Cross country standout recognized by School Board

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By Sean Arnold

When it comes to state competition, no athlete outside the school’s softball program has seen as much success recently at Chiefland Middle High School as eighth-grade cross country star Lauren Jones.


On Dec. 12, the School Board of Levy County recognized Jones’ feats, as CMHS assistant principal Aaron Halderman recounted her accomplishments.

Family, coaches and supporters filled the room to celebrate the moment for Jones, who, after already qualifying for the state championship as a seventh-grader, took a significant step this past season in finishing 14th overall at the Class 1A championships against a field of more than 175 runners.

“When you see that many kids running, that’s a big accomplishment,” Halderman said. “And to know that she’s got her high school years ahead of her – a lot of the athletes that came in ahead of her, I don’t think she’ll be running against in the years to come.”

Halderman recalled when he first saw Jones run a race. It was Chiefland Elementary School’s annual Run-for-Fun.

A future star was born.

“A lot of kids take off out of the gate and they really start to slow down at the end, and she never did,” Halderman said. “So whenever she finished I said, ‘I have two words for you when you get to middle school: Cross. Country.’”

Jones won her first three meets as a sixth-grader, earning her a promotion to become the only middle-schooler on the varsity squad. She went on to win all of her local meets as a seventh- and eighth-grader and collect a pair of Levy County Championship wins. During the former season, she placed 12th at regionals to qualify for the state finals in Tallahassee, where she took 66 out of 175 runners. When she returned to state this year – healthier, more experienced and more skilled – she shedded nearly 2 minutes off her previous time to claim No. 14, while notching a new personal best at 19 minutes, 46 seconds in the 5K. Shortly before, she placed second at her district meet – only behind the eventual two-time state champion Grace Blair – and No. 6 in the regional championship in Lakeland.

This year, she also overcame a knee injury to take third in a state middle school championship.

“You felt (your knee) pop at the beginning of the race and still came in third?” Halderman rhetorically asked Jones. “That’s Indian pride right there.”

Halderman also noted that Jones made the top five in a 1A preseason ranking for next year, and also commended her work in the classroom, where she boasts a 3.32 GPA.

“I’d like to thank (the Board) for doing this,” the soft-spoken Jones said. “I know not a lot of people get to do this.

“And I’d like to thank everybody who came to support me here and throughout.”

Superintendent Jeff Edison presented Jones with a bouquet of flowers.

“I know you’ve got some very proud coaches and mommas and daddies and family members who come out there on the circuit,” Edison said. “And I know they do a lot of stuff, not just for you, but for cross country and track.

“I’m very proud of what you’ve done and look forward to many more things.”