Smoky Mountain senior Me-Li Jackson has signed to join the track and field team at Lenoir-Rhyne.
Just as she does in high school, she expects to take part in throwing events.
Jackson will be reunited with her former high school coach, Danny Williamson. A Sylva native, Williamson compiled an outstanding record in some 30 years as coach at Western Carolina. After retiring from WCU, he spent one season as coach at Cherokee High School before taking the job at Lenoir-Rhyne.
Jackson spent her first two high school years at Cherokee before transferring to Smoky Mountain. Williamson was her coach when she was a sophomore.
She saw him at the Mountain Six Conference Meet last year at East Henderson, and the two talked about her coming to Lenoir-Rhyne.
“Danny has really been a good coach,” she said. “He also believed in me and encouraged me about being able to compete at the next level.”
Jackson throws the shot put and discus in high school. She noted that college also has throwing options with the hammer and javelin.
“They want to work with me and see what my best fit is,” she said. “They’re going to give me the opportunity to pick which one I’m best all-around in. The hammer throw is something I’m really interested in.”
She said the shot put has been her favorite event in high school because she has been better in it than the discus.
She is the defending conference champion in the shot put and discus and was sixth in the shot at last year’s state 2-A meet. She has qualified for the regionals this season in both events.
Participating in a college sport is something Jackson has wanted to do for a long time, but she didn’t think it would be track and field.
“It was a dream of mine to play basketball at the college level, but as I was introduced to the shot and discus that changed,” she said. “Danny gave me the chance in track and field, and my heart kind of went in that direction instead of basketball.”
An all-conference basketball player for the Lady Mustangs, she had an opportunity to play that sport at Montreat College and at Johnson University in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Brevard College contacted her about track and field.
“I just love the environment at Lenoir-Rhyne,” she said. “We visited there a couple of months ago. I loved the campus and loved all the people there and all the different opportunities you can have at Lenoir-Rhyne.”
Even so Williamson was a key reason for her decision.
“I really love Danny,” Jackson said. “He’s very competitive like me. He will do anything he can to help you be your best.”
She plans to major in sociology.
“This is an awesome opportunity,” Jackson said. “There aren’t a lot of athletes where I’m from that go off to college and stay. It’s a big opportunity to show people I can go to the next level and be successful and stay those four years. Being able to go to college is a big thing for my family.”
She added, “I want to thank my friends, teammates, coaches and family. They have been supporting me these four years, and it’s just been amazing.”
SM Coach Pam Shuler said she is thrilled by Jackson’s decision.
“I think she made the best selection in choosing Lenoir-Rhyne and to focus on track and field,” she said. “She couldn’t have a better coach than Danny Williamson. He’s one of the best in the country.”
She noted that Jackson’s track teammate, Rebecca Fox, will also be on the track team at L-R.
“It makes me happy to have both of them going where they will be well taken care of by the coaching staff,” Shuler said.
“She’s a great kid from a great family,” Williamson said. “She’s really motivated and wants to do well and be the best she can be.
“She is relatively new to throwing,” he added. “She is just starting to come into her own as a thrower. She’s very athletic because she does play other sports. She’s a pretty good basketball player. She’s got some good movement about her.”
Usually a college coach is just getting to know his recruits and their families at this point. That’s different with Jackson since he previously coached her.
“You know ahead of time what you’re getting, after being around her every day,” Williamson said.
“I know how Pam runs the program,” he said. “Me-Li is coming from a program that has pushed her to be better.”