TIFTON — Tift County honored its middle and high school cross country teams Monday at the Tift County High School commons.

The banquet came two days after the season officially ended; the Lady Devils ran Saturday at the state Class AAAAAAA tournament in Carrollton.

After a welcome from Landon Johnson and prayer by Rebekah Larger, a trio of runners gave testimonials about a summer running camp in North Carolina. Emily Golden said it provided a good team bonding experience. Will Jones and Aidan Evans described the difference between the paved surfaces of Tift County and the mountain trails provided at camp.

Mike Beeman served as the emcee most of the evening. He thanked Kelly Golden for her service with the booster club. Kelly Golden asked parents and grandparents of runners to stand. “Kids, you don’t know what all your parents do,” she said. Beeman thanked everyone for their efforts, from administrators to the Sunbelt Running Club to bus drivers.

Awards presentations began with senior runners presenting their own awards to underclassmen. These had a humorous vibe and included such honors as “Most Likely to Grab a Snack in the Woods,” “Mop Top” and “Most Likely to be an Astronaut.” Senior honors continued with each being presented a blanket by coaches Beeman and Kristin McElroy. Seniors also picked their most inspiring teachers, who were also in attendance.

Coach Laural Mullen recognized each of her middle school athletes. Nineteen of the 35 on the roster were in sixth grade. The middle school girls won their region.

Academic awards went to Keira Gibbs and Isaac Beck. Mullen said the entire team had a 91.4 average. Superior Honor students were also given an award. Most Improved went to Victoria Tovar and Caden Maddox. She said Tovar “ran her heart out for us.”

Middle school MVPs were Blair Golden and Ava Wilson. The final middle school awards were Coaches’ Awards. Jazzlyn Del Toro and Dawson McMillan earned these merits.

Beeman and McElroy announced awards for the Blue Devils and Lady Devils. Certificates were first presented to participating runners, with lettermen’s awards going to the top eight for each team.

Most Improved for the Lady Devils went to Gwyneth Conner. McElroy said the person earning this award improved in a combination of time, percentage and rank on the team. Beeman opted not to give out Most Improved, but did have two for Coaches’ Awards.

Like with middle school Superior Honor students were given recognition for their efforts, as well overall top academic awards. Emily Golden and Clay Walker were these winners. Golden was also the Most Valuable Player for the Lady Devils. She finished fifth at state Saturday. Beeman said she was the first ever Lady Devils to make the top 10.

Yamari Snow was MVP for the Blue Devils. “With me through thick and thin,” said Beeman. Larger, Jones and Johnson took home Coaches’ Awards.

Next was the passing of the flag, Emily Golden awarding it to Zach Brey. “Someone who has a lot of team spirit,” she said.

Jones, Larger and Golden came up for a special presentation to McElroy, who announced she was stepping down as head coach of the Lady Devils. The three had been with McElroy since she began coaching at the middle school level seven years ago.

Jones said this was the “extra mile” award for McElroy. They presented her with a blanket similar to what the seniors receive. Larger told her coach that, “She never left my side.”

“Your work, your time and your energy will never be forgotten,” said Larger. “I thank you for loving us,” said Jones. Golden said, “Thank you for putting up with us. We can be crazy.”

McElroy thanked the administration, runners and her husband for their support.

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