By Melissa McCaghren
The cheerful sounds of honking were heard around Slaton High School Monday evening (May 4) as a social distancing parade was conducted in honor of two seniors: TK Robinson and Zari Naylor.
Both women were handing out treats to the visitors, all practicing social distancing during the current rules due to COVID-19. The duo signed their letters of intent later that evening at the track.
Robinson will be running track at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C., while Naylor will be running track at South Plains College in Levelland.
Coach Rustin Klafka was honored to be a part of their journey during their school years and to be at the signing. “This is the next step of their journey,” he said.
He reflected on Robinson’s growth over the years. “(I’m)proud to have watched TK for the last four years. She has been somebody who has grown year in and year out in maturity, in the way she runs, in the way she’s coachable, but most importantly she’s grown mentally to be able to work through adversity and just stay present in the moment so she can focus on whatever race or event that’s at hand,” he said, adding she was a racer who challenged him to be a better coach.
“I think that’s been a big part of her success as a track athlete is that she can dial in and focus and be completely just absolutely a master of the moment she’s in.”
Robinson was excited to be running for the Golden Bulls. “They’re already family. I already feel like a part of them,” she said. “They’re getting a hard working athlete that don’t let up, because I don’t… I’m going for gold.”
She said the social distancing signing was different but she was thankful that people came out to support her and Naylor.
This held true with the gifts they gave the parade drivers. “Lord knows I love candy, but it’s showing our appreciation,” she said.
Klafka said Naylor was kind of an “engine of the team” that helped people push people further to succeed.
“It’s this energy that she brings to a track team and an overall program that elevates the people around her, and I think that’s what’s amazing about Zari,” he said.
Klafka also added Naylor came into the program two years ago, it was a new program, new culture and new mentality.
Naylor however worked her way through it, and ended up on the 2019 State silver and bronze medal relays. “This year again she was out running some of her fastest times yet, her (personal records) from the get go, and what’s just amazing see her put a dream in place and then vocalize it and speak it, and I think that takes a lot of courage for somebody to do,” he said.
Naylor said her decision to run for the Texans was a fairly easy one, though she had a couple of decisions between SPC and a university.
“I just felt like South Plains was home, it’s near home. My family (loves) to follow me everywhere, so there wasn’t too far I could go they wouldn’t going to be following right behind me anyway, might as well stay home,” she said. “When the (SPC) coach talked to me, it just felt like he was genuine in everything that he said, it felt like he wanted me to be there as a team and just not as another athlete, one of his runners. They try to build family at small schools, and that’s just what I want to do, I don’t just want to be part of a team I want to be a family I want to be as one just like we had at Slaton here.”
Naylor was happy to be competing in a higher level of track because she loves running. It also helped to have Robinson signing next to her as well, sharing in their joy together. “We’ve talked about signing and stuff. We never thought we’d do it together but it was actually a very special one for me today and I just want to thank everybody for being here today and I want to thank Coach Klafka for being the best coach that I’ve had,” she said.
As far as what SPC will get as an athlete? – “They’re getting a goofy athlete, they’re getting a smile wherever they go, they’re just getting a hard working athlete, they’re getting a sore loser, because just like TK I hate to lose. They’re just getting an all around pretty good athlete,” she said.
Robinson and Naylor also had an unusual way of receiving their letters of intent.
They had them passed off as though a baton by fellow teammate and senior Kamryn Gibbs. She has also signed, this case to play softball at Lubbock Christian University.
Both girls though it was an interesting experience. “That was very different, it was really different, I think we were the first people to do that,” said Robinson, adding it was a good exchange.
“It was awesome, I mean like TK said we’re probably the first ones to ever do that,” adding if the wind caught it she was going to run and catch it,” said Naylor, adding had the winds caught it, they’d gotten to see her really run.
Though their seasons ended abruptly due to COVID-19, Robinson and Naylor thanked all for their support.
“Thanks to the Slaton community, my parents and anyone that supported me because without y’all I don’t think I’d make it this far,” said Robinson.
Naylor also thanked the community, especially as they were just as devastated as the team was when it was canceled. “I just want to thank the whole Slaton community because this track team,” she said.