Melvin Myers is no stranger to Jefferson City High School's prestigious track and field history.
Myers ran track for the Jays under Dennis Licklider, whose teams won nine state championships. After coaching under Licklider and Dan Ridgeway, the 1995 graduate is getting a chance to leave his own legacy on the program.
"I was excited because this is a very successful program, picking it up from where coach Licklider got the program and coach Ridgeway kept it going," said Myers, who was previously the sprint coach and is also an assistant football coach. "Just to try to take it on to the next level and keep it successful is one of my goals. I was excited because I know what it's like to be a Jay, and there's no better place to coach or run. So I know the kids will enjoy being a part of this."
The boys and girls teams begin their season today in a meet with Helias at Licklider Track.
This season is the first with five classes, and Jefferson City's shift to Class 5 District 6 gives Myers' squad an opportunity to make some history.
"I was going to talk to my kids about doing something that hasn't been done here in Jeff City," he said. "It's hard to do that, because it's such a successful program, but this will be the first year someone has to win the Class 5 district title, so that's one of our goals this year."
Myers said it's a goal for the team to win districts every year. Last season, the boys finished first in Class 4 District 5, and the girls finished first after failing to win the season before for the first time in 16 years.
"Our goal every year is to try to get as many kids as we can to the state meet," Myers said, "and then you never know what happens from there."
Last year, the Lady Jays had six all-state finishes, including state champion triple-jumper Kezia Martin. Martin graduated, but her sister Nicole, now a junior, returns from Jefferson City's sixth-place 4x100-meter relay team, as does senior Louisa Nylander and sophomore Naomi Kerkula. Junior Haley Watson finished third in the 300-meter hurdles last year, senior Emma Elwood looks to improve upon her fourth-place finish in the pole vault, and junior Alexis Roberson is coming off an eighth-place finish in the shot put.
The Lady Jays finished sixth as a team in the state meet.
The boys, who finished 41st in the state meet, had two all-state performances, but both game from Mervyn John, who the Jays lost to graduation. Myers is expecting big things from junior sprinter Elijah Pittman, vaulter Nathan Bustamante, sprinter and jumper Daniel Ellinger and distance runner Jackson Schwartz.
"We kind of have the unknown," Myers said. "There's a lot of young people that maybe have not done a lot in the past or that were OK last year that we're expecting to step up this year and help get us going."
With the expansion from four classes to five, the Jays' district shrinks from 13 teams to eight. The Jays will no longer share a district with Battle, Camdenton, Springfield: Central, Hillcrest, Lebanon, Rolla, Washington, Willard or Waynesville, where Myers previously coached. Hickman, Rock Bridge and Smith-Cotton remain in the Jays' district, along with newcomers Blue Springs, Blue Springs South, Lee's Summit and Lee's Summit North.
Today's meet with Helias gives the Jays an opportunity to race against some familiar faces.
"These kids have probably competed against each other from parochial, from when we had Mid Mo and all the way up," Myers said.
The meet was not scored last year, but Myers thought the Jays would have the edge if points had been kept, despite a good showing from the Crusaders.
"In track, I would say, in the past it has been mostly one sided" in favor of the Jays, Myers said. "But last year was a pretty good year for them."
After today's meet, the Jays head to Festus on Saturday to compete in the Festus Invitational, a big meet that includes a variety schools such as Blue Springs South and some teams out of St. Louis. This first week will give Myers an idea of where his team is at.
"We have a lot of young people that don't quite know what to expect from yet," he said. "We're going to find out quickly what kind of team we're going to have and what we're going to work on.
"... I'm just excited to lead these kids. It's been fun so far. They've worked hard in the offseason and in the weight room, so I'm excited to see what they're going to do this season."