If you hang around long enough in this business, you get a chance to witness some truly outstanding feats.
If you hang around longer, you forget some.
I’ve seen so many great team performances, permeated by outstanding individual performances. Great teams typically breed star performers. I could fill a column with just names.
Recently I was reminded of one of the most astounding athletic achievements I’ve witnessed, and it came back on the late 1980s, early 90s, when I was just starting out in the business.
Fayetteville had a distance runner named Jessica Taylor.
See was better than good. She never lost.
Taylor won 16 state championships in four years for the Pirates, four times winner the state cross country tournament and fourpeating, if there is such a term it is reserved for the very few, in the 3,200-, 1,600- and 800-meter runs in the state track and field championships. That’s SIXTEEN state championships.
That is quite the haul of hardware.
Back in those days I used to hang out with brothers Steve and Tim Keenan at track tournament at Laidley Field in Charleston. It was a highlight of the year, through the hot ones, the rainy ones and all those in between.
Each year Taylor was good for 30 points for the Fayetteville team. We used to watch her walk around bodies laid out on the Laidley carpet, victims of the long trips around the track, By then Taylor was sufficiently cooled down.
Which brings me the long way to the point. One of the few competitors to rival Taylors dominance was Independence’s Noah Adams.
Adams was a wrestler. A wrestler of renowned, kept from being a four-time champion only by a questionable disqualification early in his career at the state tournament. The disqualification was so questionable that even Adams’ opponent questioned it.
But Adams was more than that.
He won the Dutton Award as the state’s best prep wrestler and was honored by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association.
He was also an All-American wrestler as a prep standout.
And, like Randy Moss, another athlete I watched put up since unseen achievements, he could do about anything.
Adams played football one season, his senior year, because he didn’t want to wonder what would have been. Football was the first sport he loved.
Adams finished that 2016 season with 1,303 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns in helping the Patriots to the state playoffs. On Oct. 7, 2016, he rushed for 218 yards and four touchdowns.
Adams never missed a beat in his return to the gridiron. After a 19-15 record on the mat during a redshirt freshman year at WVU, he picked up where he left off this year, going undefeated in the 195-pound weight class (32-0). His season, like that of athletes all over the nation, and really, the world, was cut short by the Coronavirus pandemic.
Adams was, however, again awarded by the WVSWA with the Hardman Award, given to the state’s top amateur athlete. He was the second WVU wrestler to go undefeated, the second wrestler ever to win the Hardman Award (awarded since 1934). The first, both times, was Greg Jones, a role model of sorts to Adams. The Hardman typically goes to other heroes of Adams, guys like former WVU football players like Pat White and Tavon Austin.
These days Adams is a hero to the youth in his chosen sport, wrestling, especially back in Coal CIty.
In Adams fashion, it was young Kenzi Taylor made a little history of her own, becoming the first middle school state championship by the girl in the 101-pound division.
Someone made a sign congratulating her for the accomplishment.
“It made me feel like I was famous,” Taylor said.
She said she was a teammate of Adams’ brother and that Noah was a wrestler that she admired.
I wondered how Adams, a guy I had on a radio show I used to do on local radio, felt about the youngster following in his footsteps as a history maker of sorts.
Turns out she had a fan as well.
“If I had to pick one quote to describe Kenzi and the things she has accomplished in wrestling it would be, ‘don’t underestimate the power of being underestimated,’ “ Adams said. “She is a complete athlete on the mat and she is also an excellent student and I get more excited watching her wrestle than anyone else on that middle school team aside from my little brother.”
Like always, Adams did not disappoint.
From Taylor to Adams and back to Taylor. Three athletes who put up outstanding athletic feats over the course of a career.