April 6, 2009
STARKVILLE -- Finishing second doesn''t exist in Tavaris Tate''s vocabulary.
The goal for the Starkville High School senior sprinter is to win every race, whether it is the 100, 200 or 400 meters, or as a member of the 4x400 relay team.
Tate stepped up his competitive drive after finishing second to Ja''Vell Bullard in the 400 meters at the 2008 Nike Outdoor Nationals last June.
"Since then, my main focus was to come out on top," Tate said.
Tate did just that last month when he won the 400 at the Nike Indoor Nationals at the Reggie Lewis Track and Field Center in Boston. His time of 47.84 seconds helped him edge Clayton Parros (47.85).
Tate knew Parros was going to challenge him, so he didn''t look at it as just another meet.
"I knew he was the U.S. No. 1 on banked track and I was U.S. No. 1 on flat track, so the competition was going to be there," Tate said. "I had somebody to run to and something to run for."
Tate had the fastest time in the preliminaries and was seeded in the same heat as Parros, who was in front of Tate in the blocks, so Tate knew he had to get off to a fast start to make up the difference.
"I got out hard and it came down to the final stretch and the finish line," Tate said. "I was able to pull it out."
A.J. Holzherr, of the National Scholastic Sports Foundation and an organizer of the Nike Indoor and Outdoor Nationals, was impressed with Tate''s running ability, but he thought the character Tate displayed on the track following the race stood out even more.
"After they finished that race and (Parros) dove at the line, (Tate) went back and helped him up," Holzherr said. "He went over and extended his hand. Other kids, and I''ve seen it, they would just walk away. He''s not that way."
Russell Tate, who is Tavaris'' father and Amateur Athletic Union coach, has instilled the value of sportsmanship in his son.
Competing is very important to the Tates, but doing it the right way comes first.
"I try to teach him to be humble and understand without God it''s impossible to do anything," Russell Tate said.
Entering his senior year on the track team at Starkville High, Tavaris'' goal is to be the top 400 runner (indoor and outdoor) in the nation and to represent his school, the Golden Triangle area, and the state of Mississippi with class.
He took care of one of those when he edged Parros.
Russell Tate said his son''s accomplishment was the talk of Boston.
"Everyone was excited," Russell said. "I was very proud and the Lord bringing him through. Truly, it was an outstanding race."
Looking toward the late spring and summer, Tavaris has several events scheduled and wants to cut his time in the 400 to 45 seconds. He competed at the Meet of Champions over the weekend in Mobile, Ala., and will participate Friday and Saturday in an event sponsored by Nike and Taco Bell in Columbia, S.C.
Tate and the Yellow Jackets run down the stretch of the high school season with district, regional, and state meets through May 31.
Starkville track coach Cleveland Hudson always has been impressed with Tate''s work ethic and dedication. This year, he expects big things from Tate.
"I read and heard about him when he was a little kid," Hudson said. "I saw him in junior high and I was anticipating the time I would have the chance to get him. We got that opportunity and he surprised me as a 10th-grader how strong he was and how he could run. He did better than I thought he could."
On May 30, Tate will compete in the 33rd annual Golden South Classic in Orlando, Fla. He then will move on to an event in Albuquerque, N.M., the Golden West in Sacramento, Calif., the Nike Outdoor Nationals in Greensboro, N.C., and the Junior National Trials in Eugene, Ore.
Tate hopes in Oregon to qualify for the USA Junior Team so he can take his skills to Trinidad.
"Hopefully, I''ll be running in Juniors in June," Tate said. "I''ve got a lot on my plate and I''m thanking God for everything He''s given me thus far, and I hope he continues to bless me."
Tate''s ultimate goal is to compete in the Olympics.
Steve Underwood, the senior editor and message board administrator for the national Web site DyeStat.com, said predicting potential from high school to college and beyond is an inexact science.
"Plenty of great high schoolers have become average collegians (and never Olympians) and, in turn, the Olympic teams are littered every four years with athletes who never finish in the top three in a high school national meet," Underwood said. "Look at the great 200 and 400 Olympic champion and world-record setter Michael Johnson. No one had heard of him in high school."
On the other hand, Underwood said the two best 400 runners in the world -- Jeremy Wariner and Lashawn Merritt -- were prep stars, and that might bode well for Tate.
For now, Underwood said Tate can be proud of what he has done.
"Tavaris may or may not continue to improve significantly and be an NCAA title contender and beyond," Underwood said. "For now, he''s the Nike Indoor champ, and since he was the fastest non-senior in the country last spring outdoors, you could make a decent argument that he''s the top 400 prep in the country until someone knocks him off or runs a lot faster."
Underwood said it will be important for Tate to find a college coach who can fine-tune his technique and bring him along.
Tate has received multiple offers from colleges, and he has narrowed his choices to Mississippi State and Texas A&M.
Holzherr said Tate needs to put a lot of thought into the next step of his career.
"He needs to make sure the next choice and new coaching relationship is one that''s in sync with his aspirations," Holzherr said. "You don''t pick someone who doesn''t have the same vision you do. I think they are making sure of a good decision."