By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
WEST MIDDLESEX High always has had a proud athletic heritage, and this past weekend’s PIAA Class AA Track & Field championship will only add lustre to that legacy.
According to available archives at The Herald, only the 1954 boys’ basketball team and Coach Bob Morris’ boys’ cross country team from earlier this decade previously had won commonwealth crowns.
“This is huge!” gold medal-winning pole-vaulter Luke Patten pronounced. “Really, for West Middlesex, this is one of the biggest things to happen to the athletic program. ... It’s one of the biggest things I’ve ever been a part of.”
Clay Allen annexed 3 individual gold medals and he, Patten, Jeremy Jancso and Sebastian Grasso formed the Big Reds’ 4x1 gold medal-winning relay foursome.
“It’s just a dream come true,” Allen admitted, adding, “I’m so proud of everybody on my team. We all came together and got it done.”
A son of Glen and Lori Allen, he admitted, “They’re probably more excited than I am right now; it’ll probably hit me later.”
Allen also was running for his grandmother Darlene Allen, who has had several bouts with cancer.
“She couldn’t really get to a lot of my meets this year, so when she comes, I’ve gotta bust it out and do the best I can for her,” Allen explained, adding, “She probably my number one fan. She comes to everything and videotapes.”
“It feels amazing!” echoed Jancso, who also finished 5th in the long jump. “I’ve been waiting four years and three sports for it, and we finally got it. ... It’s so exciting, especially for a little, small town like us; we graduate about 80 kids a year. To come up and win the double-A trophy is real nice.”
“It’s a great feeling for the team. I know Coach ‘Pick’ (Ed Pikna) wanted it badly, and this definitely makes up for not winning D-10, we came up just short, but it’s a great feeling,” said Grasso.
“It’s just now starting to settle it; it doesn’t seem real,” related Trevor Harrison, who placed 3rd in the shot put. “There’s really a lot of time that goes into all that from the coaches and kids. ... The coaches made that happen.
“To stand up (before a welcome home gathering) and see all the Big Red fans ... it’s a feeling, you know what I mean? Harrison rhetorically asked.
Pikna completed his 23rd season with West Middlesex’s track program. He could not recall another Mercer County athlete who fared as well as Allen this past weekend.
“Unbelievable! He deserves that trophy more than any of us,” Pikna said, noting former Big Reds’ standout Ben Steingrabe won a 110-meter high hurdles gold medal in 1999 and also added silver and bronze medals, and former standout sprinter Jenny Kerins also etched her name in school annals.
“I’d be remiss if I didn’t say something about these assistant coaches,” Pikna continued, citing Alan Hough, Kelly Hoffman, Wayne Gill, Tim Tyillian, and Jim Howe. “We put in countless hours. We ran a full winter program the last two, three years with these kids. We were at YSU two nights a week; five Saturdays at Edinboro for winter meets. We put a lot of miles on our cars and the school district buses. The school’s been very supportive of us,
“But these guys are just absolutely unbelievable with the work that they’ve done,” Pikna praised. “Kelly has just taken the bull by the horns in the relays and the sprints and the starts. She’s just had a tremendous impact on these kids, and done a fantastic job for us this year.
“And we had great support. These fans are just unbelievable!” Pikna added. “The parents — they deserve the trophy as much as the kids ... and way more than the coaches, I think.”
This year’s charismatic West Middlesex senior class included numerous multi-sport athletes.
“We have a lot of athletes,” Jancso noted, “especially like Luke Patten in football and track ... Austin Mirizio, I know he’s going to play football in college ... and we’ve got Clay, he’s going (to college) for track, and so am I (Kent State University).
“I like every sport and I didn’t want to give up on any, like a lot of people do (who) try to focus on one. I like to stick it out, and it’s been well worth it,” added Jancso, who up until age 14 was regarded as a pretty fair pitching prospect.
Echoed Grasso, “This (senior) class is definitely athletic in all sports. Hopefully, the track team stays good; I don’t think it’ll just go to waste after us. Hopefully the younger kids see that, and they put in the work, too, and help that tradition keep going, you know?”
“The boys basketball team, the football team (of which he was a part) ... everybody, as a whole in my grade, we’re all tough as nails when comes to sports,” Harrison observed, citing throwers Rachel DeMaria and Sarah Lucich. “It really shows everybody was pulling through in my class.”
Harrison will matriculate to Muskingum University, possibly to major in criminal justice and compete in football and as a track & field thrower. He said,
“(The state championship) is really gonna leave a mark in the history of West Middlesex for kids coming up through the high school now. And there’s been more people who came out to watch us play.”
“Our parents back us a lot, and they want us to do well,” Grasso related. “We all knew coming in here we had a good chance to win. It was on our minds, but we didn’t talk about it; we just came in here, did what we were supposed to do, and it worked out great.”
Pikna praised District 10, specifically citing Mercer County, for molding Middlesex into the Keystone State kingpin.
“The caliber of competition — not just in District 10 — but Mercer County ... won a lot of medals, we had a fantastic weekend down here,” Pikna pointed out. “You score in District 10, you qualify (for state), you’ve got a good shot at coming down here and winning a medal
“Track in Mercer County ... the competition is as good as it gets anywhere in the state,” he added.
But for this year the PIAA pedestal is planted in West Middlesex.
“Hopefully, we’ll be remembered forever,” Patten pronounced. “We took five gold medals, and that’s something that’s never even been thought of. A state champoinshiop for the team ... I guess we’re just role-models for everybody else who’s younger than us and who will look upon us. Hopefully we’ve just created the best legacy we ever could.”
Ed Farrell is assistant sports editor for The Herald