River Parish teams combine to fuel Don Raymond tradition

Many of the best athletes in the River Parishes and elsewhere will battle for track and field bragging rights Friday at the Don Raymond Relays at Hahnville, a meet steeped in tradition that always seems to mean just a little bit more to local competitors. “I think it’s because of the competition of the River Parish schools,” said Hahnville track and field coach Chris Stroud of the meet, which will see Hahnville, Destrehan, West St. John and Lutcher among teams vying for first. “It’s like a River Parish meet, but it’s also something everyone gets up for because these kids have been coming to the Don Raymond Relays since they were in middle school.”

St. Amant, Chalmette and Belle Chasse will round out the field of competitors.

The event is named for the late Don Raymond, who was the first African-American athlete ever selected to an All-State football team in Louisiana and the first in the state to become a four-sport letterman (football, baseball, basketball and track). At the age of 14, the Hahnville native and HHS alumnus was the first black student to integrate Hahnville, doing so under the Freedom of Choice rule, which allowed voluntary integration. That decision is looked at by many as a major turning point for integration in St. Charles Parish.

Raymond tragically died in March of 1969, a car accident on River Road claiming his life at the age of 16. The night before his fatal accident, he competed in a district track meet, placing first in all four events he entered.

“Don Raymond is such a great role model for our kids today,” Stroud said. “He left an incredible legacy … it’s always good to bring our kids attention to what’s really important.”

Stroud believes the competition will be exciting for all who attend, some of the on-track highlights to be the relays, hurdles, 100 and 200 meter events.

“With the 100 and 200, we’ll have Pooka (Anthony) Williams, and (Destrehan’s) Kristian Mosley ought to be healthy by then,” Stroud said, referring to state contenders in the sprinting events for each school. “The relays, hurdles, it should be some exciting, good competition.”

Michael Gray (200 hurdles) and Aaron Williams (400 meter dash) are also among Hahnville’s top competitors.

Stroud is excited about his team’s prospects in the boys’ field events. In the javelin, Noah Zeringue and Dalton Melancon have been standouts —“they’re proving every week they have a chance to win the gold,” Stroud said — while Michael Gray and Elgin Collins are regular contenders in the long jump.

On the girls side, Alexis Williams has been strong all season in the 100 and 400 meter events.

“She’s dominated for us,” Stroud said.

Ashlyn Jack (300 hurdles), Emily Blanchard (1600 and 3200) and Jazmine Young (shot put, javelin) have also been strong for the Tigers.

“We have a number of athletes with a great chance to qualify for state and also medal,” Stroud said.

He said an additional benefit of this year’s Don Raymond Relays is that it will be good preparation for the district championship meet, which will be contested before the schools go on break for Easter.

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