Since moving from New Orleans not long after Hurricane Katrina, Prince has seen the Hawks’ growth from their infancy, and what they accomplished this season was several years in the making.
“Yes, I felt like we’d be competitive this year,” Prince said. “I saw it a couple of years ago. There was a talent shift, and we started getting some kids, and our program got better and better.
“This year, we finally got a pole vault pit and we were excited about it. Although we didn’t do well in pole vault this year, it’s in its infancy stages, just like the track program was when I got here. We have an excellent (pole vault) coach, and he’s excited about it. We’re looking forward to years of competition there and possibly having a state champion in that as well.”
State championships, both individual and team, are high on Prince’s priority list. After guiding Hillgrove to a runner-up finish in Class AAAAAA — the best finish of the program’s history — he’s eager to have his program take home the top prize in the very near future.
“To see us come this far and become state runner-up was an outstanding accomplishment,” said Prince, the 2012-13 Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County Boys Track and Field Coach of the Year. “I know our kids were disappointed in the outcome, but I reminded them of where they’ve come from, how far they’ve come, and the sky’s the limit for each of those athletes that participated in this year’s state meet.”
“Being coach of the year is an accomplishment that I take as an opportunity to showcase the student-athletes that we have at Hillgrove, and the outstanding coaching staff that I have here as well. We’ve made it on the backs of many people, so I don’t take the credit for any of this. It is a blessing to even be here.”
Hillgrove made the most of its opportunity at the state championships, qualifying seven athletes for nine events and one relay.
Jaylan Reid captured a state title in the state shot while also finishing fifth in the discus. Dy’Kari Hickey was third in the long jump and fourth in the 110-meter hurdles, and Demetrius Duggans placed second in the 100 dash and third in the 200.
“Demetrius Duggans had an outstanding year, even though he was fighting tweaks here and there throughout the season,” Prince said. “Jaylan Reid blew away the competition at state in the shot put, and a newcomer, Dy’Kari Hickey, came out of nowhere and jumped and broke a school record with 22-5½ in the long jump.”
Hickey, one of several seniors on the Hawks’ roster, played a pivotal role in getting Hillgrove a high place on the podium
“It was definitely a senior led team with one junior in Jaylen Reid, who I think will be a two-time state champion when it’s all said and done,” Prince said.
The coach is grateful for his many opportunities.
“It’s indeed a great honor — the first in my whole coaching career,” Prince said. “Considering all I’ve been through, even though we didn’t win the state championship, everything that has come because of this, and the accolades and everything, is just outstanding. I’m just excited for the kids.
“I’m an old man in the twilight of my years, but I get to work with some of these great athletes, and maybe, one day, one of these guys will wind up in the Olympics. It’s just a pleasure. That’s my enjoyment. That’s my joy.”