Athletes boarded a bus Thursday morning, Alma bound, sleepy, tired and still swirling with thoughts of tornado damage, said Vilonia High School boys track coach Michael Stout. They returned that afternoon victorious with the title of 5A West Conference senior boys track champion for the first time in several years.

"I think this is the first time the senior boys have ever won a title in this conference," Stout said. "This is a big deal for our boys. They worked hard to get here."

It was a tough call whether to attend, Stout said, in light of the devastation from Monday night’s tornado. Some of the athletes’ houses were damaged and most were still without electricity. The majority also had spent the past couple of days cutting logs and loading up debris. Stout also was out helping around town as well making rounds "trying to see if the kids were safe."

"Up until Wednesday, we hadn’t made a decision to go," he  said. "But, we knew the kids had been working hard and were looking forward to this. We decided this might be a short diversion from the tragedy."

As a coach, he said, he didn’t want to put any pressure on anyone to go. 

"I just left it up to them and their families," he said.

In making the decision, calls went out and they rounded up team members.

Some had phone service while others had to be reached other ways. Stout, again headed out, driving to find those that couldn’t be contacted via telephone. Some, he said, were still knee deep in clean-up. If not at their house, they were elsewhere helping others.

"I found the last one at about 4:30 Wednesday afternoon," he added.

It was unanimous; the majority was fired up to compete. The trip required they leave early. Once on the bus, the coaches discovered many of the athletes had left home without eating due to a lack of power.

"We knew we had to feed them," Stout said. A stop was made along the way allowing the athletes to get a hot meal.

Early in the competition, the outcome looked unfavorable for a sweep, Stout said.   

Alma led, Stout said, most of the event. Halfway through, Vilonia had fallen behind 30 points. At the end, however, Vilonia excelled by 33 points.

At a Wednesday meeting, team member Zak Bowling said, his peers were fired up and discussed the adversities. For instance, he said, they faced making the trip without two student managers, Brandon Neal and Dylan Paul, whose houses were destroyed in the tornado.

Team members, he said, agreed they would "come together as a team," and focus on a team victory rather than individual performance.

"We didn’t know how well we would do individually because we were tired," he added. "Our goal, that day, was to just watch out for each other and make the community proud."

On the ride to Alma, he said, about 30 were on board. The majority of the trip, he said, was spent sleeping.

"We were still really tired. Most of us had helped in the community since Monday night," Bowling said. "I would say 50 percent, at least, of us didn’t have power. We left early and we had to leave home without eating. We had a long wait in traffic to get out of Vilonia. By the time we got to Alma, the earlier events were getting ready to start. The people competing in them didn’t have much time to warm up."

A team prayer was said before the start, Bowling said, where the "Vilonia community" was the main focus.

The senior girls also won the 5A-West title for the fifth year in a row.

"Some students’ houses were hit pretty bad Monday (by the tornado)," said coach John Steward said. "But—those are also the athletes who were really determined to go."

Twenty-three of the girls, he said, will be going to state. In addition, he said, they opted out of running the last relay and some athletes were pulled from some events.

"Three days without practice, we didn’t want any injuries," Steward explained. Regarding the girls, the final results were Vilonia 271, Alma 168 and Greenbrier 64. 

Bailey Daves, a member of the girls’ team, said both teams went there with a desire to "sweep the conference" as a tribute to the tornado riddled city.

"We were tired," she added. "Most of the girls had been volunteering all week. We didn’t have a whole lot of sleep. A lot of us had given up our beds to other people. And, most of us had no power. But, we had determination."

The senior boys  qualified in 15 out of 17 events for state competition with the following results:

James Sax, high point winner, 110m hurdles, first place; 300m hurdles, first place; 200m hurdles, first place; 100m, second place; long jump, second place. David Crume, 400m, first place (conference record); 200m, second place; long jump, first place; triple jump, third place. Zac Bowling, 1600m, first place; 3200m, first place. Alex Ebmeyer, 800m, first place. Trey

Wyatt, pole vault, first place. Kyle Wyatt, pole vault, second place. Jordan Ruple, discus, second place. Zach Mann, 800m, third place; triple jump, seventh place. Houston Cotton, 300m hurdles, third place; 110m hurdles fifth place. Jake Wiedmaier, shot put, fourth place. Dylan Foster, pole vault, fourth place. Jacob Bowling, 3200m, second place; 1600m, fifth place. Jonnie Summers 3200m, third place.

Team: 4x800 relay, first place (Alex Ebmeyer, Trevor Martin, Brian Valley, Zac Bowling); 4x400 relay, first place (David Crume, Alex Ebmeyer, Zachary Mitchell, Zachary Mann); 4x100m relay, second, (Jonathan Harguos, David Crume, Daniel Shipp, James Gardner).

Other individual scores: Lucas Edwards, high jump, fifth place; Bryan Ayers, triple jump, fifth; Zachary Mitchell, 400m, fifth place and shot put, sixth place; Brad Thomas, discus, fifth place; Chris Calhoun, discus, sixth. Jake Steward, pole vault, fifth place. James Gardner, 100m, seventh; 300m hurdles, eighth. Jonathan Hargues 100m, eighth; 200m, eighth. Kyle Moore, 400m, sixth. Trevor Martin, 800m, fifth. Brian Valley, 800m, seventh.

The top four in each event will go to state competition to be held May 5, in Hot Springs.

Final senior boys results: Vilonia 250, Alma 217, Siloam Springs 52, Greenbrier 45.5, Greenwood 44, Huntsville 29 and Morrilton 18.5.