Pride of the Pine Belt: Columbia Academy team earns six championships

COLUMBIA, MS (WDAM) - Retirement age means relaxing and taking it easy for some people, but for 65-year-old Duane Powell the golden years involves running.

"I'm the distance coach for the track team, and the head cross country coach," said Powell.

He's not the one running, but in 2007 Powell and his son, a senior at Columbia Academy at the time, started the Columbia Academy Cross Country Team.

"The first year we started we won the state championship," said Powell.

Powell remembers barely having enough runners in 2007 to qualify as a team. The following years would bring six consecutive state championships. Powell says all credit goes to his team. They were few, but they were proud. Powell, a retired Marine, can relate to that sentiment.

"I was in combat in Vietnam. I was wounded there. I received the Purple Heart," said Powell.

During Powell's four years in the Marines he ran competitively.

"I ran a 4:47 mile," said Powell.

In 1967, the severe injuries Powell received in combat cut his running days short. Powell sustained a serious concussion, and shrapnel wounds.

"I was unconscious for five days. Actually, I was loaded on the helicopter with the dead. They thought that I was dead," said Powell.

His equilibrium wasn't the same after he recovered, but now he enjoys his favorite past time through this team. Runner Jon Luke Watts says Powell instilled in him discipline and a good work ethic.

"There is no way that someone could get kids to do what he expects of us, unless they had just the most respect for him. He does have our up most respect," said Watts.

Powell says a strong bond lead to the team's current stats: 29 all state runners, three runners in college, and Watts who committed to Ole miss.

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