MARSHALL: State track and field: The rite of spring
The last weekend of May, well at least the Friday and Saturday, has been reserved for the final sports event of the school calendar year for Kansas high schools.
This year, softball and baseball concluded on Friday, also reserved for the first day of the 103rd Kansas State Track and Field Championships at Wichita State University's Cessna Stadium.
In addition to the final day of the track and field extravaganza, girls soccer finals were played on Saturday as well, thus bringing the curtain down on a spring season that was fraught with some of the worst, weirdest and downright miserable weather conditions athletes, coaches, fans, and yes, sports writers, could ever imagine, or remember.
Two days of quite comfortable temperatures, mid to upper 70s on Friday with some cloud cover, and temperatures in the low to mid 80s on Saturday with a southerly wind of about 15 mph, kept humidity low and athletes not trying to find the nearest water station to stay hydrated.
I've always wondered what makes the state track meet so special, and I suppose that you could find innumerable things to identify it as such.
First is the fact that the Kansas State High School Activities Association, which normally enjoys spreading the wealth and locations around for other team sports, chooses to have all six of its classes in one location for the state track event.
What better way to showcase your track and field athletes then to allow fans across the state one venue to see the best of the best from the tiny schools of Class 1A to the mega-size schools of Class 6A.
Somebody asked me down on the infield on Saturday at Cessna Stadium why I enjoyed the meet so much.
In track and field, the winners are immediately measurable. The fastest time wins. The highest vault takes first. The longest long or triple jump brings home a gold. The farthest discus, shot put and javelin throws are noted and the winners rewarded.
This most recent state meet will have its share of memories for southwest Kansas — Garden City's Jonathan DuVall's blistering 13.89 in the 6A boys 110-meter high hurdles ranks among the top 10 times in the country this year for preps. Tate Annis fulfilled the promise of his high school career with two golds, as did Hugoton's Nicole Kinser, Stanton County's Mauri Steimel and Scott City's Kelly Wycoff, each with a pair of gold medals.
There was the Garden City girls 4x800-meter relay team, capping off an unbeaten season and running the fastest time in the state (9:35.41) and watching the sheer joy on the faces of the four underclassmen — Alex Miller, Neysa Harman, and Katy and Kayla Doll. One would be hard-pressed to find a more committed group of runners.
Then there was the surprise of the Lady Indians of Satanta, who with two freshman twin sisters, a junior and a senior, crashed the 4x400-meter relay party and took home gold. It is believed to be the first state relay title since 1986 for the girls team. It's refreshing to see athletes smile upon completion of a race, as opposed to the angry faces you usually see at the professional level. Countless others also excelled.
We bid farewell to a strong group of seniors — notably DuVall, Annis, Kinser, Steimel, and a special note about Paige Wells of Leoti-Wichita County.
I thought back to the 2012 state track meet when Wells was nursing two badly damaged legs due to compartment syndrome. She courageously ran the 1,600 and 800, coming up just .05 of a second shy of Jenna Farris of Lincoln in the 1,600. It was heartbreaking to see that narrow loss. Less than a week after, she underwent surgery on both legs, rehabbed throughout the summer and early fall and came back to run the final few events of the 2012 cross country season where she placed 10th at the state meet.
Training over the winter months and preparing for her final track season, Wells, who will compete for Wichita State next fall, was in pursuit of her first gold medal in Wichita this past weekend. The fickle finger of fate seemed to appear at the most inopportune times for Wells, and Saturday was no different. This time, it was Lauren Harrell of Maranatha Academy, who leaned at the last step of the race to slip by Wells in the 1,600, winning by a sliver of .03 of a second. If heartbreak was the 2012 experience, shock and tears were the experience of 2013.
Despite that stunning setback, Wells regrouped one final time, running the 800 and placing fifth just a couple of hours later in the afternoon. She finished her prep career with 11 medals at the state track and four in cross country. She holds school marks in the 1,600 and 3,200-meters, as well as cross country.
On Sunday night, I called her distance coach, Shad Mehl, to inquire about the number of medals she had won during her career. During the conversation, he revealed that upon the team's return to Leoti, they decided to take Wells to the local hospital as she had been suffering flu-like symptoms throughout the week. Instead, they found that was suffering from mononucleosis. Imagine that, running a near-record 3,200-meters on Friday night and then another near-record 1,600 on Saturday afternoon and a medal-winning effort in the 800 and battling mono at the same time.
That perhaps is the most courageous and inspiring story that I will take from the 2013 state track meet.
Paige Wells is a champion and has the heart of one. She might not have a gold medal, but she's got a heart of gold.
I've always believed that young athletes, as long as they go and compete and give their best effort, that there's no reason for sadness or second-guessing. Paige Wells just demonstrated a great lesson in that ethic.
Sports Editor Brett Marshall can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org
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