No matter how many years covering the PIAA Track & Field Championships, I never grow weary of talking with teen-aged athletes and seeing the thrill in their faces when they earn a medal. It’s a humbling, learning experience for me because it’s so genuine.
Obviously, there’s also disappointment and some tears, but generally it’s a proud, poignant moment for them, and a privilege for me to document their emotions.
Here’s a final 2017 sampling of sentiments from Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium:
• Dylan McDanel was part of Reynolds’ school record-setting 4x1 relay (44.42) for Coach John Bresnan. He was making his second trip to The Ship after he competed in the 4x4 relay and long jump last year.
“Well, I’m pretty proud of my team and how far we came along this year. I’m proud of them for makin’ states and takin’ sixth, but ... had a little mess-up there on the first exchange zone. But what’re you gonna do? Good year. We broke our record several times, and I’m happy for how our team did and happy to end my senior year like this.”
The Seth Grove Stadium spectacle?
“It’s just like every other track meet. It doesn’t really intimidate us,” McDanel said. “I felt a lot more confident. We had a nice fan section up there with our families and teammates. Felt good.
“I guess runnin’ against the state champs all year (Hickory’s 4x1) really did us some good. So congratulations to them; they earned it.”
McDanel will matriculate at Slippery Rock University where he will major in computer science and compete in indoor and outdoor track (4x1, 4x4 relays, long and triple jumps). He will continue to be teammates with Ryan McQuown, his football/basketball/track teammate for the past 4 years at Reynolds.
“We’re both gonna run track, so it should be fun,” forecasted McDanel, who earned a dozen letters during his scholastic athletic career, and said it was memorable.
“Except this year breaking my collarbone the first (football) game ... basketball, some ups and downs ... then track, sixth in the relay. Yeah, well ... not my expectations, but I’m happy, I’m content. I’m happy for my team and myself.”
“It’s tough. You don’t really get a break, one sport after the next after the next. Lot of work over the past four years, freshman up to my senior year, but I guess it paid off,” McDanel summarized.
• Lakeview junior Kendra Benton also was making her second appearance on the statewide stage. After competing in the high hurdles last year she earned 3 medals this year (high, intermediates, plus the 4x1 relay).
“Honestly” It was great! I broke my school’s record, that last race I got 15.2, so I broke it by a full tenth of a second. So I’m really happy about that. And I made finals, too, and that was a huge thing. Last year I missed it by just a little bit. But I got a nice medal this year and I’m just so happy with my time and my performance. Everything just came together, and I’m glad with the race I ran.
“Definitely!” she said of the benefit a having competed last year at state. “I knew what to expect, I knew what the crowd was gonna look like. I knew the atmosphere is so much different. I was still nervous in the semifinals ‘cause that’s where I messed up last year. But this year as soon as I got to the finals it was like, ‘I know I’m getting a medal, this is where I wanted to be; now just run for a medal, that’s it.’
“Hopefully, I’d love to move up on the medals stand (in 2018). Just gotta keep improving. I just thank God, honestly. He has gotten me so far.
Before every race I was prayin’: Calm my nerves, calm my nerves, and I felt a lot less nervous this year. It’s good to be back.
“Honestly? The crowd’s very intimidating. Running that home stretch, everyone’s leaning over screaming at you. But honestly, before I start I just take a huge, deep breath, send up a little prayer, and I’m like, ‘All right, I know what I’m doing, I know I can do it, I’ve done this hundreds of times before. It’s just putting it all together.”
• Hickory senior thrower Tyler Bishop placed 3rd in the shot put, and said, “I PR’d by about five inches (55-6 1/4), and it was just amazing to PR on my final meet in high school wearing ‘Hickory,’ especially alongside Evan (Blaire).
“Competing with one of the best throwers in the nation, it really pushes me every day to get better, especially when Coach (Keith) Woods can’t be there for me; (Blaire’s) always there. He’s amazing!”
Bishop stood 6th in the shot last and said regarding competing at state, “I definitely feel like it’s an experience you’ll never forget. It’s nerve-wracking at first, but once you get your first throw out of the way, then you feel like you can do anything. It’s amazing!
“I wasn’t ranked to take third, as it was, so it was a relief when I did, and PR’ing. I was hoping for a farther distance, but I think everyone is.”
Bishop will matriculate at Duquense University to major in biomedical engineering and compete in the throws, both indoors and outdoors, admitting, “I can’t wait.”
• After sweeping the shot put and discus gold medals, Blaire is bound for Auburn University to continue his education and throwing career, and said, “Our team at Auburn is really family-oriented, and I feel like they’ll have my back just like my brothers and sisters at Hickory.
“You know, there were some marks I wanted, like 70 (feet in the shot put) and 200 (in the discus). But, through everything, I’m just happy to have done what I’ve done.”
• Kennedy Catholic’s Channing Phillips, 2nd in the 200-meter dash, 3rd in the 400 and admitted, “I’m not happy. Thought I could do a little bit better, but it is what it is. It is good, but it’s not what I wanted. ... Way better than last year. Improved my times by a lot, but that’s about it.
“It was fun winning the basketball (PIAA Class 1A championship, both in 2016 and ‘17) with my team. Track ... it’s a good feeling, but I felt I could’ve done better.”
Phillips finished his senior year simultaneously competing in track & field and baseball, serving as an outfielder for the Golden Eagles’ diamondmen, who dropped the District 10 championship game to Jamestown on the same afternoon Phillips flew to his pair of medals.
“Couldn’t make it to all the games, but played in four or five games. The way it worked out, I didn’t have practice a couple days for track (for Coach Joann Sharper), so I just went to baseball; missed, maybe a couple track practices for baseball.
“Track? I don’t know. It’s close to basketball,” Phillips replied when asked to choose his favorite sport.
“Farrell’s Yasmine Harden, who finished 5th in the 100-meter dash (12.47), assessed, “I actually think I did well (Satur)day, comin’ from not a good seed (and lane 1). I really never like lane one, but it’s the lane I got, so I just had to try and push.
“Actually, felt good, ‘cause it’s actually my last year to come and and place at states again,” observed Harden.
• Wilmington junior jumper Jeremy Clark, stood 7th in both the long and triple in his initial PIAAs appearance for veteran Greyhounds’ headmaster J.R. McFarland.
“Pretty good. I didn’t get my best, I was like three inches under my best (43-10), but I’m still pretty happy that I placed.
“It’s pretty cool. There’s a lot of people here and a lot of pressure, but I like that and it really helps me out, so I enjoyed myself. It’s intimidating, but I block it out. I like that. Pretty pleased. I placed in both long and triple, so I’m pretty happy,” Clark concluded.
• Sharon’s Jordan Williams defended her 1600-meter Class AA crown in 4:59. She will attend Penn State University as a nutrition major and compete in cross country and indoor and outdoor track. Summarizing her scholastic career she said,
“Obviously, I had some higher hopes – maybe like a 4:50 mile. But this is what God’s plan was, this is what He wanted for me, and I can’t thank Him enough for everything He’s given me. And I have so many wonderful people in my life who have really gotten me to this point. I would not be here without them. I like to think I’m an independent person, but it really is the people around me who got me here. I’m really happy!”