Two in a row! The Jackson High Lady Devils volleyball team clinched their second Area 2-AAA Region Championship Oct. 8, defeating arch rival Pike County 3-0 in the JHS gym. The Lady Devils have not been defeated in region play for the last two years.
Coach Michael Smith said it felt good to see his team’s hard work pay off.
“I’m demanding and there is a lot that it takes to do this, and I’m proud of them,” Smith said. “They worked for everything they got, especially just to change the narrative of Jackson volleyball in the past three years. Two years ago, Pike County beat us in the championship game in the third set. I told them don’t forget how that feels, and we haven’t lost a region game since.
“I’m just incredibly proud of them, all the work, all the summer hours with the craziness of this year,” he added. “We’ve screened them everyday and had to stay safe. People say it might be easier to win in these times, but it’s not. You have to protect yourself every day and do those little things, the little sacrifices like virtual learning, making sure we got rides, wearing the masks, doing those kinds of things, it all adds up and means something, and this is validation of it. I’m just so proud that we really wanted to do this and get somewhere.”
Jackson was seeded No. 1 in the region, courtesy of their perfect 6-0 mark, and received a bye through the first round of games on Oct. 6, as did Pike County, ranked second with a 5-1 mark. In the first round, Upson-Lee beat Mary Persons, 3-0, and Peach County beat Central Macon, 3-0.
In the second round on Oct. 7, Pike County defeated Peach County, 3-0, and Jackson defeated Upson-Lee, 3-0, with wins of 25-6, 25-11, and 25-10.
In the third and final round on Oct. 8, Upson-Lee beat Peach County to claim third place in the region.
In the championship game, Jackson built an early lead against Pike in the first match, then held off a late rally, winning 26-16. The Lady Pirates came out strong in the second match and held an early 9-6 lead. But the Lady Devils got back in the game and after tying the score at 14-14, took the lead for good on their way to a 25-18 win. In the third match, Jackson jumped on top early and never looked back, winning 25-6 to claim a 3-0 victory and the region crown.
Jackson also cracked the Top 10 in the Score Atlanta state rankings in the Atlanta Journal Constitution this week, coming in at No. 10 in the state in AAA.
Now the Lady Devils can look forward to the state playoffs, with the first two rounds being played on their home court in Jackson, starting on Tuesday, Oct. 20. Coach Smith said they will face opponents from 3-AAA in Savannah, mostly like Savannah High School.
“We’ll play one more (non-region) tune-up game against Luella on Oct. 14 coming off of fall break,” Smith said. They are a region champion and they’ll be a good team. It will be a last final test and then we’ll roll into the playoffs. The first round and second round will be here, and then after that it is coin flips and you just have to survive and advance.”
Carlos Duffey is turning his passion for running into a way to bring the Jackson community together through ‘We Run Jackson,’ a running club that was started in 2012 by Duffey’s father, Jesse Duffey, and his sister, Latara Miller, but re-energized this year after Duffey returned home from Florida, where he lived for the past 17 years.
“We started back in March of this year and started getting people to come out,” Duffey said. “We started out with just a few of us and its has grown to about 40 people. We meet three days a week. We’ve had as many as 50 out, but on average about 25-30 people run on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.
“I’ve tried to encourage our community to get outside, and Covid has really helped with that, because when people were locked inside and couldn’t get out, we opened the door for them to come out and run. One afternoon, we had 78 people show up for one run.
“We were running at The Lunch Box, and then when it closed, we moved over to the middle school and started meeting there, plus it has a bigger parking lot.”
Duffey said the group’s goal is simple — to just encourage people to take the first step.
“You don’t have to go to a gym, you don’t have to go buy extravagant equipment for your home,” he said. “Everything you need is outside. We try to encourage people to do 10,000 steps a day. We have a Facebook group and a lot of people are always writing encouraging messages. We try to create positive environments and positive culture within our group. And it works.
“There are enough negative things going on, but if we can impact people’s health and impact their friendship and make new friends, it helps bridge the gap in the community, because the thing that we have in common is we like to run and walk. We check all the outside influences at the door. We try to bring ourselves and our positivity and the things that we want to do into that group, and it works. People enjoy it.”
Duffey is a native of Jackson and has always been sports-minded, being a four-year letterman in both football and baseball before graduating from Jackson High School in 1993. He attended Valdosta State College, got married, and worked for Mayfield Dairies for 22 years, the first seven in Atlanta, then 15 years in Jacksonville, Fla., where he started participating in a running club in 2010.
Duffey and his wife divorced while they were in Florida, and then Dean Foods, the parent company of Mayfield, had a major layoff in 2017, and Duffey found himself without a job. He moved to Savannah to work for a company for a year and a half, then moved back to Jackson in June of last year. Duffey reconnected with his high school sweetheart, Michelle Biles, who also runs. They are now engaged with plans to marry soon.
