After that meet, Byne emerged with a load of self-confidence heading into state, Permison said.

"I think they felt a lot better about their chances heading into state, knowing they competed with (those tough runners) from the GISA," he said. "Then, they just went out and gave it their all."

Josh Hughes, however, said he wasn't sure if the Saints' day in the sun at state would even come at first.

"At first we were told we needed five guys to make a team, and me and Robbie and Kasey all decided to do it, but we couldn't find two more," said Hughes, also a star on the basketball team. "But then we got the three (younger guys) to come out, and we had ourselves a team."

Hughes' final time hasn't been verified yet by the GCAA, but Permison said he ran "around 19 minutes or so," which would be competitive in the GISA -- that is, should Byne ever decide to switch athletic associations.

And it's a discussion that continues to be ongoing.

"It's something we've definitely talked about, especially considering the cost of all the traveling we do now to (North Georgia) and places far away like that to play teams (in the GCAA)," said Permison, who took over for former A.D. Stan Edmonds this year and teaches social sciences, history, government, P.E. and Bible study at Byne. "The only thing that kept us from looking at it more seriously this last year was that we'd just gone through a new accreditation process with the GCAA and the GISA had just done its reclassification that it does every two years. But I think after this year, it's something we'll talk about and I look forward to that."

Byne will lose the three seniors after this season, but Permison is encouraged that this year's success will drive the younger runners to focus on improving that second-place finish next year, as well as bring out more of the school's athletes to give cross country a try.

"We're hoping by next year, the GCAA will hold four practice meets leading up to state," Permison said. "And I think (after this year's runner-up finish) we might even get to host one right here in Albany."