The Complete Package
Banks senior Jessica Markham will write the final chapter of a storied athletic career this spring with her 12th varsity letter.
When Jessica Markham was about three years old, her mother took her to an all-comers track and field meet. After finishing a 50-meter race, an upset Markham informed her mother that she was never going to run again, because she was so tired.
It's a good thing for Banks High School that Markham changed her mind.
Her self-imposed hiatus on running did not last long, as Markham started competing in track as an elementary school student, picked up basketball along the way, and added cross-country when she reached high school.
Now a senior in her final season of high school competition, Markham has turned in a superlative athletic career for the Lady Braves in those three sports.
'It's been a lot of fun,' Markham said recently, reflecting on the past four years. 'Freshman year, I went to state in cross country and track; I was always the one following the older runners. And then as I get older, I realize that I am the top athlete and it's fun to have the girls at track meets follow me around, doing what I'm doing.'
How good has Markham been over the past four years?
Last spring, she was the recipient of the Velma Caldwell Award, given annually to the top upperclassman female athlete at Banks - an honor that is usually reserved for seniors.
Rob Frank, head coach for cross country and track and field, said he would list Markham among the top two female athletes he has ever coached in his decades-long career at Banks.
That estimation puts Markham in some high company, as Frank said the other member of that duo is Stacy Bennett, who competed for the Lady Braves in the early 1990s. Bennett was a multiple-time state finalist in track - in 1991 alone, she placed first at the state meet in the 300-meter low hurdles, second in the 400 and fourth in the triple jump.
Frank said the qualities that make Markham such a special athlete include her physical abilities, a competitive spirit and a coachable nature, adding that numerous athletes possess two of those qualities, but not often all three.
The outcome from utilizing those gifts has been a lengthy and ever-growing list of accomplishments. Markham has done so well, in fact, in all three sports, that it's hard to know where to start.
In cross country, Markham excelled as one of the team's most consistent runners across her career, even though, she admitted, that she is not as passionate about long-distance running. She qualified for the Class 4A state meet all four years, taking 18th as a junior in 2009 - and helping the Lady Braves to a program-best fifth-place finish - and 19th last fall. She also placed in the top four at the Cowapa League district meet each of the past three years.
Markham's final basketball season wrapped up a couple of weeks ago, and she saved her best for her last one. A starter and a three-year captain, the 5-8 post helped Banks to a 20-8 record this season, good for a second-place tie in the Cowapa League and a sixth-place trophy at the state tournament, held March 9-11 at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis.
'When we finally got to state, that was the best experience,' Markham said of the squad achieving its season-long goal. 'We really played like a team the last two games. And it was so much fun, no matter who was playing, just to see how well our chemistry went together.'
Basketball also gave her the chance to band together with members of the Lady Braves' much-ballyhooed junior and sophomore classes, many of whom are also members of the school's state runner-up volleyball and softball teams. Markham was the basketball squad's lone senior.
'It was so much fun (this) year,' she explained. 'Last year, I was pretty close with them, but I was kind of the lone one. But this year, being the captain, I really got to bond with all of them because I just felt like I needed to be the leader, take care of them, and so we were all really close.'
On the track oval is where, perhaps, Markham has shone brightest. She won three events at the Cowapa League district meet last year (400 meters, 300 hurdles, 4x400 relay) and qualified for the state meet in each of her first three seasons, advancing to the finals on six occasions as a sophomore and junior. Her best finish came two years ago, when she took third in the 300 hurdles.
Last year, after entering the state meet with the fastest time in Class 4A in the 300 hurdles (46.04, a converted hand-timed mark), Markham placed fourth in that event and fifth in the 400.
'I think she's still the best low hurdler in the state [in Class 4A],' Frank said. 'She did not have a good state meet last year in the lows, but she still finished the season with the best time in the state. Sometimes that happens, you have a bad day and it happens to be on that meet day. There's not a lot you can do about it.'
The good news is that Markham still gets to author the final chapter of her high school career, and she is optimistic about making one last trip in May to Hayward Field in Eugene.
'I'm looking forward to [the state meet] because I think I'll do a lot better this year than I have in the past,' she explained.
Markham is not yet sure in which events she will compete at state because she is adding a new one to her repertoire - the 800 meters. Markham set a school record (2:24) in the event last spring the first time she contested it.
One of her goals for the season is to run the event in a time of 2 minutes, 16 seconds, a mark that she said would secure her a roster spot on the track and field team at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah,, at which she plans to enroll in the fall.
She also has her sights set on breaking the school record of 59 seconds in the 400 - a mark set by Bennett two decades ago. The time has eluded Markham for three years: Her personal best is 1:00.10.
'I just can't give up on it now,' she said.
And as for Frank, he knows exactly what he wants for Markham this spring - one of the few other accomplishments she has yet to achieve.
'My hope for Jess is that she wins a state title this year,' Frank said. 'I think she has the talent to do that, and [it was] a lot frustrating for her that she didn't win last year because she deserved to. She really was the best low hurdler in the state.
'If I could grant a wish, that would be my wish. I want her to walk away with a state title.'