PORTSMOUTH — For Scioto County’s returning state track and field meet qualifiers, their season — IF they have one — will indeed be abbreviated.
And, unfortunately, they won’t be returning to compete inside spectacular Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium in Columbus for this year — as athletic facilities at Ohio State University are unavailable this June.
However, if you poll those same state qualifiers, they will tell you that some season is better than none at all —despite differences in meet sizes, scheduling, season-shortening and venues.
So until they are informed otherwise, it’s a season they continue to train for on their own with the ultimate goal of returning to the state meet, no matter when — or even officially where — it takes place.
Last week, the Ohio High School Athletic Association announced — assuming Ohio’s schools return to in-person session on May 4 — tentative spring sports season schedules, including one for track and field.
It at least provided a continued glimmer of hope and uplifted some spirits for student-athletes and coaches, as several states surrounding Ohio have already officially declared their spring sports seasons as canceled — due to the threat of the coronavirus.
However, the Buckeye State could meet the same fate at any point between now and May 1, as Ohio’s schools-closure mandate —which was extended to that date by Governor Mike DeWine on March 30 — goes hand-in-hand with what the OHSAA ultimately decides to do.
Should schools remain closed for the remainder of the academic year, then spring sports will in fact get canceled as well.
It hasn’t been easy for Scioto County’s coaches and student-athletes, but they are pressing on as IF A season will happen.
“It is tough not having a track season so far, but luckily we have some hope with the governor’s optimism and the posting of the possible track schedule,” said Northwest assistant coach Adam Schroeder, who specializes with the squad’s distance runners. “It is especially tough knowing we have some of the best runners in the state, and they might not get the chance to race their way through tournaments and get a chance at a state title. Our boys 4x800m placed seventh and they were all-Ohio last year.”
“I try to be optimistic with this whole situation, so when it was delayed and not canceled I was trying to be positive,” said Wheelersburg junior Lauren Jolly, a member of the Lady Pirates’ returning state sprint relay teams. “I wanted to cheer up the seniors, because they possibly could not have a senior season. It was great luck that it was not canceled and we can still hold on to a little bit of hope.”
That hope, of course, hinges upon the aforementioned May 4 return date.
All track and field teams and individual athletes must go through a one week re-acclimation period from Monday, May 4 thru Friday, May 8, as regular-season competition is scheduled to begin on Saturday, May 9.
The annual Southeast District meets run from June 9 thru June 13, the regional meets take place from June 17 thru June 20, and finally the state tournament will be held on Friday, June 26 and Saturday, June 27.
For the 17 Southern Ohio Conference programs, and per Northwest Athletic Director and track and field coach Dave Frantz, the annual two-day SOC meet is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, June 2 and Thursday, June 4 at Northwest.
Regular-season meets may be scheduled up until and including June 27 — as the OHSAA has assigned that date when its track and field season shall officially be deemed done.
As for the OHSAA’s state meet, it is being divided into three separate sites —subject to change — per division.
The Division II state meet is set for Pickerington North High School, while Division III is bound for Westerville North.
The top Scioto County qualifier returning is Northwest sophomore Haidyn Wamsley, who was a double eventer in the girls high jump and 100m hurdles.
In fact, Wamsley was the state runner-up in the high jump, clearing a height of five-feet and five-inches — and finishing only behind state champion Peyton Bloomer of Oak Harbor.
Bloomer’s best height was also 5-5, but won the tiebreaker with Wamsley thanks to one fewer miss.
Wamsley said, since student-athletes are unable to practice at their school’s facilities during the OHSAA’s mandatory no-contact period, she hasn’t practiced the high jump much —without the necessary bar and mat for the event.
She has, however, been working on her hurdles races, working out in a field behind her home.
Wamsley was a state semifinalist in the low hurdles, but did not qualify for the finals.
“I am working out and keeping on running and practicing with old hurdles. The field is marked up. I’ve been working on those out there. It’s rough running on the terrain, but at least I can practice on them. Since we’ve been away from school, I haven’t done the high jump much,” she said. “I learned last year that although I was really nervous for it (state meet) since it was my first time there, and that the number of people watching might seem overwhelming, I knew I could compete with all the girls there. Hopefully, we have an abbreviated season. At the time, I was disappointed that the season didn’t start on time, but I’ve been preparing as if we will still have one and I hope it happens.”
So too does Portsmouth senior Eugene Johnson, who competed in last season’s Division II boys 400m dash.
“Last year was a learning experience. It was my first time there. I knew that day after my race I wanted to come back to state for my senior year. When I first found out that the season was postponed, it was heartbreaking and it hurt a lot. But last week when I saw they posted a schedule, it meant a lot that they are trying hard for us to have one (season). I know I want to go back to state and I want to run in college,” he said. “I’m a senior, so it is really important to me.”
