Written by SportsDayDFW.com
Love of running keeps tireless SOC senior striding toward goals
The DART bus drops Melvin Jones off at South Oak Cliff around 7:15 a.m., an hour after he wakes up in the darkness because he told cross country coach Warnie Hill that he would do anything to become a better runner.
He comes to school to run the five-mile loop to and from the Laurel Land funeral home. Sometimes he is joined by a teammate or two. Sometimes he is the only one on Oak Cliff’s vacant early-morning sidewalks.
“I love it,” said Jones, a senior.
At South Oak Cliff, the cross country teams rarely feature plentiful numbers. Sometimes they have only three full-time runners. They count on kids from other sports to fill spots so SOC can have the necessary five runners for a full team in a meet. Last year, they needed someone from the basketball team.
Basketball coach James Mays II told Hill about a kid, new to the school, who never seemed to fatigue during his off-season workouts. It was Jones. He had been a miler and two-miler in track at A. Maceo Smith but never thought about running cross country.
Jones competed in a 5K race at Seagoville with the other basketball players. He had never run a race of that length and had no strategy, only planning to get out front with the leaders. Jones won.
The season went on, and he won all but two of the races he entered. He won the District 11-4A championship. He once ran a 15:44.
Jones didn’t qualify for state. At the regional meet, he got tangled up with another runner, falling and eliminating any chance of his qualification.
Something clicked for Jones that year. After his first race, assistant coach Al Christian told him he could do something special if he stuck with cross country.
Sports until then had been an outlet for fun. That’s why he played football and basketball. Cross country became serious. Sure, he loved it. But he saw real possibilities.
“The kid recognizes his own potential and understands that he can also be successful at something,” Christian said. “And that light turned on for him.”
Jones wants to get a scholarship so he can run in college. Waking up early to run has also allowed him more study time. He is a constant worker, a kid who would stay late after basketball workouts to shoot on his own.
The morning miles, the Sunday long runs, the races, they all help prepare Jones for his goals of making state this year and running in college. Running became his plan by chance, but he’s glad he found one.
“It’s just something that motivates me, that helps me keep going,” Jones said. “I don’t see how I could live without running, actually.”
Cross country spotlight: Virgilio Martinez, Arlington
Update: Martinez, a senior, won the Mansfield Invitational last Friday, running a 5K in 15:31. He has won multiple races this year, and his best 5K time for cross country is 15:13.
State redemption: Last year, Martinez was one of the top five runners in his region. But during the regional meet, he pulled a hamstring at about the two-mile mark. He recovered in time to finish seventh at the Nike South Regional two weeks later. Martinez’s goals for the rest of the season are to qualify for state and break 15 minutes in the 5K.
An artist: Since his freshman year, Martinez has taken several art classes. He especially likes to do abstract colored-pencil drawings.
Soccer to running: Martinez used to play soccer but decided to focus on running. “I wanted to be in a sport where you could prove that you were good at it and no one could argue,” he said. “When you cross the finish line first, no one can argue you are not the best.”
College plans: Martinez wants to study engineering and plans to run in college.
Loves running because: “The fact that I can pay for my education through that. That’s probably the main thing.”