Duffey said he has always been involved in the community, but more so in his hometown.
“I wanted to get involved and try to create public health awareness, so we started this running group. We have a motto: ‘We here to improve health and make new friends.’ I think when you improve health and make new friends, it makes it better for the community.
“I use the hashtag #GoWin a lot. It means Get moving, Outpace yesterday, Work hard, Inspire others, and Never quit. That’s kind of become my brand, so to speak.”
Duffey turned 47 on Sept. 22 and said he decided to celebrate by running 47 miles on his birthday, using a 1.2-mile course laid out around Henderson Middle School, and encouraged his friends to run at least four laps each with him.
“About 2-3 months ago I decided to do the birthday run,” he said. “So to keep myself accountable, I created an invite on Facebook and started inviting all my friends to run laps with me. I asked my friends to commit to running four laps with me at different times of the day, so I’d have someone running with me all day. I invited 300 people in the local community, and we probably had a total of about 50 people show up.
“The interesting thing was, not only did each of them do four laps, but they all did additional laps. So at the end of the day, in total we all, as a group, ran about 300 miles.”
It took Duffey 17 hours to run/walk the 47 miles. He started at 5:30 a.m. and finished at 11 p.m.
“I’m not an ultra-runner, but I know a lot of them, so I know that it can be done, and I’ve run a marathon before, so it was just a matter of being prepared for it... I wasn’t well prepared for it,” he said with a laugh. “But if you know anything about me, you know I’m determined to finish.
“It was a milestone. I got to mile 37 and thought, ‘This is hard. This is tough.’ So I ran about 25% of it as a run, and the other 75% I walked, but I’m okay with that. The crowd just kept me going every lap. Either they were walking or running, or they were standing on the sidelines cheering, and that made a difference.”
Duffey used his birthday run as another way to bridge the community.
“People thought they were coming just to celebrate my birthday,” he said. “But celebrating my birthday was getting the community together and making sure we were all in one place and that we could all celebrate each other.
“I work for Tim Broyles State Farm,” Duffey said. “Tim came out and got six miles in. Our sales leader for the southeast came up from Macon and did some laps with me. One of my old classmates showed up. That’s what I wanted. We drove it on Facebook and it was all on social media.
“My dad is almost 70 years old and is an avid runner. He came out in his blue jeans. He put five or six miles in, in blue jeans.”
Duffey said the vast majority of people in We Run Jackson do run/walk or just walk. They meet four times week.
“On Mondays at 5:30 a.m., we have a small group of runners who still meet down at The Lunch Box,” he said. “We do 3-4 miles. Then on Thursday evenings, we have the big group that shows up. We start at Henderson Middle and come right through town. We go to the Burger King and down to The Lunch Box. We have a turn point at the Veterans Memorial Wall. We set up a water station there. Then on Saturdays, it is pretty much the same format. We do runs at 6:30 a.m. and 8 a.m.”
Duffey said the group has become more like a large family, encouraging each other.
“On holidays we do a run social,” he said. “On the 4th of July we met down at Indian Springs State Park and ran the trails down there. We do the socials so people can bring their families out. You create that whole family environment where the family can be involved. It is kind of our mission to get families on the road running or walking, whatever they want to do.
“There are a lot of people who want to get out and exercise, but they are embarrassed because of their weight or their fitness level, so we try to create a safe place for everybody. No matter what your fitness level is or what your body type is, you are welcome. When you show up for a group like this, you get to meet other people and realize, ‘I’m not the only one in the room that’s in my situation.’
“We’ve seen some success in that people who normally wouldn’t come out, who normally wouldn’t run, are now running and getting healthy. That’s what we want. We want that fitness excitement to be infectious. I love to see people who have never walked or run show up and say they did 100 miles this year or 50 miles this year. That’s 50 miles more than they ever did.”
Duffey said their goals also include getting more young people involved.
“What we would like to do is really impact the younger generations, getting it into the schools,” he said. “So we have talked about doing a girls and boys run club. We would sponsor it and the kids would just stay after school two days a week and do their laps. They can get as many laps as they can and we’ll calculate the miles for them, and at the end of the year see who has the most miles. We would give t-shirts for every 50 miles run, 100 miles run, etc.”
They are also talking about holding their own 5k run next year and getting the cities and county involved.
“We want to solicit the cities and county and get everyone involved,” Duffey said. “They can have their own teams.
“There are also some goals that I’d like to see our community get involved with. Once people start to see the idea, then we can start improving our streets and sidewalks. The whole time we were walking the other day, there are whole sections of the road where there are no sidewalks. We need sidewalks for school zones where kids can have a place to walk and not worry about getting hit by a car, but in the evenings, the sidewalks can double for walking tracks for the community. We can build on that.”
Anyone who is interested in joining We Run Jackson can find their page on Facebook. Duffey said all they need to do is ask to join, and then just show up and take that first step.
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