For a list of the other Gatorade State Cross Country Runner of the Year winners, click here.
THE WINNER: Payton Ballard
School: Mountain Brook (Ala.)
Athletic achievement: He raced to a runner-up finish at the Class 6A state meet this past season with a time of 15:44.98, leading the Spartans to second place as a team. Ballard finished unbeaten against Alabama competition in eight regular-season meets, winning his races by an average of 14.5 seconds, including victories at the Chickasaw Trails Invitational and Walt Disney World Classic. He captured third place at the 2011 Class 6A state meet as a junior.
Academic excellence: Also a track standout, Ballard has maintained a 4.06 weighted GPA in the classroom.
Exemplary character: In addition to serving as senior class treasurer, he has performed as a member of both Mountain Brook’s chamber choir and the all-male a cappella group, “A Bunch of Guys.”
“He has the ability to push himself in practice to levels most kids cannot,” said Mountain Brook head coach Greg Echols. “He is driven and focused — at meets on weekends, holidays, whatever is needed to excel. He always comes to practice with a positive attitude. He obviously races well, but his work ethic at practice is what sets him apart.”
THE FUTURE: Ballard remains undecided upon a collegiate destination.