Henrico County VA
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United they run

Hermitage HS wins national relay title
Hermitage’s national championship relay team (from left): Jaylen Banks, Edwin Mejia, Dallas Carter and Devin Barnes. (Photo courtesy Mary Ann Magnant)

It may have seemed as if there were the usual number of runners on the Hermitage H.S. sprint medley relay team that won the national championship in June.

But behind the foursome of Jaylen Banks, Dallas Carter, Edwin Mejia and Devin Barnes, there were a number of unseen hands and supporters helping to clear their path to the championship and propel them over the finish line in first place.

In a run that their coach called "amazing," the boys led the field from the very beginning of the race and claimed the title with a margin of 1.6 seconds. According to Milestat.com, which compiles high school meet results, the boys "attacked" the event, and only one team ever had a chance of catching them.

"These boys were champions at the Southern Track Classic," said the Milestat account, "and said then that [winning nationals] was their ultimate goal."

Mejia called the earlier Southern Track Classic victory his "greatest memory of the year," noting that at that point the team had broken a school record and was ranked fourth in the nation.

"I knew then that we could be number one," said Mejia, "because we were running with two injured runners – and we were all still getting faster week by week."

Brothers and Sisters
Asked what makes the Hermitage relay team stand out, Mejia speculated that it had a lot to do with motivation and attitude.

"I would definitely say that our whole team, including coaching staff, all share the same ambition," he said. "Which is to win at the highest level."

"And the bond we all have is tremendous," Mejia added. "My teammates are like brothers and sisters, and the coaches are like our parents."

Craig Hedley, the Hermitage track coach (known as “Mug” in the track world), pointed out that the team is a unique group of athletes from a variety of backgrounds and experience levels. Carter is a top-notch football player in addition to a fleet-footed runner. Barnes (pictured on p. 1), the individual state champ, is considered one of the fastest juniors in the country. Banks, on the other hand (whose mother is a track coach at Highland Springs H.S.) is only in his first year of running. Yet all the team members bonded and melded into an efficient unit – with the help of a supportive network of coaches, family members and fans.

Perhaps the proudest of these backers and fans is Duncan Sheils, who works with the runners thanks to a connection with Hedley, who coached him at Virginia Commonwealth University.

"He's a huge supporter of our program," Hedley said of Sheils. "He has given over $20,000 in scholarships to Hermitage distance runners.

"We couldn’t have gone to nationals if Duncan hadn’t funded the trip," added Hedley. "He [also] had the team down for a celebration for three days at his place in Nags Head."

Legacy of two siblings
An executive at Delta Dental of Virginia and a marathon runner, Sheils has taken a special interest in the Hermitage team – not only because of his former coach, but because of the family tragedy that led him into running.

When Sheils was in eighth grade in New Jersey, his sister, Kathy – a track star who had just completed her freshman year of college on a full athletic scholarship – was killed while crossing a street in their home town.

Even though the accident happened 28 years ago, Kathy has continued to influence Sheils' life on a daily basis. He believes that she has played a central, guiding role in all sorts of fortuitous events in his life – beginning soon after she died, when her coach steered Sheils away from soccer and into cross country.

It was his running that eventually got Sheils into college, despite a less-than-stellar high school transcript; and good fortune has seemed to follow him ever since, from his career and family life to real estate and business investments.

"People tell me all the time how lucky I am," Sheils said recently. "I will think, 'How did I stumble on this?' But I know it's [Kathy]. I've always felt like I had a guardian angel."

In his sister's memory, he awards the Kathy Sheils scholarship to Hermitage runners who maintain high academic standards. Katie Hedley (Craig's daughter) was the first recipient.

Hedley, who also lost a sibling, works with Hermitage to award the Nelson Hedley Award to the outstanding distance runner every year. His brother Nelson – an accomplished runner about to enter University of Richmond on full scholarship – suffered heat stroke during a race and died in 1969.

