Rebuilding a program that has fallen into near disrepair is a challenging undertaking that requires a cooperative effort from school, students, administration and the community at large.
That is the task that former Elizabethton High School track and field coach/athletic director Jim Presnell has taken on in Oxford, Ala., at Oxford High School.
So far the results have been outstanding.
“We are in a 6A district, which is the largest in Alabama,” said Presnell. “There has been a lot of interest from the community to have a top-notch track and field program here at Oxford High.
“Right now there is a lot of work to be done as we don’t have training facilities here. We have to travel about 30 miles to practice at Lincoln High, which has a great facility. That hasn’t deterred me or the kids who show up for practice every day. I demand a lot out of them and so far they have given me all they have.”
Oxford won its meet last Friday afternoon, setting the squad up for a sectional meet to get some participants qualified for the state meet later in the month.
“We had a good meet yesterday,” Presnell said the day after. “It’s my goal to push them and this program to new heights. My team has already broken 18 school records in various events — both team and individual records — and we hope to break a lot more.
“Our first goal is to make this program a top-10 program in the state all the way around. I have the support of my principal Trey Holliday, who was Alabama’s Principal of the Year last year. He has helped raise interest in the community and in turn the community is helping raise the money to build a track here.”
Presnell was instrumental in getting the EHS track program to top levels, and along the way he coached team and individual state champions in various events, including six-time champion Angie Barker, who Presnell called, “One of the best I ever had at Elizabethton, and to this day we remain great friends. It makes you feel good to look back on it and know you had something to do with it.”
Presnell also coached cross country title winner Josh Jaynes to the 2004 state championship and had many others whose accomplishments have made for some proud moments.
In 1984, Chris Jenkins was the 1,600-meter champion, and the next season Robert McFarland was hurdles champ for EHS.
Presnell called his 1989 team the best he ever had.
“We had actual state champions,” said Presnell. “Not mythical titles or anything like that, but team titles. We had a run of three years where we finished second, won the state and the finished second again, so we had a good run. I’m proud to have been a part of something that will last in EHS history for a long time.”
Presnell stepped down as coach in 1995 to accept the athletic director job — and he handed the program over to Tommy Jenkins, who coached until illness set in and Presnell took over the reins once again.
“When Tommy got sick, I came back to the program,” Presnell said. “From there I was intertwined back and forth with the athletic director job and coaching the team. I always said to my kids that they do what I say, and I carry that philosophy into this job as well.
“We are blessed in Carter County to have a great community and good Christian values. The kids here are basically the same as what we had at Elizabethton. Hard working and wanting to be coached to succeed.”
The call for Presnell’s return to the track and field arena as a coach came from a classified ad — and Presnell answered the ad without much reservation.
“I had the itch to get back into coaching and my wife pointed out the ad to me,” Presnell said. “I sent in my resume and they got back to me within a few days. Mr. Holliday spent a lot of time showing us around, and this area is pretty much the same as Carter County as far as cost of living — so it was a positive experience.”
Presnell also enjoys autonomy as head coach in matters concerning his squad, saying, “The way it is here, the high school coach has total authority of the entire program from the junior high on up. That is a big help as I am an organizational nut.
“I believe that my age gives me a maturity and stability to help this program progress to where it will be a top program in the state. I know I don’t have 10 years to accomplish my goals, but I hope to have five or six good years to get this program on its feet and on solid ground. My goal is to have a program like they do at Science Hill that competes every year for state championships.”