CAMILLA -- It's about banners and brotherhood, bonding and sharing something bigger than themselves -- about being a piece of a puzzle, a puzzle that only works when all the pieces fit.
That's how they think and feel at Westwood, where coach Earl Ford's kids who compete on the track & field teams know it's not about them, but about something much better.
"It goes back to the whole team thing,'' said Miller Singleton, a junior who will compete in five events during the three-day GISA Class A track & field state meet that begins today at Hugh Mills Stadium. "Track really is a team sport.''
Maybe that's why Westwood is always making a run at the state team title.
"We don't look at it as personal goals,'' said Jake Edore, who will lead Westwood's boys team at state. "We want to win it as a team. We have a school where we see each other as family.''
Those two kids might each end up as the high point MVPs of the Class A state girls and boys meets. Edore has a chance to win the 110-meter hurdles, the 300-meter hurdles and the triple jump. He will also run on both relay teams.
Singleton is the defending state champ in the pole vault, and she will run in the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes, and also run on both relay teams.
Her best friend, Virginia Vereen, might also be the favorite to win that award. Vereen broke the state record in the 300-meter hurdles last year, and she will be the favorite to win both hurdles events and could win the triple jump. She also runs on both relay teams.
Those are three good reasons Westwood might sweep the boys and girls team titles this weekend, but the biggest reason is the way they feel about the track program at Westwood, where they have become a state power.
The boys and girls teams had won three straight state titles each when those streaks were snapped last year. The boys finished third, and the girls were the state runner-up in 2010.
"We want to get our name back,'' Vereen said. "We want to get our reputation back. We were really upset last year when we didn't win. We have to get it back.''
The boys team felt the same way.
"We were pretty frustrated when we didn't win it last year,'' Edore said. "That got us fired up for this year, and we were pretty fired up at the region meet. We're fired up about winning a state title.''
The boys are loaded.
"This is probably the most balanced boys team I've ever had,'' said Ford, who has been coaching track in Camilla since 1994. "We've got great balance, good sprinters, good jumpers and good throwers. We're not top-heavy and we're not too young. We've got good balance from our seniors to eighth grade, from 8 to 12. That's been unique to this team. And we've got good athletes, top to bottom. There's no place where we can't score points.''
Riley Anderson is the defending state champ in the pole vault, and Mason Jones is the defending state champ in the long jump and the triple jump. Jones didn't win either in the region meet last week. Edore won the triple jump and Mason Wosham won the long jump.
Anderson finished second at state in the 400 last year, but was second in the region meet to Chason Worsham, an eighth grader.
That gives you an idea how strong this year's team is. Mason Worsham might also be in the mix for the high point award. He's got a chance to win the 100, 200 and long jump.
"We've got good competition,'' Ford said. "I want them to have a twinge of selfishness. I want them to want to win their event, but we hang banners in our gym that say team state champions. We want all of our kids to be able to celebrate success. It's all about the team.''
That's part of the secret, part of the formula that works so well at Westwood.
Toss in kids who take a lot of pride in what they do, add in tons of hard work, a caring coach who is about as dedicated as they come, and the rest is simple.
"Our kids take a lot of pride in the fact we've had success in track & field. When they put on that uniform, I want them to feel something special,'' Ford said.
And now there's the added incentive because Westwood didn't win the state title in either boys or girls track last year.
"We're hungry," Singleton said. "We're really hoping to win it. It's been such a good year. We won the football state title, and (the girls basketball team played for the state title) and now we want to win the track state title.''
The girls team doesn't have a single senior, and only three juniors.
But the juniors, Vereen, Singleton and Hope Bailey, who won the 400 and long jump titles at region last week. She also runs on both relay teams, are the heart of this team.
"Those three are my tri-captains,'' Ford said. "They know what I expect, and they are the ones who encourage the others. They will go to the other girls with words of encouragement and say the things I would say. They work so hard and are so respected by the others that when they say something it goes a long way.''
The threesome leads on and off the track.
"We are the leaders. It's our year,'' Vereen said. "We want to lead the team to a state title as juniors, as the leaders.''
Vereen is such a tough competitor in every sport, and was the leading scorer and rebounder on the state finalist basketball team.
"Virginia is poised to have a big meet,'' Ford said. "She's faster than a year ago. She's stronger than a year ago and she's taller than she was a year ago. She has been on the track team since eighth grade. We don't talk about state records. If something like that happens, it's wonderful. But she could win both hurdles and we moved her from the high jump to the triple jump, and she might win the triple jump.''
Singleton has that same tenacious mentality.
"Miller has worked as hard as anybody I have ever had,'' Ford said. "And she's in better shape than she's ever been. She's strong, and now that she's a junior she's putting it together mentally and physically.''
Singleton wants that team title.
"It's time for the juniors to step up,'' she said. "We want to leave our legacy.''
The girls should be the favorites. The team that beat them a year ago, Briarwood, moved up to Class AA. Randolph Southern, which is led by freshman Madison Ragan, who will be the favorite to win the shot put and the discus, will be in the hunt, and David Emanuel should contend for the title. The Westwood boys team could be in a dogfight with Thomas Jefferson.
Deerfield-Windsor's boys and girls teams will be in the hunt for state titles in the Class AAA meets. The DWS boys are led by Mac Lanier, who won the 110-meter hurdles and was second in the pole vault and long jump in the region meet last week, and Taylor Withers, who won the 400- and 800-meter runs.
DWS' girls scored 177 points to win the region last week, and are led by Amber Young, who won the 100, 200 and long jump titles last week, and also anchored both winning relay teams. Reed Hancock, who owns the state record in the pole vault, is hoping to break her record of 12-6 feet.
DWS' Madison Sauls won the 1,600, and the 3,200 titles, Sabrina Curry won the shot put and the discus, Micaela Cuneo won the 800, and Catherine Leggette won the triple jump last week and should give Deerfield a chance to win a state team title.