Running siblings enhance Woodlawn School’s profile on, off track
With a total of eight runners – boys and girls – on the roster, the Woodlawn School track team just might be the smallest in the Lake Norman area.
But small definitely doesn’t mean insignificant, especially for the Trailblazers.
With each passing track meet this spring, more and more people have become aware of Woodlawn, the tiny private school with 50 high school students located near the border of the towns of Mooresville and Davidson, roughly a 1,600-meter run from Davidson College.
One major reason for that awareness is the brother-sister tandem of Sawyer and Sydney Bowman, who have made names for themselves while often out-performing some of the state’s top independent-school runners.
And to further exhibit that Woodlawn truly is a family atmosphere, the two standouts are coached by their father, Dwayne, who also is the school’s founder.
“It’s a totally amazing situation,” Dwayne Bowman said. “I was worried that (Sawyer and Syndey) wouldn’t have this opportunity when we started the school so small. I think they certainly could be running for larger, more prestigious schools, but they’ve prospered here.”
Sawyer Bowman is, simply put, one of the best middle- and long-distance runners in the region. Although Woodlawn has been open for just nine years, the senior’s school records compare favorably to those at other Lake Norman-area high schools.
During an eight-team meet at Concord’s Cannon School, he finished second in the 800 meters in a career-best time of 2 minutes, 0.69 seconds. He also holds the school record in the 1,600 (4:33) and 3,200 (9:54). In the 4x400 relay earlier this season, he joined Zachary Felts, Bradford Weir and David Hager to finish in 3:55.9, establishing a school mark.
Sydney Bowman doesn’t own any school records – yet. But as a freshman, she certainly has time for that, and she hasn’t wasted any time displaying her potential. During an April 13 meet at Charlotte Christian, she finished the 1,600 in a personal-best time of 5:50, good enough to place her third among a large group of upperclassmen on the track.
Also, as the only girl on the team, Sydney has provided valuable points in a number of events. Her contributions ultimately played a role as Woodlawn surprised many by winning the Mid-State Athletic Conference championship, which was the team’s first league title in school history.
Slowly but surely, people are becoming familiar with Woodlawn’s burgeoning track team, even though, unlike most squads, it doesn’t currently have an actual track to practice on each day. Instead, the Trailblazers usually practice by running through trails on the school’s wooded, 61-acre campus, unless they can borrow a middle-school track on the weekends.
But knowing they’ve battled – and overcome – such odds for a small school makes the Trailblazers’ accomplishments more rewarding.
“It’s huge,” Sawyer said. “It’s really an exhilarating feeling being the underdog all the time. You go out there and compete with all these big, bad Charlotte schools, and you shock the world sometimes – Syd’s done it, I’ve done it sometimes, and my teammates have done it. Something about it is really special.
“When you do it, people come up and ask you, ‘Where do you go to school?’ and I say, with a lot of pride, ‘I go to Woodlawn.’ And they ask me where it is, and you tell them, and it’s just something great that we runners can do for the school.”
Dwayne Bowman and his wife, Karen, founded Woodlawn back in 2002, when Sawyer was entering fourth grade. That year, they opened with a total of seven students.
“We were looking for a great school for our own kids, another option for parents in this area to have,” Dwayne said. “There weren’t that many private schools in this area, so we found this piece of property – 61 acres – with an old, historic house on the property, and we fell in love with it and decided to try to build something here.”
So far, so good. There has been one graduating class in the school’s history – last year, two students donned their caps and gowns. One of those graduates, Kathleen Elkins, is now a starter on the Williams (Mass.) College women’s tennis team, which won the Division III national championship last year.
This year, the senior class has expanded to 13, and Sawyer is one of the standouts, on and off the field. His academic and running success helped him get recruited to Bowdoin (Maine) College, for which he’ll run track and cross country next season.
But his first order of business is helping Woodlawn’s profile grow, and he knows success on the track can help expedite that. That’s why the conference championship was so important to him.
“It was big,” Sawyer said. “To have that under our belts and hopefully work our way up to the state meet, eventually, it’s just really exciting. I’m really excited for what Syd will be able to do. She’ll be able to run in a state meet, hopefully.”
To compete in a state meet, the Trailblazers will have to become members of the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association. But it’s not an easy process, especially since they’ll need to add to their already-impressive facilities.
“We have 188 students (kindergarten through 12th grade),” Dwayne said. “We would be a 1A school, but (NCISAA officials) want us to develop more here on campus before they accept us. We have to get locker rooms built and things like that. We have a nice gym, we have a nice soccer field and cross country trails, but we don’t have all the facilities they want to see yet for us to be a full-fledged member.”
But again, it’s not as if the Trailblazers have wasted time proving they can do well against current NCISAA schools while being such a small team. During an April 13 meet at Charlotte Christian School, Sydney proved she’s willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish her goals.
While competing in the 800 meters at the meet, Sydney had to finish the race without a shoe.
“This girl just accidentally stepped on my foot,” she said. “My shoe was halfway off, and I said, ‘I can’t run with this,’ so I just kicked it off. I only had one more lap left. That wasn’t really a good race, in terms of time (2:57.9), and it was kind of painful. But I wasn’t focusing on it too much because I was just trying to finish.
“My dad was yelling at me because he didn’t see that my shoe was off, and I was going a lot slower (than normal). No one really knew until I was finished.”
Sydney recalled the incident with a laugh. Sawyer said that’s typical of his kid sister’s upbeat demeanor, which, he added, makes her a special runner and person.
“Syd’s one of the few people I know who could kick her shoe off in the middle of the race and still smile about it,” he said. “It just looks so natural to her, and that’s really special.
“One thing I really like about this season is Syd and I get to be on the same team. We’ve never actually really been on the same team before, so to have this year is really something special because I can be on the same track and cheer for my sister. Seeing her win her first race on the track was just phenomenal. A few weeks ago, she won the mile, just barely clipping the girl at the line. It was incredible. That’s something I’ll never forget as her bigger brother. I know that when I go off to college, Syd’s going to be holding down the fort and the Bowman legacy and all that. I feel good about that.”
Sawyer said he has no regrets about taking the track less-traveled. He knows he could’ve garnered more attention for his running prowess if he were at a bigger school. But he’s gotten something more out of his Woodlawn experience: a sense of self, a sense of family.
“Being here at Woodlawn, a lot of people might think it’s not the best way for an athlete to go. But I’ve found that it’s increased my leadership abilities. I get to mentor a lot of younger kids. Our track team this year consists mostly of freshmen, and I get to work with them on a daily basis and kind of impart lessons.
“I’ve found that I’m able to just push myself harder, because I want to be good for my teammates, and they want to be good for me. We just have a great team dynamic going on here.
“Now,” he said, “people around this area are learning who Woodlawn is. And they have a respect for us.”