At the time, Hedley was 14 – almost identical in age to Sheils when his sister died. Yet Hedley and Sheils never spoke of their respective losses until they had known each other for several years.

After his brother's death, Craig Hedley went on to win the Nelson Hedley award twice – as did his daughter, Katie, who went on to run at College of Charleston in South Carolina. He coached at Atlee H.S., VCU and the University of Richmond before coaching at Hermitage, where the runners have included his daughter. He has coached at Hermitage for 13 years now, while working full-time as director of community partnerships at St. Joseph's Villa.

Clearly there is no shortage of family tradition, lasting connections, and sense of community at Hermitage track.

And there is little doubt among coaches and fans that those underpinnings – chief among them the twin legacies of Nelson Hedley and Kathy Sheils and their siblings' efforts to honor them – have contributed to the team's most recent success.

Nor is there doubt that the success will continue.

Just ask Mejia, who recently graduated Hermitage and hopes to attend VCU.

"I’m going to miss running with these guys," he said.

"I wish my younger brothers and coaches the best of luck next year – and I know they can win it big again."


Garden tails

The threat of bad weather didn’t keep visitors away from Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden July 10 for the facility’s weekly Flowers After 5 event (which pairs music and food with a chance to stroll the garden) and its monthly Fidos After 5 (which allows dog owners to bring their pets with them to enjoy the evening). > Read more.

Western Henrico Rotary helps fund Midwives For Haiti Jeep

Thanks in part to a $10,000 gift from the Western Henrico Rotary Club, another bright pink Jeep modified to travel extremely rough terrain has been delivered to Midwives For Haiti so that more pregnant women in the quake-ravaged country will have access to prenatal care and a greater chance of surviving childbirth.

The funds were raised at the annual casino night held in February, club president Adam Cherry said. The Rotary Club also helped purchase the Virginia-based charity’s first pink jeep three years ago. > Read more.

Agencies combine on new entry point to Chickahominy

Canoeing and kayaking enthusiasts soon will have a new access point to the Chickahominy River. VDOT, the James River Association and Henrico County Parks and Recreation are teaming up to establish a new site in Eastern Henrico.

The James River Association negotiated the deal with VDOT to procure official access to the area located just east of I-295 on North Airport Road in Sandston. The site includes a park-and-ride commuter lot bordering the Chickahominy River and has been an unofficial launch site used by paddlers for years. > Read more.

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Weekend Top 10

Take in a show at several locations this weekend! West End Comedy will provide laughs at HATTheatre; the production of “Pump Boys and Dinettes” will close Sunday; and the youth theatre company CharacterWorks will present “Footloose” at The Steward School. Another show perfect for the kids – “Despicable Me 2” is playing at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center tonight. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

Is there an Echo in here?

‘Earth to Echo’ aims to become this generation’s ‘ET’
It’s no secret that all found-footage genre movies are the same. Grab a couple of characters, give one of them a camera, and expose them to something supernatural that’s content to lurk just off-screen until the last five minutes. Everything else will just fall into place.

But that formula isn’t particularly family friendly, if only because that thing waiting a few feet to the left of the cast is usually plotting their violent doom.

That’s what sets Earth to Echo apart from the pack. It, too, follows a group of characters armed with a camera and a tendency to encounter unknown life forms. But all those familiar parts have been rearranged just enough to make it suitable for a much younger audience. > Read more.

Weekend Top 10

An eclectic array of events are taking place this weekend throughout the county. In the West End, we have the Richmond Wedding Expo, the Under the Stars Family Film Series and Henrico Theatre Company’s production of “Pump Boys and Dinettes.” In the eastern part of the county, we have a blood drive at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center, Gallmeyer Farm’s annual Sweet Corn Festival and an origami workshop at Fairfield Library. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

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West End Comedy will present a short-form improv show at 7:30 p.m. July 25-26. Similar to the TV show “Whose Line is it Anyway?” audience members throw out suggestions and… Full text

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