Hard work pays off for Eastside track & field

Declan O'Dwyer competes at the Florida Relays last month in Gainesville.
Photo by Megan V. Winslow

The Eastside boys track and field team has raised the bar.

The Rams won back-to-back Class 2A-District 5 titles, running away with this year’s title by scoring 253 points. They also were the 2023 Alachua County track and field champions.

After finishing as regional runners-up behind Montverde Academy, they concluded the season with a top 10 finish at the state meet.

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“We are excited with what is happening with the Eastside High School program,” said Commander Byers Hickmon, U.S. Navy retired, who is in his fifth year as the head coach of the boys team and his third year as head coach of the Lady Rams. “I coach PRs, personal records, because athletes are not at the same level, they do not have the same gift, but everyone can commit to the work and increase and improve. We’re seeing tremendous improvements now.”

At last week’s FHSAA track and field state championships at the University of North Florida, junior Ta’Joun Waldon was the highlight among 14 Rams who took home individual medals.

The junior won the triple jump with a distance of 13.78 meters.

“It feels great,” Waldon said. “I’ve done improved so much, with hard work, practicing every day, just trying to get better. It feels good.”

Waldon began feeling like there was a chance to bring home a state title when he won district.

Ta'joun Waldon
Photo courtesy Byers Hickmon Ta’joun Waldon

“It was my PR (personal record) at district,” said Waldon, who also won a regional title. “By jumping a 13, and then I won county, finished first place in county, and that’s when I was like, oh yeah, I got this. I got it in the bag.”

Hickmon said at the state meet, he had to check out of the triple jump, run the 4×1 and come back but they wouldn’t let him do any warmups.

“He is supposed to get at least two or three run throughs, but they didn’t give him his run throughs,” Hickmon said. “He was a little upset because he PR’d at regionals, finally hit his 14 (14.09 meters), and he was a little upset at state because he didn’t hit his 14. He didn’t know he was ahead.”

Waldon, who was a key contributor to the Eastside boys finishing eighth overall, is interested in participating in track at the collegiate level.

“Ta’Joun is an athlete, he’s just now beginning to peak,” Hickmon said. “All of his times and his jumps are improving because he’s committed to the work… and his body is showing it, and I’m very happy for him.”

Although Waldon has only talked to one school at the next level, the interest in his talents should increase as he heads into his senior year.

“I feel like more opportunities will come,” he said.

Especially when you consider that he didn’t begin participating in the sport until he was a sophomore.

Waldon credits his parents with getting him interested in track. 

“They wanted me to run track so that really got me into it,” he said. 

The rising senior is a three-sport athlete at Eastside. He plays wide receiver on the football team, which won its first district title in 10 years last season, and a shooting guard for the basketball team.

“Track is my favorite,” Waldon said. “That’s really what I did my best in and the most that I practice at.”

The practice paid off.

Although Waldon was the only state champion for the Rams, several members of the boys’ track team were a part of school records this year.

The boys 4×800 relay team of senior Carlos Alvarez, junior Declan O’Dwyer, senior Maurice Johnson, and senior Jackson Petty set a school-record with a time of 8 minutes, 9.01 seconds to place 6th.

“That relay team has been working very hard,” Hickmon said. “All of them are in the 800, the 1600, and the 3200, and that 4×800 starts the meet off, and getting them to commit to it and getting them to see the potential that they have, this year they saw it and they realized it. We’re losing three of them, because they are graduating, but we are looking forward to rebuilding that team with some really good young men as well.”

During the regular season, O’Dwyer set the school record in the 1600 (4:24.41) and the 3200 (9:52.33), while Petty ran the fastest time since 2005 in the 800 (2:00.48) at the Santa Fe Invitational.

Photo by Megan V. Winslow Eastside’s Holden Johnson, pictured at the Pepsi Florida Relays, placed fifth in the javelin at state.

“Declan is a very talented young man,” Hickmon said. “He’s in the IB program, and his work ethic in regards to his distance running, he loves running, and each meet he got better and better. When he broke the record in the 1600 he was excited and told me he was coming for the 3200 record too, and he did it.”

The boys 4×400 team took fifth place with a time of 3:21.8 and the 4×100 relay placed sixth.

Other top individual finishers for the Eastside boys included senior Holden Johnson, who placed fifth in the javelin, and junior Antoneo Wilson, who took sixth in the 400 hurdles.

Meanwhile, the Eastside girls are young, but committed.

The Lady Rams, who finished runners-up at the county meet, were back-to-back district runners-up, scoring 162 points for a second-place overall finish.

Junior Arielle Livingston took fifth place in the 100 hurdles.

Hickmon is excited about the future and he noted his other coaches Marion Chisholm, whose specialty is the hurdles, throwing coach Jasmine Laska, and distance coach Kecia Johnson as reasons for their success.

Eastside’s showing led a local effort that saw area athletes win five state track and field titles last week in Jacksonville.

In June, Mainstreet Daily News will honor the top 16 girls and boys track and field athletes as part of the inaugural Bosshardt Realty All Area Track and Field teams.

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Jacquelyn Williams

Congrats to The Eastside Rams, Track & Field Boys Team. Extra Congrats to My nephew, Tajoun Waldon, who Won State in the Triple Jump.

Bruce Kritzler

great job coach Hickmon. congrats to Ta’joun and Tim Waldon