By JP Widner/SWT Sports Writer
Dublin- Back in the third grade, Sydney Anderson competed in the Hershey’s Youth Track Program. Starting out with the 100 meters and long jump, she just did what came natural to her. While at Dublin Middle School, her natural talent blazed her to victory in the 100/200 meters, long jump, triple jump and high jump every time she touched the track for Coach Buddy Farris.
Then came Anderson’s high school years. Pulaski County High School Head Track & Field Coach Jamie McCarty informed Sydney that she was a track athlete, not a basketball player. He encouraged her to give up AAU basketball and concentrate on her track career. McCarty also informed her that she would be moving up to run the 400 meters. Her eyebrows rose with the idea of running the 400 meters. That is until she ran a 58.8 second lap her freshman year and earned All-State honors.
Unconvinced on giving up basketball however, Anderson excelled in high school on the hardwood, averaging 10 points as a freshman and 15 points as a sophomore. In her junior year, Anderson was the leading score for Pulaski, averaging 20 points, including a career high 36 points against Cave Spring High School. She was named River Ridge District Co-Player of the Year and was fighting off college basketball coaches on a daily basis. When she walked off the court the final game of her junior year, Division I Radford University offered her a full ride basketball scholarship.
After searching her heart and soul at the end of her junior year, Anderson realized she had other dreams and aspirations than just basketball. Even though Sydney played AAU basketball until she turned 18, she knew track & field was her love. She also recalled the saying “You have to give up something to get something.” Though it was extremely hard to give up her senior year of basketball, Anderson set out to reach her goals of competing for a large NCAA Division I university, earn a full-ride scholarship, bring home individual state titles in the 200/400 meters/high jump and help the team win it’s first ever state championship for Pulaski County.
On Wednesday, the NCAA National Signing Day came and Anderson’s dreams started coming true. With her parents and coach by her side, Sydney smiled as she signed her scholarship with Big Ten powerhouse Indiana University. She had turned down offers from LSU, Marshall University, James Madison University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Radford University, North Carolina A & T University, East Carolina, Liberty University and numerous Division II/III colleges. Even Virginia Tech and her favorite school, the University of North Carolina, had shown interest.
Several weeks before, Indiana University flew Anderson to Bloomington, Indiana. Assistant Sprints and Jumps Coach Abbie Norton picked Sydney up at the airport, took her out to eat at “Noodles” and helped her check into a hotel. They then went to the Indiana Relays, a large two day track & field event on the university campus. Anderson met the coaches and athletes while at the meet. She was impressed with the facilities, especially a special cafeteria that catered to athletes. The buffet style lunch and dinner was near the academic center and the weight room. The classrooms were nice and Anderson stayed in the dormitories the second night. Anderson also had dinner with her host and another female recruit from Kentucky.
It was not hard for Sydney to be impressed with Indiana University’s head coach, Ron Helmer, who has Virginia ties himself. He was named the Virginia Cross-Country Coach of the Year in 1980 and 1983 and the Girl’s Track & Field Coach of the Year in 1981. Helmer coached at Virginia High School in Bristol for 8 years and Woodbridge High School for four years. Having coached numerous National Champions and All-Americans at Georgetown University and Indiana University, his resume was just what Anderson had been looking for. Helmer also runs the Indiana Elite, a track club that trains post-collegiate runners who want to continue to rise in the sport. Indiana University’s track & field history is stellar, also. They have produced 4 NCAA team champions, 41 NCAA individual champions, 410 All-Americans and 13 Olympic medalists. Anderson shared with me Thursday evening that she aspired to run in the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Coach Helmer’s directives and Sydney’s hard work ethic just might land her into the biggest spotlight of her career in a few years. In the meanwhile, Anderson will major in Academic Sports Management/Marketing at Indiana University. Her career goal is to become a sports agent.
Sydney’s resume is quite incredible to say the least. As a freshman, she earned All-State in the outdoor high jump and 400 meters. In her sophomore campaign, Anderson earned All-State in the indoor high jump and 4 x 400 meter relay. She also earned All-State honors in the outdoor high jump, 200 meters and 400 meters. Her junior year produced her first individual state title in the outdoor high jump at 5’5”. Anderson also earned All-State in the indoor High jump, 500 meters, 4 x 400 meter relay and the outdoor 4 x 400 meter relay. After breezing through the River Ridge District Championships, she is eyeing more state titles in the next couple weeks.
Sydney was very humble when interviewed. She wanted to thank her parents, Deborah and Eugene “Buck” Anderson. Sydney said the college decision was up to her and that her parents wanted her to be happy. Her parents plan on helping her move into the dorms and will come support her at meets. Sydney thanked her brother, Brandon, and sister, Leslie, for being great role models and setting the bar high. Brandon played collegiate football for the University of Akron while Leslie was a track & field athlete at James Madison University. Both were superstars for the Pulaski County track & field team and Brandon continues to play arena football. Leslie was a 10 time All-State Track & Field Athlete and won two individual state titles in the long jump and 400 meters. Sydney’s grandparents, Ruth and Clarence Webb of Dublin, have been very supportive. Sydney’s best friends Kelly Duncan and Carli Brewer have been teammates with her and have helped along this journey. Last but not least, Anderson wanted to thank her coaches, Jamie McCarty, Sirak Ogabogabir and Heather Booher.
“I’m grateful for this opportunity,” Anderson thoughtfully said in the track office Thursday evening. “I have truly worked for it, put in work all through the summers and school years…it was worth all the sweat and tears, the days I was off, the days I was down. Coach McCarty pushed me to be my best. Even though we don’t always see eye to eye, he’s always had my best interest at heart.”
“Sydney had the approach you wish you could teach all the kids,” Coach McCarty stated. “I always teach my freshman that it’s okay to be happy, and it’s not okay to be satisfied. She has been a great captain the past two years. She sets a great example and is vocal when needed. She’s a selfless athlete….she gave up an individual event as a junior at the State Championships to conserve enough energy to help her relay team do well….and she was sick while doing it. She gave up basketball….now that was big.”
And so, Sydney Anderson will keep doing her love the next few months for Pulaski County High School. When all the District, Regional and State Track & Field Championships are finished, the awards handed out and the last goodbyes and hugs are given around the track and graduation ceremonies, Sydney will head to Indiana University. May the wind be at your back, your feet blazing through the finish lines and keep reaching for the stars. In a few short years, you could be glazing upwards in Rio thinking of your beginnings in Pulaski County. God speed, young lady.