Editor's Note : The following is the ninth in a series highlighting the Top 10 local and area sports stories of 2009 as chosen by the staff of The Garden City Telegram. Today's story, No. 2, is about the Sublette boys track and field team winning state.
By KEVIN THOMPSON
When school let out for the summer, the boys of the Sublette track team still had some unfinished business to take care of before they started their vacation. And they earned that vacation.
The Larks captured their first-ever state track title at Cessna Stadium in Wichita, a feat good enough to earn them the No. 2 sports story of the year.
And they left no doubt as to who was the top team in Class 2A. With just two events left in the meet, they held a five-point lead. When it was over, they were winners by 26 points, 67-41 over Washington County.
And they did it with some flair.
Freshman Manny Acevedo upset the defending champion in the 200 by just .03 of a second with a dive at the finish line.
And then the 4x400 relay followed with a win of their own, putting the exclamation point on a great year.
Coach Steve Simpson, a 34-year veteran coach and in his sixth year at Sublette, gives the credit for the title to his athletes and assistant coaches.
"I'm very lucky in that I have great assistants and the best kids in the world," Simpson told the Telegram at the time of the win.
Besides the final relay, the 4x100 also took first, giving Sublette's relays a string of victories in state and establishing their prominence.
"We won the 4x100 three years running and the 4x400 two years in a row," Simpson said of his boys relay teams. "Everybody fought and worked hard for this. They had nothing left in the tank when they were done."
Senior Brett Holloway was second in the 400, senior Tyler Bruce was third in the triple jump, and senior Brice Peters won the javelin.
After the win, Bruce told the Telegram, "I don't think (winning) was in coach's mind at the start of the season, but it definitely was in mine and the other seniors. We knew we had the ability to do it if we performed to our potential."
"All the hard work during the season, injuries and otherwise, that was great to see," Simpson said. "I'm just so pleased for the kids. I've done this a long time and I hope that I'm a little smarter about how to get the most out of them. You never know what you'll get, but these kids have given everything they've had all year long."
Now, half a year later, Simpson hasn't lost that thrill.
"We're still excited," he said. "We're waiting for our banner to hang in the gym."
Track and field, he said, isn't a high profile sport, and the win happened after school was out.
"I'm not sure if everybody grasps the measure of exactly what it was. It's a big deal. It takes a lot of hard work, a lot of group effort to accomplish something like that, especially when you win it by 26 points. It meant a lot to the kids, it meant a lot to the parents, and it meant a lot to us coaches."
Peters' win was exciting because it happened on the final throw of his career.
Simpson said, "I talked to him right before that when he was a foot or two out of first. His junior year he got beat by six inches. I told him, 'You know, last year you got beat by' and I held my hands apart. 'Get it in the air, get a little more height, a little more elevation, and what happened to you last year don't let it happen again.' Right when he released it, I knew he had won it."
Within two or three minutes, Holloway got second in the 400. There was 18 points right there.
With the 11 points in the 200, they had the meet sewed up. Winning the final race, less than a second off the state record, was a nice way to finish, Simpson said, though he wished someone would have pushed his team to see if they could get the record.
When his team was standing on the medal stand receiving their title trophy, Simpson said, "I was just proud of them. Just proud of them for the work they put into it and how much they wanted to win the state in something. It took a team effort."
Simpson credits his athletes with the team's success. He just feels fortunate to have them on his team.
"Those kids worked awfully hard those two days. They worked really hard. When you have that many kids working that hard, we knew we had a chance of being pretty good," he said.
"I don't try to put too much pressure on our kids. I try to keep it a low profile and let them go out and let them do things. The better they got, the harder they worked. Some kids get so good they think they're good enough. Not these kids," he said.
Seniors played a big role in the team's success last year. Losing them is a big deal.
Holloway and Bruce are now students at Kansas State and Peters is in the army.
But others who were part of that team, including Brandon Webb, Mason Hibbard and Acevedo will be back.
"We have some underclassmen who could have run for any other teams in the state. They just didn't get to run with so many quality guys ahead of them," Simpson said.
He added, "I had a great group of kids who were willing to work and wanted to keep getting better. They make the workouts hard because they push themselves."
And Simpson's philosophy about a return trip to state?
"I just tell them, you work hard, get there, have some fun and whatever you do there, that's your reward," he said.