Varnado hurdles way into Hall of Fame

Published 8:08 pm Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Like a lot of great careers, Monique Varnado got on the path to success through a bit of happenstance.

“Coach (Robert) Erves was our coach. I had never jumped a hurdle before, and I guess he didn’t have anybody to do it. He told me, ‘Mo, go do it,’” Varnado recalled.

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The then-eighth-grader clipped her first hurdle, recovered and finished second. It was the first step on her path to track and field stardom.

Varnado went on to win two state championships in the girls’ 110-meter hurdles, set the Class 5A record in the event her junior year, and led Vicksburg High to three consecutive team titles from 1986-88.

Thirty years later Varnado, now a teacher at Vicksburg Intermediate School, is putting a bow on her athletic career by being inducted to the Vicksburg Warren School District Athletic Hall of Fame. She’s the first track and field athlete elected to the Hall since it was founded in 2016.

“I’m humbled,” Varnado said. “I think it’s just the third year, and to be thought of this early on, and the people that have been nominated with me, is mind-blowing. I don’t feel worthy.”

The induction ceremony is Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Vicksburg Convention Center. Tickets are $20 and are available at the door.

Varnado is part of the Class of 2018 along with former Vicksburg High football players Michael Dottorey and Sylvester Stamps; VHS football coach Houston Markham, Jr.; and Warren Central soccer and softball coach Lucy Young.

Stamps played in the NFL and Dottorey signed with Alabama after leading VHS to the Big 8 championship in 1973. Markham had a successful career in college football after leaving Vicksburg, and Young worked at Warren Central for nearly 40 years and is a member of the Mississippi Association of Coaches Hall of Fame.

Compared to her Hall of Fame classmates, Varnado had a relatively obscure athletic career after high school. She ran for Alcorn State’s track team for one year before retiring to focus on her academics. She was nominated for the Hall by her former coach, VWSD board member Alonzo Stevens, and said she had forgotten about it after filling out the paperwork.

“They called me on a Saturday and I was taking a nap,” she said of getting the news. “I was completely blindsided. I was kind of sleepy and couldn’t believe it.”

In high school, Varnado was the queen of the hurdles. After that first race, she rarely lost again in the 110 meters for nearly three years. She set the 110-meter record at the 1988 Class 4A state meet with a time of 15.06 seconds to give her back-to-back state titles in the event, after placing second as a freshman in 1986.

She was featured on ESPN’s “Scholastic Sports America” during her senior year, and even finished second in the 300-meter hurdles in 1989.

Ironically, her stellar run in the hurdles ended when she clipped the first hurdle in the division meet in 1989. She recovered to finish the race, but did not advance to the next round of the postseason.

“I had never even so much as bumped a hurdle, and I went down on the first hurdle,” she said.

Varnado also competed on the 400-meter relay team, and said it was mostly natural ability that propelled her to stardom.

“I think my steps naturally fell in, and I was always a good runner. I would beat the boys in the neighborhood,” she said. “I went off natural ability. If I would have worked more on my technique, there’s not telling where I could have gone.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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