By Jayden Blanton
As the seasons change from fall to winter, a new sports season comes with it. At Orleans High School, boys and girls basketball season is upon us. The volleyball and cross country seasons have ended; cheer season is here, and all of the seniors are wrapping up their final trials of high school. Many have created a name for themselves in school history, one senior in particular being Allison Hughett.
Hughett has achieved much success during her high school career in basketball, cheer, cross country, and track and field. Her awards are plastered all over the walls of her bedroom at home as well as on the school’s record boards for track. Her patches and the sacred “O” is displayed on her letterman jacket, something that every Orleans athlete longs for. Countless ribbons won from track races and relays, most of them being first-place blue, are kept safe at home and to be treasured forever.
Over the years, Hughett has made many friends. Some are older and have gone their own ways, and some are younger whom she gets to be a mentor to, or even a big sister. One person she has gotten to run with in the last two years is Ayla Steele, a sophomore. Both are successful athletes who often are caught neck-and-neck with one another during cross country races.
“In our Hokum Karem races for the past two years, our times have been identical or just a couple of seconds off from each other,” Steele said. “In the 5k races, we were often about 30 seconds to a minute apart at the finish. It was ideal to have Allie close to my ability, but that much faster in races, because I always had someone to push myself off of. It was very challenging to try and stay near her, but I fell behind all but once. Even still, I know that trying to keep up and stay close to her made me faster than I would have been otherwise. I also love it because of the company and the occasional, ‘Come on, we’ve got this,’ by my side, or even a few yards ahead of me.”
The constant reassurance and motivation goes both ways.
“I think Ayla and I have a healthy competition,” Hughett said. “We’re not trying to upstage one another or to be better than the other. Do I like to win? Yes, but when she wins, I’m happy for her.”
It takes a lot of skill and talent to run the way Hughett does. Almost every year of high school, she’s gotten the team’s “Most Valuable Runner” award from Coach Jacob Smith, and there’s a very good reason for that. She is a driving force for her team each year with her determination and natural ability for speed, as well as endurance. During her freshman year, Hughett made it to semi-state with her current personal record of 20:56. Some years in the past, and even this past year, she’s been the only girl to make it to semi-state.
“A skill is more of something that has been mastered through practice and experience,” Steele said. “A talent is more similar to an ability that comes naturally. I can tell that Allison has both. Allie definitely has a natural aptitude for speed and endurance. However, she still works hard to strengthen her body and to better her abilities. Allie puts in a lot of hard work all through the fall season, spring season, and even summer practice. During the winter, she and I are cheerleaders, and she does a great job at that, too. She is even a cheerleader outside of the basketball court. When we are racing together, she will sometimes breathe a word of motivation to me, but especially when we are doing the 4×800 relay race; she will shout and cheer for me to give it my all, and it really helps. She is almost like a second coach.”
Hughett knows what is to be expected. She enjoys a fun, lighthearted practice as much as the next runner would, but that doesn’t mean she gets to slack off. Having a talent as she does is one thing; she was born with the ability to run and to run well, yet she polishes herself to better her endurance and stamina. Hughett has mastered the skill called running.
Hughett has figured out the way things work, including the way her coaches function, as well as her teammates over the years.
“I think that I know when to not push the coaches’ buttons,” Hughett said. “Like, Coach Jacob, I know that when he means it, he’s serious, so I don’t try to goof off. But with Shannon (Salmon), we laugh. With Mr. Gilbert, it’s the same way as Jacob: You know when to start taking things seriously. I respect all my coaches, and I hope that they all respect me.”
Despite all the extracurricular activities she is involved in, running has remained Hughett’s biggest passion. Over the years, she has found out what contributes to the success and mental readiness for tough meets and rugged weather.
“I have ran cross country with Allie for a total of three years now,” Steele said. “I have watched her push through many difficult workouts over the course of my running career. Something that inspires me to become a better runner is seeing Allie overcome what is difficult by giving it her all and persevering through intense heat, pouring rain, and the biting cold. Her attitude always remains the same, to do the best that we possibly can.”
What has set Hughett apart from others is her attention to detail when it comes to training and preparation for each race. She’s very superstitious and has a tradition with her family of loading up on pasta and pizza the night before every big race. She also prepares mentally throughout the entire day, envisioning how she might react to any challenges that may arise.
However, being such an important asset to her team comes with big responsibilities when it comes to preparing her teammates as well. She tries to make practices fun and bring up everybody’s mood, but also sets an example of how to act when something great is expected of you.
“I think there are definitely some times when I think it’s okay to kind of goof off and not be as serious,” Hughett said. “But when you have to meet a time and goal, I think that’s one thing you have to be disciplined on. The fear of not producing the way that I need to, not only for my teammates but also for myself, can be tough. I definitely think that the pressure has gotten worse for producing so well and coming out and, you know, winning all the time, and then there is the pressure of having to do good when there’s a lot of competition.”
Even during her off-season from running, Hughett’s still very busy, whether that be with basketball or with cheer practices and balancing cheering at boys’ games and playing during her last season of girls’ games.
“Allison is surely part of the glue that holds the cheer team together,” Steele said. “She is always adding humor and lightheartedness to us, but she knows exactly how much is too much; I think that’s a really valuable trait to have like she does.”
Even though she’s been a cheerleader every year since the fifth grade, “the only O.G. left” as her mother likes to say, Hughett is able to experience something new this year. Always having been a flyer, she is now basing this year, which is something she’s loving so far.
“Allie will laugh with you when you’re happy and cry with you when you’re sad,” Steele said. “I am happy to have her as a senior leader this year because she did a great job in cross country, and I look forward to seeing our season as a cheer team and as a track team. Allison is really good about being assertive while also keeping an open mind when ideas are shared.” However, track and cross country have always been Hughett’s main priorities.
Hughett tries to bring that same positive vibe to the basketball court.
Being such a bright, positive light herself, she is always trying to bring everyone else up to her level.
“I think it’s hard (uplifting younger players),” Hughett said. “I’ve been through it for four years, so I know what it’s going to feel like, but there are some people who are not as mentally positive as when you get older, and you have to learn how to be more mentally positive, so bringing them up is difficult, but I like the challenge.”
With the chilly weather creeping in and her mind focused on the last half of the year and the new seasons coming with it, Hughett often reminisces on the awesome memories she’s made out on the court, on the course, and on the black, rubber track. She thinks about how Coach Smith would award the team with chocolate milk and donuts after a good practice, how the seniors before her would assign the cheerleaders “jobs” for the season, telling them who gets to shout out, “Cheer Dawgs!” during their post-practice huddle, or who gets to start the cheers. And now it’s Hughett’s turn to make memories for her younger teammates. It’s Hughett’s turn to create traditions and special memories for the athletes to remember forever and to look back upon later, as she does now.