Local athletes compete at national meet

By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent

The Great Southwest Track & Field Classic in Albuquerque over the weekend was special, in itself, for the quality of athletes invited. Many of the top high school athletes of the past school year competed and six national bests for the season were set on Saturday.

But for twins Sandy and Kelly Fortner of Fort Sumner as well as Clovis’ Phillip Williams, the meet at the University of New Mexico track was extra special. The three have committed to the UNM track team.

“It was kind of a special thing because it’s kind of the last track meet for high school but the first track meet for college, I guess,” said Sandy Fortner, who was in three events.

Fortner was the only New Mexican in the girls high jump and finished tied for sixth. She was also in the long jump, where she ended up tenth, and ran the opening leg for the New Mexico girls 1600-meter relay team.

The presence of UNM track coaches Matt Henry and Mark Henry around the track was just a little extra factor for the Fortners and Williams to deal with during the Classic.

“They said ‘hi’ before every event, just to make sure that I knew they were there,” Sandy Fortner said.

“We’re really proud that Phillip is going to be with us and we never really thought maybe that the Fortners might come here,” said Matt Henry, UNM’s head track coach. “But it was a couple of weeks ago, I guess, when they decided this might be a good place for them. We’re really fortunate that we got all three of those kids.”

Kelly Fortner, rehabilitating a hamstring injury, was at the meet but did not compete.

Williams, meanwhile, ran in one heat of the 100-meters, finishing in a pack behind the winners. With the caliber and volume of runners, two faster 100-meter heats were held after Williams’ race.

“It adds a little more pressure, knowing that now I’m a college athlete. Running here is a good measuring point to see where I am,” said Williams, who also ran at the New Mexico Games track competition at the same site on Sunday.

Kim Perkins, who will be a senior at Clovis High in the fall, won her heat in the 300-meter hurdles. Perkins won state in the hurdles a few weeks ago.

With the quality of the other hurdlers, Perkins was pragmatic about a return to the Classic next year — which she intends to do.

“I think it’s pretty cool because everybody in New Mexico is together on one team. I think that’s neat,” Perkins said. “I’ll probably be in the first heat next year too. I want to be in the third heat, because that’s the fastest heat. But the first one is good — it makes me calmer.”

Recent Clovis grad Damian Robinson, a state hurdles champ, was also at the Great Southwest Classic. Robinson, who hopes to get on to the UNM track team as well, finished third in the second-fastest heat of the 110-meter hurdles.

Robinson, not used to being in a lower-level heat, was positive about his position.

“It felt a lot better, because I had somebody to chase down,” Robinson said. “It was a different experience. I think it helps a lot.”