“I feel like God was telling me that I didn’t have to win to bring him glory.” — Hayley Herndon, Midway Raiders junior track athlete
By SHAUN SAVARESE Of The Record Staff
Many or most associate an athlete’s excellence in sports with a killer instinct, or a competitive edge.
The will to win, tenacity, the fighter’s spirit, and a cut-throat mentality are all about sacrifice.
In those traits the opponent is sacrificial. The athlete takes advantage of and extorts his competition’s weaknesses — to win — at any cost.
In contrast, some in the athletic realm see self-sacrifice as an ultimate victory.
That is the case for young Hayley Herndon, a two-year, multievent Midway High School track and field competitor. Herndon specializes in jumping higher than she’s ever jumped before, and on May 12, she did just that.
At the NCHSAA 2A Mideast Regional at UNC Pembroke, field events began before noon. Herndon jumped her personal best height, 5 feet just after 10:30 a.m. that Saturday. Durham School of Arts sophomore Angel Bowden leapt 5 feet, 2 inches for a clear first-place finish.
Before and after Herndon’s high jump, and by 11 a.m., three other girls had jumped her same height — 5 feet.
Appearing to be unprecedented, the four-way tie caused confusion at the regional in Robeson County.
Coaches and administrators said that there was no rule for a tie-break. They called officials in Chapel Hill and elsewhere “trying to figure out what to do,” Herndon said.
The foursome — Herndon, Sophia Bradley, Jacquazha Nettles and Ulani Robinson — sat together for several hours as a decision was being made. In the interim, Herndon was scheduled to compete in the regional long jump, but she was told not to leave the high jump area until the four-way tie was decidedly broken.
“While we were sitting there, we all got to know each other,” Herndon said. “They told me they were all seniors and we talked about states. I told them I’ve been to states before. I went twice. I went last winter and this winter. This winter, I got fourth place in the high jump. ... They told me they had never been to states.”
Bowden had left immediately after her first-place finish but Herndon, Bradley, Nettles and Robinson bonded over those four hours.
“While we were sitting there, we all got to know each other. They told me they were all seniors and we talked about states. I told them I’ve been to states before,” Herndon said of her Feb 9, NCHSAA 1A/2A Indoor State Championship fourth-place finish. “They told me they had never been to states.”
All four of the girls had never jumped higher than 5 feet. It was each of their personal records.
“We waited for four hours trying to figure out what we were going to do. So, we made this bond,” Herndon said. “We called ourselves The Revolutionaries.
We (wanted to) tell them that we weren’t going to jump. (That we were) all sticking together, because we had gotten really close. We all wanted the others to go to states. We all wanted all five of us to go to states. None of us wanted another person to go out. So, we were like, ‘If we all refuse to jump, we can all go to states.’ So that’s what we did. We took our shoes off. We sat on the bench. It was like 95 degrees outside and we were all sitting under umbrellas. We were sitting in the sun ... it was so hot.”
Nearly four hours went by and just before 3 p.m., Herndon had herself a revelation.
She and the other girls had created a group message on Snap-Chat, calling it The Revolutionaries, and including three secondplace- medal emojis, because they all wanted to tie for second.
“I texted the group chat and asked, ‘Have you guys ever been to states?’ And they were like, ‘No. I haven’t. I haven’t. I haven’t.’” Herndon got to thinking.
That morning, all morning, she had been praying to God that she would win.
“I always do that,” she said. “I’m like, ‘God, I pray that I win. And if I do, I can give you glory.’ That’s how I do it. It’s never me, it’s God. He gave me the ability, now I show him off.”
She prayed when she woke up, she prayed on the way to Pembroke and she prayed ever harder just before her high jump.
“Then, we go into this tie and we sat there for four hours together,” she said. “I was sitting there and I was like, ‘Man, these guys are seniors and I’m a junior. I’ve been to states twice and this would be their last track meet. If they didn’t go to states, that would be their last track meet.’ ... I was like, ‘I don’t want them to end on this meet.’” Herndon got up, went to the nearest official and asked to talk with him about the high jump. She told him she would “scratch out,” or willingly remove herself from the competition, in order to let the other girls move on to the state championships. He told her to gather the girls and bring them to him.
“I went to get them and said, ‘Hey, he wants to talk to us.’ So they all went over there, (but) it was a different guy. It wasn’t the guy I told. That guy didn’t know. So we’re in a group and he’s like, ‘We’re going to do a jump off.’ He was sitting there talking, and I was like, ‘I’m scratching out.’” The other girls protested, invoking the bond they had built. “They were like, ‘No. you’re not’ and I was like, ‘Yes, I am. I’m a junior, you guys are seniors.’” “They were like, ‘No, you’re not.’ And I was like, ‘Yes, I am.’ I said, ‘Bye,’ and I walked away,” Herndon said. “The guy said, ‘If she refuses to jump, then she’s not going to.’ Then, he gave them all second place.”
Moments later as the Midway High School junior was with her coaches, preparing to leave the track, the three girls approached her, crying, and said, “You know you didn’t have to do that for us, we were supposed to stick together.”
“They were so happy,” Herndon said. “They were talking about how they’ve never been to states, and I was like, ‘You guys, I’ve been, I have another year to go. I can go twice next year. They told me they were going to be back next year for regionals. They said, ‘We’re going to come watch you qualify for states.’” “They were so happy after they found out. That’s all they needed was for just one person to drop out,” she said. “I felt like God was telling me that I didn’t have to win to bring him glory. There was another way. I feel like I just glorified him so much more that I let them go. And, my heart was just so full. I feel like I won. It was even better than winning, knowing that they were going to get to go.”
Editor’s Note: At the NCHSAA 2A State Championship at N.C. A& T Irwin Belk Track, in Greensboro, Jacquazha Nettles with Cummings High School in Burlington finished seventh, Ulani Robinson with Durham School of the Arts finished 10th and Sophia Bradley with Durham School of the Arts finished 13th in the girls high jump finals.