When Alana Garrard took on reigniting the Reeltown track and field program four years ago, she made one promise.
“I said I was going to stay with (the freshmen) until they graduated, and I did,” Garrard said.
But now Garrard is moving onto a new program and officially announced her retirement as the Rebel track coach after four seasons.
Although Garrard was officially in charge of rebuilding the program since 2017, she said she couldn’t have done it without the plethora of support she received from the student-athletes, their parents and the community as a whole.
“It’s worked out so beautifully,” Garrard said. “The Reeltown community is so tight knit. When we needed supplies or money, we got donations. The whole community was such a help to us, and the kids just embraced it.”
Early on, Garrard knew she was going to be in for an uphill battle. With very little equipment and no actual track at the high school, she used whatever means necessary to build not only the athletes but the program as a whole. Between practicing in the parking lots or on the football fields, Garrard was quite literally building the program from the ground up.
But that actually may have worked to the Rebels’ advantage in some ways.
“I was able to show the kids when we practice with starting blocks on the football field, you’re actually digging in the grass,” Garrard said. “When you get on a real track, you’ll see how much faster you are. But we were just creative with the program we did have and every year, we had fundraisers and got donations.”
Putting an emphasis on fundraising was a key to building Reeltown’s store of equipment. Through the years, the Rebels had a set of more than 15 hurdles, several throwing devices and multiple starting blocks.
“We worked hard to get enough equipment that we could really practice,” Garrard said. “Not a school our size anywhere around had the hurdles we did, and we were able to get enough shot puts to where the kids could practice at the same time. They weren’t standing around, waiting on their turn.”
In addition to the community support, Garrard also credited Tallapoosa County commissioner George Carlton Jr. who helped with funding.
But it wasn’t just donations and equipment Reeltown needed to build a true track and field program. It also needed bodies, and Garrard really took it upon herself to recruit students to join the team.
“With a school Reeltown’s size, I knew a lot of the kids,” Garrard said. “I was constantly recruiting and I would tell the kids to tell their friends. When it came time to sign up, I’d be in the halls and I’d say, ‘Hey, are you playing baseball?’ If they said, ‘No, ma’am,’ I’d say, ‘Well, then you need to come run track.’”
And Garrard was adamant she’d find a place for anyone who wanted to join the team. For guys who were linemen on the football team, she encouraged them to become throwers for the track and field team. For basketball players, she’d show them the benefits of how track can help with speed and agility. She also stressed the importance of her student-athletes studying their events and that helped them soar to new levels.
Although Garrard is leaving the Rebels to start a new food truck business, she’s confident about the program she’s built and what she’s leaving behind.
“I know (athletic director Matt Johnson) is wanting to find someone to keep it and grow it,” Garrard said. “We have so many kids coming that are going to be good athletes. I feel like I’m leaving the track program in really good shape. Although we’re losing a lot of really great athletes, the ones that are coming up are just reloading.”
Johnson is certainly not going to settle for anything less than the best and he knows he’s got big shoes to fill.
“She has laid down a foundation that we do not want to do anything that’s going to go backward,” Johnson said. “We’re not starting over; we’re continue with what we started four years ago. She left the program in extremely good shape and she had a lot of accomplishments but we still want to continue to climb. We don’t want to be complacent and she doesn’t either. We met and we talked about continuing to take it to the next level.”
But she’s certainly going to miss the memories she’s left behind. Garrard connected with her student-athletes not just on the track but also off it. With track and field, there are a lot of late nights and even overnight trips and there are endless memories she’s gained from her time with the Rebels.
“There are so many memories,” Garrard said. “I’d tell the parents, ‘I’m going to treat your kids like I treat my own kids. We’re going to work hard but we’re going to love each other and take care of each other.’ This is really a track family. They took care of me as much as I tried to take care of them, and I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed being their coach.”