Johnson, in addition to the 400, also competes in the 100m and 200m dashes and the 4x100m and 4x200m relays.
He said he has been practicing on the track inside historic Spartan Stadium in Portsmouth, running his one-lap 40om dashes and sprints there.
He hasn’t been able to practice relays with his Trojan teammates, as neither have Northwest’s distance relay boys or Wheelersburg’s sprint relay girls.
Three of the Mohawk men have already raced at the state meet twice in the Division II 4x800m relay, as Gabe Morrell, Josh Shope and Landen Smith are all returning juniors.
That trio went from freshmen finishing last to all-Ohio honorees as sophomores, taking seventh-place as senior Chase McClay made up the other leg.
“The group barely qualified for the state meet as freshmen. We told them to enjoy the experience and soak up as much as they could. They did, but they finished in dead last, and they were putting hurdles on the track as Gabe Morrell was finishing the race,” said Schroeder. “That race really helped motivate them to work hard enough so that never happens again. This spring, they have impressed me so far. They have sent me their runs and they have stepped up their mileage since they don’t have the chance to get on the track and work on their speed. We are working on base mileage and strength, so that when we get the chance to get on the track, we can get after it. One of the hardest parts is that they do not have their teammates there to push them when they have to do workouts.”
Morrell, Shope, Smith and fellow junior Ricky Gambill made up the Mohawks’ indoor 4x800m unit, which finished sixth and earned all-Ohio accolades.
Schroeder said Gambill is the front-runner to fill that fourth spot on the outdoor relay, but “as coaches we have told the athletes that no spot is safe.”
“We want the best team on the track when it matters. That competition and knowing that people are gunning for your spot helps push everyone to the next level,” said the coach.
Jolly is a two-time Division III state qualifier as a member of the Lady Pirates’ 4x100m relay, as are senior teammates Gabby Deacon and Lani Irwin.
Two years ago, Deacon (first leg), Jolly (second leg), Irwin (third leg) and anchor leg Libby Miller made the finals and finished eighth — earning all-Ohio honors and a single team point for the Lady Pirates in the process.
Last season, the exact same quartet qualified again in the 4x100m — as Miller was a senior and again the anchor leg.
Jolly — along with Miller, third-leg Irwin and then-junior second-leg Alyssa Dingus —also punched a state ticket in the 4x200m relay, as that foursome finished ninth after qualifying for Saturday’s finals.
Jolly said the two state experiences only add to the eagerness to make two more.
“That first time was a very exciting experience for me because the state meet had a whole other level of atmosphere. That meet made me want to work hard so I can get back there in the future. Then making it to state in two events was a great experience that I will always remember,” she said. “Gabby (Deacon), Lani (Irwin) and Alyssa (Dingus) are all returning seniors this year. All three girls have made the biggest impact on my high school career. They bring so much light and joy into the practices and the meets. I would not want to have ran with anyone else except for them.”
Hopefully, she gets the chance to do that for her junior season —and Deacon’s, Dingus’ and Irwin’s senior campaigns.
And, running at Westerville North will be better than not running at all.
“My teammates and I have not had a chance at all to practice handoffs. We do not know our timing or the order of the relays either. With that being said, when we are allowed to get back together, we will work harder than ever to get everything back to normal. Each of us individually has been doing workouts on our own to stay in shape and to continue to get better,” said Jolly. “Running at Jesse Owens Stadium is a feeling like no other. Picture this: you’re surrounded by an enormous amount of talented kids. In the stands, every single seat is taken and the crowd just goes crazy. That is what it’s like at Jesse Owens. I do not know what it will be like at the new site; however, running at a new site will be so much better than not having a season at all. A season is compiled of many practices, many small meets, a lot of the invitationals, districts, regionals and state. Being a part of a track season will be a lot better even if we do have to run at a new location. I have been so lucky to be able to run at Jesse Owens Stadium, but if I have to run somewhere else, that is perfectly fine with me.”
“The kids love racing at Jesse Owens and it is a shame the state meet will not be held there this year, but under the circumstances, they would race the state meet anywhere and be happy,” he said. “It is more important to make sure that we work hard now so we can have that opportunity to qualify for it later.”
Also qualifying last season and set to return this spring is Valley senior Jacob Brickey, who placed seventh and earned all-Ohio in the Division III boys shot put as a junior.
He set a personal record with a throw of 53-feet and seven inches in landing regional runner-up, then fired a 52-foot eight-and-a-half inch heave for seventh-place in his first state appearance.
Hopefully, he and the other returning Scioto County qualifiers will have another state meet — even after it follows an abbreviated, FOR NOW, season.
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved