BATH — Late Saturday morning, the Skowhegan Area High School girls track and field team won the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A 100-meter dash for the second consecutive year.
Just like that, Skowhegan’s strong sprinters stopped being an anomaly and started being a trend.
Sophomore Madeline Price took first place in the girls 100 at McMann Field, beating her Skowhegan teammate Jaycee Cushman, the defending conference champion, in about the time it takes to blink. Price got out of the blocks to an early lead. Cushman caught up, and Price nudged ahead at the finish for the title, winning in 12.86 seconds to Cushman’s 12.99.
“When we’re so close in seeding, if one gets a faster start than the other, that’s it,” Price said.
The Skowhegan girls sprinting Renaissance is a long time coming. Cushman’s conference championship last season was Skowhegan’s first win in the KVAC girls 100-meter title Cushman’s win snapped Brunswick’s seven-year hold on the event. Before that, Edward Little of Auburn sprinters owned the race for a couple years.
“It’s nice. They are good friends. They don’t mind competing against each other,” Skowhegan track and field coach Dave Evans said. “Last week, Jaycee won. This week it’s Maddy.”
Price and Cushman aren’t just leading a sprinting resurgence at Skowhegan. They’re leading a track resurgence. An average track and field team measures participation by the dozens. A few years ago, Skowhegan’s track and field team had barely enough athletes to form a basketball team, never mind score enough points to compete in the KVAC meet.
“They almost cut our program a couple years ago,” Cushman said. “The growth of our program gave us better resources.”
In 2011, the Skowhegan girls scored 10 points at the KVAC championship. That was up from just five in 2010. The low point was 2009, when Skowhegan left McMann Field with as many points as it arrived, zero.
Evans arrived as the school’s outdoor track and field coach in 2011. The next year, he took over the indoor team, too.
“I don’t know if I got dragged into it or pushed into it, but I’m glad I was. The numbers were down,” Evans said. “This group of seniors was my first group, and they’ve been loyal. They’ve stayed with it.”
The Skowhegan track and field team now has approximately 50 athletes, Evans said, and 30 competed at the KVAC meet. Cushman and Price are among the core group of athletes setting the example that draws more kids to the sport.
“You look at the younger kids in middle school, and you try to get them to work hard and show them that hard work pays off in the end,” Price said.
“It’s such a fun environment, and not hardcore all the time. But we still work hard. I think that’s a big reason our program’s grown. We have fun. Our team’s really close,” Cushman said.
Cushman and Price are close, too. That’s not to say they are not competitive with each other.
“We’ve been doing other activities together for a while now. We know each other pretty well,” Price said. “In practice, everything’s friendly, but when it comes down to starting the race, it’s like …” Price smiled the smile of an athlete who hates losing, even if the opponent is a friend.
“We’re competitive, but we love each other. You’re happy for the other person,” Cushman said. “Always having somebody to push you is real helpful.”
Next Saturday, the duo will race in the Class A state meet, where each will be among the favorites in the 100. As Price and Cushman push each other, they also help pull a once floundering team forward.