During his freshman year of high school, James Hinton was told he should try out for the Culpeper track team.
Fast-forward four years later and Hinton will be attending Gardner-Webb University in the fall as a Division I scholarship athlete.
“I started running track because my family friend, John Jackson, who was a three-time all-state track athlete, told me to go out and run,” Hinton said. “Everything started from there.”
Blue Devils head coach Mark Dennis could see the potential in Hinton from the first time he stepped on the track. Dennis also believes that despite everything Hinton accomplished in his high school career, he still hasn’t reached his full potential.
“I could see it from his freshman year on,” Dennis said. “We never got to reach anywhere near his full potential—which is crazy—because he didn’t really get to do indoor track until this year. There are so many small things he can work on that would make him even better then he already is.”
Hard work is something that Hinton isn’t afraid of. He’s a leader on and off the track and knows in order to be a successful college athlete it is going to take training and dedication.
“It took a lot of dedication and heart to go Division I,” Hinton said. “From working out with [Culpeper boys basketball coach] James Thompson every day as a freshman to learning how to take an ice bath and prepare my body for meets.”
Dennis said the leadership Hinton brought to the team was a big part of Culpeper’s overall success.
“His leadership meant so much to our younger guys,” Dennis said. “He represents the mentality I wanted this team to have and he showed that every day. He calls people out and says all the things people need to hear but don’t want to hear. He shows up then the lights are the brightest and he was the heart and soul of the boys team.”
During his high school career, Hinton competed in 14 different events. As a senior, he focused on the 55, 100, 200, 300 and 400-meter dashes, the 4x100, 4x200 and 4x400-meter relays and the long jump, triple jump and high jump.
When he first started track, Hinton was a 110 and 300-meter hurdler.
“I think I’ve improved a lot since I first started,” Hinton said. “I didn’t even place all-conference in anything during my freshman year. During tryouts that year I ran a 26-second 200, and now I run a 22.5. Even as a senior I improved in several areas as the season went along.”
At the Region 3B meet, Hinton turned in personal bests in three events (high jump, 100 and 200). Dennis said that meet made Hinton the fastest 200-meter runner he has ever coached.
Not only is Hinton looking forward to becoming a better athlete at Gardner-Webb, but he’s also excited to build his relationship with God at the Baptist university in Boiling Springs, N.C.
“[Gardner-Webb] requires students to attend 10 church sessions a semester, so I’m looking forward to building my relationship with God there” he said. “I’m also looking forward to building muscle, becoming faster and learning what it takes to become a Division I athlete.”
Hinton plans to major in computer science and minor in psychology. He said he wants to become a data analyst for a big company.
Over the last four years, Hinton and Dennis have also become good friends. They talk daily and even have a Snapchat streak.
“Mark has had a huge impact on my life,” Hinton said. “He’s shown me basically how to run, jump and lift at a high level. Not only has he been a teacher on the track, he’s been a friend off of it. We are always on the same page and we both think alike. When I’m having an off day, he always manages to cheer me up and get me thinking about something else.”
Hinton went on to talk about what it will be like without Dennis and his Culpeper teammates at college.
“I’m going to miss having someone like Mark to discuss and scheme track with,” he said. “We would have three-hour talks ranging from who should run in a relay to how to fix my landing on a long jump. I’ll also miss my teammates because I’ve been doing this with a lot of them since freshman year. I’ve gained a lot of friends through track that I will cherish forever.”
Dennis shared similar sentiments about his departing protégé.
“I will miss his realness and consistency,” Dennis said. “He wasn’t an average teenager mentally. He saw the bigger picture and would even go over meet strategy with me. Some people you just click with, so I’m sure we’ll be in touch. It will be hard not to have him around.”
Dennis also shared some advice with Hinton moving forward.
“My advice for him in the future is to have fun, but give it his all,” he said. “Treat track like a job, let it pay for some of his education and set himself up better for the future. I never want him to wonder, ‘What if?’”