After placing eighth in last year’s high jump, Loudon High School’s J.D. Thaxton is bringing home a state championship.

The sophomore cleared a 6-foot-2-inch high jump in the Division I-Small School track and field championships at Dean A. Hayes Track and Soccer Stadium in Murfreesboro.

The last time Loudon won a state championship was in 2015 when Dylan Elkins placed first in the hurdles.

“First off, I’m just so delighted for him,” Tony Rutherford, LHS head track coach, said. “He’s worked and he’s put the time in. He should’ve won it last year, but he was just a freshman and he was pretty nervous. He knew what to expect coming back from last year’s event and he was really focused today. He was very relaxed in his approach and how he went about things.”

Thaxton’s father passed away earlier this year, which was something he used for motivation.

“Man, it’s just crazy,” Thaxton said after the victory. “I mean, the whole time, I was just thinking about my dad and I was like, ‘Man, this is going to happen for you. This is it.’ When the time came up, I just knew that I got it. I was just trying to stay focused. I was looking at the bar and I knew that it was mine. I just kept telling myself that.”

As the bar kept getting raised and more athletes were eliminated throughout the event, Rutherford told Thaxton a short story to use as extra motivation.

“Tony was telling me a story about a lion,” Thaxton said. “There were these hyenas that just kept on messing with the lion and there was a point where he was fed up with them, so he just took over. That’s what happened with me — I just took over.”

“It’s from a movie called ‘Poolhall Junkies’ and so I remembered that and told it to him,” Rutherford added. “Related to J.D., everyone was trying to take it away from him and that you have to step up and take it away from them. That’s what he did here and I’m so very proud of him.”

Numerous other LHS athletes and teams competed at the state level.

Haleigh Oody placed eighth in the girls high jump, which was a surprise to the senior and first-year high jumper.

“When I found out I placed, I was very shocked,” Oody said. “I mean, I had already left the track and had to get the exciting news over the phone. The day of the meet was just exciting and it was my last event ever for high school. I think I performed fairly well, considering the amount of stress and nervousness that occurred.”

“Haleigh did really well and she didn’t know she placed eighth and medaled in the event,” Rutherford added. “She had already left, so I had to end up calling her to tell her that she ended up getting a medal. I’m also proud of her for what she’s accomplished this year because that’s pretty impressive when you can medal in the state championship in your first year doing any event, especially the high jump.”

Other finishes on the girls side included Kathryn Fellhoelter, who placed 13th in the discus throw; the 4x400 meter relay team of Carrie Pittman, Haleigh Oody, Emily Vance and Ashtyn Yaw, which finished 14th; and the 4x800 meter relay team of Pittman, Vance, Anna Rutherford and Mattie Rutherford, which finished eighth.

On the boys side, finishes included Jacob Bolt finished ninth in the 800 meter run; the 4x100 team of Drew Jackson, Daniel Ridenour, Mark Ridenour and J.D. Thaxton finished 14th; the 4x200 relay team of Jackson, Thaxton, Daniel Ridenour and Mark Ridenour finished 13th; the 4x400 meter relay team of Noah Arnold, Drew Dotson, Mark Ridenour and Corey Steele finished 12th; and the 4x800 meter relay team of Noah Arnold, Jacob Bolt, Rodney Jones and Cory Steele finished seventh.