SHS Senior James Howell’s journey to stardom

From left to right, Jordan Klein, Donovan Smith, James Howell, and Josh Jaing.


From left to right, Jordan Klein, Donovan Smith, James Howell, and Josh Jaing.

Angeli Thompson, Editor-in-Chief

In third grade, while the majority of kids were playing with Barbie dolls and action figures, Solon High School (SHS) senior James Howell started his obsession with running. His interest sparked from tagging along with his sister, Olivia Howell, when she ran American University (AU) track to prepare her for the upcoming season. From then on, he started running AU track until he was in seventh grade. At this time, his sister made a name for herself, so James felt he could make a name for himself in the same sport.

The Howell family pictured from left to right, DJ Kee, Olivia Howell, Errick Howell, Marie Howell, David Howell and James Howell. (Errick Howell)

Running has been an interest shared throughout his family. James Howells’ older brother, David Howell ran track as well, and James Howell expressed how his older brother started the Howell siblings’ interest in running.

Being the father of all runners, James Howell’s dad, Errick Howell, has been there for him since he could remember.

“He would always teach us that we always have to think through everything, we shouldn’t accept basic truths,” James Howell said. “He would teach us to think for ourselves rather than relying on somebody else’s teachings. He would tell us to research things for ourselves and then go to him if we have a problem.”

James Howell picture with SHS’s track team. (Errick Howell)

Other than his immediate family, James Howell stated how his track teammates also feel like family.

“It’s basically a big friend group that’s able to compete with each other, go through a bunch of hard things together, and be with each other when things are going well,” James Howell said.

James Howell said how his family and friends are super important to him, so when he competed at states for cross country on Nov. 5, he claimed how it was good to see all his family and friends. Some family members he doesn’t get to see as often came to see him run at states, and he was grateful to have them watch.

James Howell crossing the finish line. (Olivia Howell)

“My sister who I’m not able to see as often was able to come down and see me race,” James Howell said. “It was a very fun experience, everything except for the race.”

James Howell stated that going to Columbus was fun because there aren’t many opportunities to run with so many fast runners and be able to stick with them. Although it was a good experience for him, he went on to say how he didn’t think he performed as well as he wanted to.

“I fell short by fifteen places,” James Howell said. “During the race I was in seventieth place, and I just remember thinking it’s my senior year, it’s my last state race for cross country, and I ended up passing thirty-six people in the last mile.”

Even though that was James Howell’s last cross country race in high school, he stated how happy he was with the end of his season. During the race he felt it was a good challenge for him to run with people who were just as good, if not better than he was, and being able to run with many of the same people as he has in the past.

“I did see some familiar faces that I’ve gone back and forth with throughout the season,” James Howell said. “And just seeing them all together at one place felt like I had that challenge. It definitely pushed me to do my best — especially in the last mile knowing that I could be in the front right now, this is not all I have. It really pushed me towards the end of the race.”

From left to right, Aiden Fitzgerald, James Howelland Charlie Kasper. Photo taken by family members.

SHS senior Aiden Fitzgerald said James Howell is one of the most talented runners he’s ever met.

“Once James goes to college, he’s gonna do something really special,” Fitzgerald said. “James has no limit on what he can do when it comes to running.”

SHS senior Morgan Blackford also sees big things for James Howell in the future.

“He could definitely run in college and be successful wherever he chooses,” Blackford said. “I’m just excited to see where he ends up going.”

However, things weren’t all going according to plan for the aspiring track star. In seventh grade, James Howell’s mother, Antoinette Howell, passed away. He said his mother’s passing left him in a bad head space.

James Howell and his mother, Antoinette Howell. Photo captured by Solon Music Parents.

“It was a hard place to be during that time,” James Howell said. “Even though my siblings went away [to college] they still reached out. My friends [were also] very welcoming, and the school was very accommodating to what I needed.”

Dealing with the death of a loved one or dealing with the stress of life can be a lot to handle. In order to cope with these stressors, James Howell uses running as a way to escape.

“During the pandemic when we were all locked in, I felt stressed,” James Howell said. “If I was overthinking about something I would just go for a light run. Also, with sports in general, I would just try to distract myself from anything bad I was feeling.”

He stated his family was also a big help in getting him through those tough times. He went on to say how he’s not one to express himself– he usually just keeps his feelings and emotions bottled up inside. His family helped him get those difficult emotions out and he was able to express himself effectively.

Pictured: Malakhi Sharply, Ava Zweig, Vishruth Vikram, Kate Rose, Nina Nasca, James Howell and Morgan Blackford. Taken by court family members.

With having trouble expressing emotions, James Howell also struggled with putting himself out there. This year, James Howell decided to run for homecoming court with Blackford. He said it was a new experience for him, especially after winning homecoming king.

“I wasn’t used to people shouting me out in the hallway, I was just used to saying hi to the [people I knew],” James Howell said. “In the beginning it kind of went to my head, and I started to get a little bit of an ego. But I’m glad I shut that off pretty quickly.”

Blackford, who ran for homecoming queen, expressed how it was fun running with James Howell for homecoming court.

“We have a lot of activities in common, which definitely helped us get votes,” Blackford said.

James Howell and Blackford both share their love for running and their love for band. Though both have explained how track and band can be difficult things to manage back-to-back, SHS band director Mark Mauldin understands the situation.

“Mr. Mauldin knows that running track is very important to me and [the] other runners that are also in band,” James Howell said. “So he understands that sometimes we might be a little bit late to an event or if we have state competitions, we might need to miss a game. We’re still held accountable for the game, but he doesn’t hold it against us.”

According to Blackford, organization is key to managing both track and band.

“It’s not that bad as long as you stay organized and have good time management,” Blackford said. “I think James and I are both pretty good at organization.”

Moments after finishing a race.
Pictured: Charlie Kasper, James Howell, Aiden Fitzgerald, Josh Jaing, Jack Behm and Edward Kasper.
(Edward Kasper)

Through James Howells entire journey, he expressed how this past cross country season for him was his greatest accomplishment.

“It’s very hard to improve as you get faster,” James Howell said. “And I felt like in the beginning of the season, I hit a point where I could improve by a lot and I ended up improving by a whole minute. So I was then able to reach a time where I was able to reach a roster spot in colleges, and I think that’s a big achievement.”

Going into his eighth grade year of middle school, James Howell learned a valuable life lesson.

“There are always people that [are] there to make sure you’re okay,” James Howell said. “There’s always people that care about you. Although you may not see it, they’re there trying to make sure you succeed.”