Photo: Ashville High senior Emma Drinkard signed a track scholarship with Jacksonville State University on December 2 at Rose Chapel in Attalla. Pictured, sitting, from left: AHS cross country and track & field coach Michele Rogers, Emma, mom Kathryn Bailey, dad Calvin Bailey. Standing, from left: AHS athletic director/football coach Shea Monroe, Jay Stewart, Victor Hernandez, Greg Simpson, Andrew Ochoa. (Courtesy of Becky Staples Photography)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Emma Drinkard’s quest to run at the collegiate reached the finish line on December 2.
The Ashville High School senior and track and field standout signed a full athletic scholarship with Jacksonville State University at Rose Chapel in Attalla.
“Ever since I started running in the seventh grade, this always felt like this is what I was meant to do,” said Drinkard, who plans on majoring in biology with a concentration on conservation. “Getting to do what I love past the high school level really is a blessing. The full ride was the biggest selling point [for JSU], but between all the other [schools] I visited, I fell in love with the [JSU] team and fell in love the [JSU] coach. Everything about it made me feel like [JSU] was where I was supposed to be.”
Competing in the 100, 200 and 400-meter dash events this past outdoor track and field season, Drinkard won 13 gold medals along with one silver and three bronze. She did not finish lower than fifth out of her 28 events.
Drinkard, who is believed to be the most decorated track and field athlete in AHS history, was nothing less than dominant at the past two sectional meets. In 2022, she captured the gold medal in the 100, 200 and 400-meter dash events while serving as the anchor leg of the Lady Bulldogs’ first place 4×800-meter relay team. In 2021, she won the gold in the 100 and 200-meter dashes in individual action and the 4×800 and 4×400 in relay competition.
At the Class 4A state meet in Gulf Shores this past May, Drinkard was a member of Ashville’s state runner-up 4×800-meter relay and won a bronze medal in the 100-meter dash. She also finished fourth in the state in the 400-meter dash.
At the 2021 state meet, Drinkard won the 400-meter dash, took second in the 100-meter dash and was a member of the AHS gold medal-winning 4×800-meter relay team. She was also a member of the third-place AHS 4×400-meter relay team that was disqualified on a questionable lane violation ruling.
In indoor track, Drinkard won the Class 4A/5A bronze medal in the 400-meter dash in 2022 and was a member of the third place overall and first place public school Class 4A/5A4x800-meter relay team in 2021.
Drinkard was selected girls MVP of the All Messenger Track & Field Team in both 2021 and 2022 as well as the AHS Most Valuable Female Athlete for Track & Field in 2021 and 2022.
“Since she was in seventh grade, this has been Emma’s dream,” said AHS track and field coach Michele Rogers. “She’s set a lot of goals during her running career, and now she can check off this box. It’s been exciting to see her go from a little seventh grader to getting an opportunity to run at the next level.”
Rogers noted that Drinkard took her already high commitment level up a notch after losing most of her 2020 freshman season to the COVD-19 pandemic.
“Obviously, I couldn’t do anything with them, but along with the other girls, Emma stayed focused and kept training and doing what she needed to be doing. With COVID, I think it kind of hit home for Emma that she needed to do things outside of what she was required and expected to do.”
Rogers sees Drinkard as a contributing factor in college her first day on the JSU track.
“Obviously that’s why [JSU] was so interested in having [Drinkard] come there. I think she’ll step right into whatever roles they have for her and do really well. But we’re excited to see what she can do for us this spring as a senior.”
Drinkard made the necessary sacrifices from early on in her running career, pointing out that it’s not easy for a teenager to pass up an occasional sweet treat or a No. 1 Meal.
“It’s definitely been a struggle,” she said. “But the people I have around me definitely made it easier.”
Drinkard added that being a multi-sports athlete prepared her for the self-discipline she would need while competing for a Division I athletic program. Drinkard participated in cross country, soccer and volleyball during her AHS varsity career.
“Every single time that I went out there, I had to remind myself that it was fun, but it was not the sport that I wanted for college,” she said. “That’s not to say I didn’t go 100 percent every time I was out there, but sometimes it was hard because I wanted to stay healthy for what I love to do, which is to run track.”
The one thing Drinakrd never does before a race is doubt herself.
“I always come into a race believing I’m going to win,” she said. “I always tell myself that this is what I do and that this is where I’m supposed to be. I plan to take home a win every single time I race.”