A sense of renewal shot through last Friday’s Tommie Invite at Minneapolis Edison.
Blue sky and sunshine after a wet and gray Thursday and the smell of rubber from a newly refurbished track welcomed competitors. Fellow North Side schools Patrick Henry and North meant fierce yet fun competition.
Sprinting their way to success during the meet were sisters Jada and Jia Lewis, the dual engines who powered Edison to a Class 1A state title last spring — the first for a Minneapolis public school girls’ track and field program.
The best part is that Jada is a sophomore and Jia is a freshman. Rather than seniors on their way out, they are youngsters offering years of promise at a school starved for athletics success.
The Tommies last won a state team title in any sport in 1957, when Edison claimed the cross-country championship. Before last season, it had been 81 years since it won a track and field state title.
“There’s a lot more excitement with the idea that this is the beginning of something great, not the end,” said Jenny Arneson, Minneapolis school board chairwoman and a 1993 Edison graduate.
The Lewis sisters helped the Tommies’ program balloon from a combined eight boys and girls in 2013 to 50 to 60 kids on the two rosters this season. Most of the 26 girls are sophomores or younger. Several are newcomers drawn to the success of the Lewis sisters.
“One girl who never ran track walked up to me and said, ‘Oh, you’re Jia; you won at state. I’m going to come and try out for track,’ ” Jia said.
Jia and Jada combined to score all 40 points to secure Edison’s title. Their efforts called to mind Minneapolis Patrick Henry’s 1990 boys’ state title when two jumpers, Leonard Jones and Martez Williams, scored every point.
“Their gifts can influence many,” Edison coach Ernest Sutton said. “I’m excited to see what the next few years have in store.”
Growing through adversity
Jia won the 100- and 200-meter dashes last June at the state meet while Jada placed third in both events. The Tommies’ bid for additional points fell short when their 4x100 relay team was disqualified in the finals. The baton was dropped during an exchange between Allison Moen and Jada Lewis.
“She took what happened at state as being her fault,” Sutton said. “But I told her, ‘Don’t let yesterday define tomorrow.’ ”
The advice stuck. Last week, while preparing for the 4x100 relay, a teammate cursed herself for an exchange error with Jada.
The runners stopped and Jada put her hands on her teammate’s shoulder.
“Look at me,” she said. “It’s OK.”
None of the athletes running legs of the Tommies’ 4x100 relay have dropped a baton so far this spring.
“Jia and Jada won state because they work so hard, and they are great team leaders,” said Moen, who was forced to miss this season while recovering from a lingering back injury suffered in gymnastics. “They are everyone’s friend.”
The Tommie Invite served as Jia’s first sprint competition since the Hamline Elite Meet on April 24. A sore hamstring kept her off the track for several weeks but never diminished her support for teammates.
“She’s like another assistant coach,” Sutton said.
Though saddened by the 4x100 relay disqualification at the state meet, the Lewis sisters didn’t have long to feel sorry for themselves.
“We were walking back and these girls came up to us and were like, ‘Oh my gosh, we love you guys. Can we get your autograph and a picture?’ ” Jada said. “That was different, but we enjoyed it.”
The attention kept coming. Arneson and the school board invited members of the team to a school board meeting, where the athletes were recognized for their historic victory.
A bigger picture came into Jia’s view.
“When we won, they didn’t just say, ‘Edison finally won something.’ They said, ‘It’s been so long since Minneapolis Public Schools won anything at state,’ ” Jia said. “So it’s not just about us, it’s about everybody.”
Sutton said his fellow city coaches have seen the effect of Edison’s triumph. He’s been told track and field participation numbers are up at Patrick Henry and North. Coaches on the South Side at South, Southwest, Roosevelt and Washburn, told Sutton “they are glad to see us doing well and that we’re making them strive for excellence.”
With pageantry comes pressure, the sisters said. Motivation is no problem for Jada, who endured a bit of bragging from Jia about being the best. Sutton said Jada is “gunning for the 200 title” at the state meet.
To stoke Jia’s competitive fires, Sutton shows her race times from her peers in California, Florida and Texas and asks, “Where you at?” Jada knows her sister will respond.
“She has a lot of energy, and she never backs down,” Jada said of Jia. “She loves track; this is her life. I started just for fun. She really didn’t, though. She came out and was like, ‘I want to win.’ ”
Both sisters are eager to build on their legacy and repeat as champions. The qualifying Section 4 meet takes place May 28 and 30 at Macalester College in St. Paul. They are confident but also understand, as Sutton said, that yesterday doesn’t define tomorrow.
“As we get closer to sections and state, we can’t be too bigheaded and say, ‘We’re coming back and we’re going to repeat,’ ” Jada said. “We have to be humble.”
David La Vaque 612-673-7574