Dixie's comeback includes state title


COLUMBIA -- Brian Gamble was at Dixie High's back-to-school cookout just before the 2015-2016 school year when principal Lori Brewton informed him that there was some interest in reviving the cross country program, which had been dormant for about five years.

"The next day she sent me a text and told me I was the coach," Gamble said. "I try not to make telling my boss 'no' a habit, so I said 'Yes, mam,' and went with it.

"It's been very enjoyable, and there's a lot of enthusiasm."

The Dixie crowd was especially enthusiastic
 Saturday after its boys team won the Class A state championship at Sandhills Research Center.

A little more than a year after reviving the program, Dixie had its first state title in a boys sport since the early 1970s.

"We started last year, and we've gotten so much better," said junior
Owen Taylor, who led the Hornets with a fifth-place finish. "Last year, all of us were running like two minutes slower."

"It's really taking root, and I think there's a bright future for us," Gamble said.

Dixie is in Due West, a town of about 1,300 that also is home to Erskine College.

Gamble, a physical education teacher at Dixie, is the school's soccer coach, and he's also coached football. Still, he wondered when he became the choice to lead the cross country program.

"I don't know what qualifications I had, except I like to jog and I've coached a lot of things over the years," he said.

The team got off to a late start the first season; a total of 17 boys and girls took flight at the beginning of August, and the boys team wound up faring well at state.

"Last year, our goal was to finish in the top 10, and we finished eighth," Gamble said. "We were tickled to death with last year's performance."

This year, the Hornets -- the team is up to 28 boys and girls -- had a year under their belts, as well as summer training and "great runners," Gamble said.

"A lot of the teams were on the bubble to see if we were going to have the 12 teams required to have our own state championship, and we just got word on that a couple weeks ago," said Gamble.

"We had that in the back of our mind the whole time: 'If this comes to pass where we have 12 and have our own championship, we're going down there to win it.' "

Being new to the sport, Gamble digested everything he could from other coaches. In particular, he said Ninety Six girls coach Tyler Larkins had predicted Dixie had an excellent chance to do well.

"He told me what's going to help us is the fact that we have a group that's so close together," Gamble said. "I took his word on that, and obviously that was a good sign at the end to see them all grouped up like that."

Indeed, once the Hornets began crossing the finishing line, they just kept on coming. They had five on the all-state team: Taylor (fifth in
 18:59), Hamilton Patrick (sixth in 19:02), Jeremiah Boyd (eighth in 19:14), Zachary Gamble (ninth in 19:26) and Noah Blagg (10th in 19:27).

Also, Daniel Boyd was 15th in
 19:52, and Billy Mann was 21st in 20:33.

Dixie ran away with the title, finishing with 28 points. Green Sea Floyds was runner-up with 90.

What's more, only Patrick and Blagg are seniors.

"We've got a lot of young kids with good times we had to leave at home," said Gamble, who's assisted by Gary Stone, the school's softball coach.

Stone has guided the softball team to state championships in two of the last three years.

"He was going to wear his rings today, but he didn't want to show off," Gamble said. "I told him he should wear one, and he could let me wear the other one."

After
 Saturday, Gamble will have a ring of his own.

"He's my soccer coach, too, so he told me I should do this to stay in shape," said Taylor, "and it ended up turning into a state championship."


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