After a very shortened season due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Arkansas Track Coaches Association (ATCA) recently released student-athlete award recipients, and a couple Benton Panthers earned honors. 

“These awards are typically celebrated and awarded to deserving high school athletes at our Arkansas Track and Field Hall of Fame Banquet in Little Rock during the month of June,” the ATCA said. “However, due to the pandemic, we have made many adjustments to our process. During this time of hardship, we wanted to give our high school athletes something positive about their track and field season, even though many schools didn’t have an opportunity to run any outdoor meets.”

Those Panthers honored were seniors Cade Clark, named to the All-Arkansas Track and Field Team as well as the All-Arkansas Academic Team, and Dylan Burnham, named 5A All-State. 

Clark, who also played in the secondary on the football team, did it on the track and the classroom as he broke the Benton school record in the 100-meter dash with a time of 10.5 seconds and also had a 4.0 GPA and 31 ACT. 

“I’ve been coaching Cade pretty much year-round for three years,” Benton track Head Coach Justin Ray, who is also the offensive coordinator for the football team, said. “He’s an incredible kid and a lot of that starts with his parents and how they’ve raised him. They’ve done a great job with Cade. His GPA is right around a 4.0 and his ACT was 31 maybe. He’s incredible in the classroom and that also assisted him in pretty much getting school paid for at the University of Arkansas.” 


Benton senior Cade Clark, right, competes at the Benton Panther Invite in early March. Clark was named to the ATCA Track and Field Team, as well as to the All-Arkansas Academic Team.

According to the ATCA, the criteria used for the academic team is students had to have a minimum 3.5 GPA and 25 ACT. Clark maintained that easily. 

“He’s also a kid that is pretty much the equivalent of his grades in the classroom … that’s how he attacks athletics as well,” Ray explained. “He’s consistent there with his work ethic and how he approaches life. He ran a 10.5 100 and has 4.0 GPA. That’s a rare combination. You don’t see that.”

The All-Arkansas Team was based on an athlete’s performance during the 2019-20 indoor season. 

“It’s been an honor to be around the kid,” Ray said of Clark. “I’ve probably learned more from him than he has me. He’s a generational talent. He’s not a kid that I’ll probably ever see again. I’ve been coaching for 10 years and the next 10 I probably won’t have a kid like Cade.”

Burnham ran a personal best 51.45 at the 2020 ATCA State Indoor Championships to earn 5A All-State. 

“Dylan is cut from the exact same cloth as Cade,” Ray said. “Dylan is probably a harder worker than Cade and Cade works his butt off. Dylan Burnham is a kid that has an incredible work ethic. He is not a talented kid as far as being physically gifted. Everything he’s ever gotten he’s worked for. 

“He wants to be a coach and will probably end up taking my job some day. He’s an incredible kid. The way he approaches and attacks his every day regimen is very unique and you don’t see it very often with a 16-, 17-year-old kid.”


While the ATCA mentioned some schools weren’t able to compete in any outdoor meets, the Panthers did get one under their belt, their host Benton Panther Invite to open the season finishing third, and woke up on Thursday, March 12, expecting to compete in their second that night.  

“We had our home meet and the next week we were supposed to be going to Joe T. Robinson,” Ray said of the Michael Tinsley Relays. “That Thursday is actually the day they sent everybody home. I actually had lunch duty that day and I was getting text messages from Robinson’s coaches. In the early morning they said they wanted to run it. And then the head coach said he thinks there’s somebody on their campus who goes to Pulaski Academy and was in a class with somebody who had contact with COVID-19. 

“About an hour later, about lunchtime, the governor contacted them and shut the track meet down and all sports activities down. Probably about 45 minutes later we all got text messages and emails in the school saying they’re about to restructure the schedule. You have about 45 minutes to meet with all your classes and figure out Google Classroom the next two weeks.

“Woke up that morning thinking everything was going to be great. The weather was looking pretty good, about to run a track meet, to not only was the track meet canceled, but school was canceled for the next two weeks.” 

The first shutdown was originally supposed to last until March 31, but with rising cases of COVID-19, the season was postponed to April 17, to May 31 and eventually canceled outright. Ray wasn’t satisfied with how he had to tell his athletes when the season was officially over. 

“It was kind of an unfortunate situation with the fact that I couldn’t really tell them,” he said. “I couldn’t have a face-to-face meeting with them. You couldn’t embrace, you couldn’t really talk about your feelings or anything like that. It was a very dry delivery of, “Season’s canceled.” You see it on social media or you see it in a text message. We weren’t provided the opportunity to sit down and talk to them like a human being. That was the most unfortunate with what happened.”

And Ray had big aspirations for this season which was cut short way too soon.  

“We were a very talented team,” he said. “We were just scratching the surface with what we were going to be able to do. I don’t know if a state championship was going to be in the cards for us because Vilonia was extremely talented and very good, but we could have had a shot of state runner-up and conference title.”

The Panthers said goodbye to 13 seniors, including Clark and Burnham, and also Brett Barbaree, Mark Brand, Caleb Coffman, Kobe Gosvener, Coleman Harris, Carter Hutchinson, Austin Jones, Drew Kelley, Brendan Redmond, Jonathon Sadler, Nicholas Sample and Hunter Taylor.  


Though the spring sports season was lost to the pandemic, Benton, other Saline County schools and those across the state will be able have a limited return on Monday, June 1, for Phase 1 of the Return of Team Sports directive. 

“We’ve been meeting getting a game plan together making sure we’re going to be following the guidelines set forth by the state department,” Ray said of football team’s workouts. “It’s going to look a lot different from a normal strength and conditioning session, but we’re going to make it work.”

Though the sport is reliant on a ball, there will be none during Phase 1.  

“We can’t have any implements or anything because multiple kids would have to touch a football, whether we hand it off or throw it,” Ray said. “We can’t do any kind of skills and drills right now. Anything with a football is prohibited.”

Ray did get into a little detail on what the Panthers will be working on when they return on Monday.  

“The guidelines are if you’re working out, doing a physical activity, it’s 12 feet apart,” he said. “If they’re not, it’s 6 feet but you have to have a mask on. Before the kids can even enter into the facility, you have to take their temperature and ask them a series of questions. We do that with everybody that comes in and we (coaches) have to do that as well. Right now we’re trying to figure out the spacing and making sure we have a policy and procedure in place for sanitation and making sure kids aren’t coming in contact. It’s going to be a challenge.”

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