Berry brothers celebrate success

by Mark Oliver

From the moment they were born, Jacob and Jackson Berry have been competitors. Born fraternal twins just one minute apart, they have competed together in nearly every sport — from baseball and basketball to track and field — and have made a name for themselves at Vilonia High School.

“We’ve both been playing sports together since we were very young,” Jacob said. “Our dad and our grandfather played sports, so we were destined to follow in their footsteps. No matter which sport we were playing, we both worked hard to be successful and motivate one another. We always had each other’s backs and if we didn’t agree on something, we’d talk through it together.”

As one could imagine, the twins share various similarities — the same height, versatility in positions and the drive to compete. However, it was one brother’s desire to be different that ultimately brought them even closer through sports.

“Jackson and I have always gotten along pretty well,” Jacob said. “On the baseball diamond, I would pitch while he played shortstop, and on the basketball court, we both could play any position on the floor. However, there was definitely competition between us. We were always competing against one another to make ourselves better, and it made sports even more fun for us.”

“One year, I stopped playing baseball to focus more on track,” Jackson said. “Juggling offseason basketball, baseball and track, I decided that it was all too much for me — so I decided to give up baseball for track.”

“In ninth and 10th grade, Jackson did his own thing with track,” Jacob added. “He was really good, too. I watched his team win back-to-back state championships, and I decided I wanted a chance to win a ring, too. I told Coach (Michael) Stout that I was interested in joining the team, and it was well worth it.”

Together, the brothers made a quick impact on the program, using their natural chemistry to excel in relay races and lead Vilonia to consecutive 5A West conference championships and state tournament appearances.

“As juniors, we both received all-conference and all-state honors,” Jacob said. “We also qualified for the Meet of Champs — me in the 4x400m relay and Jackson in the 4x800m, the 800m and the 4x400m relay. Jackson and I also came very close to breaking the school record in the 4x400m relay in the Class 5A state tournament.”

Missing out on both the school record and the state championship their junior year left the twins hungry for more. As seniors, the Berry brothers made a commitment to etch their names into Vilonia High School lore.   

“This year, our goal was to take that one step further and break the school record in the 4x400m relay,” Jacob said. “We ran hard all year long. During our conference tournament, we came close to breaking it, but fell short yet again. We were beginning to wonder if it was ever going to happen.”

With their final season nearing its end, the brothers had one last shot at making school history, and they’d have to do it on the state’s biggest stage — the Class 5A state tournament.

“The 4x400m relay was the final event of the state tournament,” Jacob said. “From our scores in the previous events of the day, we knew that we were going to fall short of winning the overall state title, but we knew that we still had a shot at breaking the record. Before the race, Coach Stout came up to the seniors and told us that it would be our final race together — the last time we’d run for Vilonia — and to make it count.”

Though the stakes were high for the Eagles, the odds were against them. Fatigued from the tournament’s previous events, Jackson battled illness, and the boys’ attempt at history was in jeopardy.

“After I ran my leg of the 4x800m earlier in the day, I started feeling sick,” Jackson said. “I was so worn out that I couldn’t do the hand off in the 4x100m relay. Throughout the tournament, I was vomiting in between races and I didn’t know if I had it in me to continue. I knew how important that last race was to all of us. I just told myself that I had to keep pushing through it and never give up.”

With a time of 3:25.58, not only did Vilonia win the event for the second consecutive year, but the Eagles bested the school record by 1.29 seconds.  

“We did it,” Jacob said. “We finally did it. Last year, we missed out on the record by just 0.02 seconds. This year, we crushed it. It’s a race that the two of us will always remember.”

“Our assistant coach doesn’t think it will be beaten anytime soon, either,” Jackson added.

In addition to the record, the brothers accumulated even more awards in 2016. Jacob was named the High Point Winner for the 5A West conference, while both brothers earned all-conference and all-state honors and qualified for the Meet of Champs.

“The track program wouldn’t be anything without Coach Stout,” Jackson said. “He cares more about his athletes than any coach I’ve ever known. Track isn’t the most fun sport, but he motivates you to make you enjoy it. If it weren’t for him, we probably wouldn’t have ever given it a chance.”

Though the brothers have run their final race together, the Berry legacy is far from over at Vilonia High School.

“Our little brother, Luke, is a freshman,” Jacob said. “This year, he moved up to compete with the high school team and he finished ninth in the open 800m with Jackson. With our age difference, we never had many opportunities to run together at school, but it was really cool to see them compete together. Over the next few years, we’ll be at every track meet, watching him and helping him. We want to see him be successful, and he certainly has what it takes to do so. He has a bright future ahead of him.”

The future is also bright for recently-graduated Jacob and Jackson, who plan to pursue degrees in accounting and history, respectively, at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.

“Now that sports are over for us, I look back and I’m glad that I had the opportunity to play alongside my brother,” Jacob said. “Sports brought us closer together, and we knew each other better than anyone else on the teams we played on. I wouldn’t change a thing.”