By Jackson Sepko
While the average high school sports fan may not know much about powerlifting –– a sport in which athletes within various weight classes compete against one another in squatting, bench pressing and deadlifting –– the sport has become quite popular in Mississippi in recent years.
Oxford High School Powerlifting Coach Stan Robertson said Mississippi high schools have participated in the sport for about two decades, with most schools having a boys powerlifting team and about three-quarters fielding a girls squad as well.
The Chargers’ boys powerlifting squad took home the Class 5A state championship for four straight years from 2013 to 2016 before moving up to Class 6A. Moving up a level has been a growing experience for Oxford, but the team has adjusted well winning North Half, northern Mississippi’s qualifying event for the state championship, and finishing fourth in the state.
This year’s team is young; Robertson said he graduated more than half of his seniors from last year’s outfit. Before Thursday’s North Half meet, Robertson identified two newcomers to the team—D.J. Gibson and Jeremiah Pomerlee—as lifters with potential to make it to the state championship in Jackson.
“He’s a lifter that we’re expecting good things out of. He’s got a high bench (and) a high squat, so we’re hoping he can do well and get out (of North Half in the top three) and go to state,” Robertson said of Pomerlee.
Pomerlee did just that as he took home third place in the 198-pound weight class and advanced to the state championship meet. (The top three finishers at North Half advance to state.)
Gibson, who had claimed first place in the 114-pound weight class at every event prior to the North Half meet, punched his ticket to Jackson with a second place finish at North Half.
“He placed fourth or fifth last year in the state,” Robertson said of Heur, “so we’re hoping to get him in the top three this year at state.”
Heuer, who competes in the super-heavyweight class of 309 pounds and up, finished second at North Half, earning himself the opportunity to compete for a top finish at the state championship meet once again.
Jab Hickinbottom also finished in the top three, notching a third-place finish in the 165-pound class and advancing to the state championship.
All told, four powerlifters from the Chargers’ boys team will compete in Jackson, a solid total for a team that brought six lifters to the North Half meet.
Three of five qualifying powerlifters on Oxford’s girls team advanced to the state championship with top-three finishes at the girls’ North Half meet last week. Cailyn Brock (148-pound class), Keionna Harris (242-pound class) and Madisyn Herron (super-heavyweight class) all qualified for state, with Harris and Herron putting up record-setting performances this season.
“Madisyn and Keionna both have done a great job pushing,” Robertson said of his two record-holders. “Both of them went to state last year, so they knew what it took. They came back, and they had the prize in their eyes and set out to go get it.”
Harris set high-water marks for the district and North Half in squat, deadlift, bench and total weight lifted in the inaugural year of the 242-pound weight class. (Previously, the weight classes advanced straight from the 220-pound class to the super-heavyweight class; Mississippi added the intermediary 242-pound class this year.)
“(Harris is) setting the precedent because she’s got the highest numbers. Everybody will have to beat her numbers to come because this is the inaugural year,” Robertson said.
Herron also owns a trio of North Half records in squat (540 pounds), bench (215 pounds) and total weight lifted (1,135 pounds).
Robertson said Herron’s squat has improved by 100 pounds since last spring.
“She’s our captain. She’s committed to working out. She’s one of the girls that not only pushes herself, but she pushes the other girls on the team. She does a great job being a leader,” Robertson said.
Schools at the next level have taken notice of Herron’s stellar performance and work ethic, too. She visited Blue Mountain College on Wednesday and has received interest from Midland University in Fremont, Nebraska. According to Blue Mountain College Athletics, Blue Mountain, Midland and other schools, such as Texas A&M and Louisiana Tech, compete in the USA Powerlifting organization.
Herron has recently achieved social media acclaim, as a video of her squatting 525 pounds was featured on popular Instagram page @PowerLiftingXtreme, which has over 11,000 followers.
For her and her six other fellow state qualifiers, the time has come for their chance to make history and take home some hardware.
The Mississippi state powerlifting championships will be held in the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson April 13.