Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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April 25, 2013

Athletes on track

Area track athletes work to achieve recognition of their own

GARDNER — Track meets seem to be a rarity in the area, at least on the West Virginia side of the state line.

There is a reason for that.

“We are one of the only schools between Summers, Wyoming and Monroe counties that is even capable of hosting a track meet because of all the equipment that is needed,” PikeView track coach Angie Hill said.

That track and the equipment was put to the test on Tuesday evening when PikeView hosted a six-team track meet that also included Bluefield, James Monroe, Wyoming East, Westside and Liberty, with all but possibly Liberty unable to host their own meet.

There are many reasons for it, but primary among those is cost.

“The equipment for track is so expensive when you start talking about $10,000 for a pole vault pit, $6,000 for a high jump pit, it is very expensive to be able to host a meet,” Hill said. “At some point I think every school would love to be able to host their own track meet, but it is just a matter of funding to be able to equip a full meet.”

At least PikeView has a track that can handle what is usually one meet a year. Hill credits 40-year PikeView coaching veteran Paul Hodges with helping secure the funding necessary to purchase the needed equipment.

“It is quite an undertaking to put on a track meet, but we try really hard to make sure every year that we do one at home for the kids so they can run in front of their families and their friends and get an opportunity to get some of that glory that so many of the other sports get,” Hill said. “It would be fantastic to have a lot of local teams and be able to host a meet.

“We could run one or two local meets weekly and save the weekends and go to the big ones in Charleston or something, but at this point it is just not possible to do something like that.”

James Monroe has had a track team since 2002, but hasn’t had an actual meet. Richard Franklin, who has coached the Mavericks for all but one season over the last decade, has managed to make do with what he has.

“We have a track, but it is an asphalt track with grass growing up through the middle and no lanes marked on it so it is asphalt, it is a place to run, but that is about it,” Franklin said.

Despite the lack of facilities, the Mavericks were represented by nearly two dozen athletes on Tuesday at PikeView, and fared well, winning 10 individual and relay events.

“We make some measurements and we let them compete with each other,” Franklin said. “We have 100 meters marked off, we don’t have enough hurdles to really run a full event so they will run like a half a race with each other.”

They have managed to secure one individual champion. Franklin’s son, Tyler, who won the high jump state title in 2009. Tyler was on the track team at Concord before suffering a knee injury.

“We had somewhat of a mat, it was a Styrofoam pad stacked up on top of each other, and we had it wrapped together in canvas,” Tyler Franklin said. “All the way until my senior year we did not have a high jump mat.

“We finally got a high jump mat halfway through my senior year, but before all I could do was the scissors kick because landing my back on that mat was a little rough.”

Even though Tyler Franklin is the lone state champion at James Monroe, both father and son think that drought could end soon.

“He is the only one to win a state championship so far, but we are expecting more,” Richard Franklin said.

“We have a few people that might be able to go to states this year and have a good chance to place and maybe get a first place,” said Tyler, who holds ‘3 or 4’ track records for the Mavericks. “A lot of guys, they just kind of go after the records that I have at our school, it motivates them.”

There was plenty of motivation on Tuesday,  as athletes from four counties and six schools competed, with the Panthers claiming the boys and girls team titles, while Katelyn Odle and Jason Weitzel took home top individual honors.

“It is fun just comparing yourself athletically to other athletes in the area,” PikeView senior Laura Hill said. “Not only is it an individual sport, but you also have to rely on your teammates in relays and overall to get points to hopefully win the meet. I like that aspect of it.”

The Panthers were just happy to be able to host a track meet, compete in front of their family and friends, and get home before midnight for a change.

“It is nice to be home and not have to get in late,” PikeView senior shot put and discus standout Jasmine Johnson said, “and just everyone from your school can finally see what you do instead of hearing about it in the announcements.”

“It is nice. We are always out until 12 o’clock getting home from meets,” added Laura Hill. “If we are here, we don’t have to go away. It is fun to have the support from your classmates to come and support you.”

Track and field, at least in this area, doesn’t seem to garner a lot of attention from media or the casual fan, but that isn’t what drives such athletes as Jason Weitzel, who won the 1,600 and 3,200 meters on Tuesday, and found time in between to practice basketball with his AAU team in the nearby gymnasium.

“It is hard, but it is rewarding when you finally get done with a race and you can just be proud of yourself,” Weitzel said.

A track meet can take a while. There were 20 events held on Tuesday, including field and running events, for both boys and girls.

 It can take upwards of four or even five hours to complete, which might explain why it doesn’t get the attention it probably deserves.

“Track is one of those sports where it really doesn’t get a lot of the glory, there are not a lot of home meets for kids to get interested in coming and watching,” Angie Hill said. “A lot of athletes from other sports tend to run to track, some of it just to keep in conditioning and keeping themselves in shape.”

Hill and fellow PikeView track coach Ron Walton was pleased with the effort of the Panthers, who have one of  the more established track and cross country teams in the region.

“Both teams did a fantastic job, they came out here and did everything we asked of them today,” Angie Hill said. “We ran well, several kids hit personal records today, we couldn’t have asked them to do much more.”

Many of these athletes are involved in one, two or even three other sports, but track participants are loyal to the task at hand.

“Only a handful of kids are track-only athletes so they are able to pull other kids from other sports into coming and cheering them on...,” Angie Hill said. “It is not quite as big as you would hope for it to be, they work hard and they enjoy getting the recognition from it.”

All this work, all the miles spent running or jumping or throwing is meant to help them compete for a championship at the regional and then state level.

PikeView has three meets remaining, including the Coalfield Conference next week, followed by the Region III meet on May 10. That will be followed the next weekend by the state meet, also at Charleston’s Laidley Field.

These Panthers are thinking big as the season approaches its climax.

“I am expecting greatness, I have got a lot of kids that are improving every meet so I am thinking we might be able to make some noise this year,” Walton said. “(We have to) get them prepared for the regionals so we can make a lot more noise than what we have been doing when we get to state and hopefully win us a state championship.”

State championships have been rare, at least in recent years among area track teams, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen,

Every athlete has a right to dream.

PikeView sophomore Tanner Alvarez needs to add six inches to his pole vault effort from Tuesday to qualify for the state meet, and isn’t shy about expressing his ultimate goal.

“I am hoping maybe I can get one of those nice state championship rings, that would be cool,” said Alvarez, whose teammate, Charlotte Webster, set a school record for girls pole vault on Tuesday.

Alvarez has run into equipment problems of his own in his chosen event. Few schools actually have a pole vault pit, and not all are as sturdy as what PikeView has, as he found last week during a meet at Greenbrier East.

“A lot of the schools don’t have the equipment for it, they don’t hold it, so last week was my first meet doing it and I didn’t get a height,” Alvarez said. “Their pole vault track is curved and it is pretty much grass with carpet rolled on top of it where they don’t have that much money.

“That will take a lot of bounce out of your footing and here it is a lot easier where it is concrete, even the coach said himself he doesn’t even like it.”

Track athletes are also an independent type. Many have to be, since much of the training is done on their own with their own motivation to compete, and attain a personal record in their chosen event.

“They’re dedicated. If you have any idea what it is like to handle 20 kids at one time, but they come out and they drive themselves,” James Franklin said. “They jump in, they practice, they compete against each other and I am always pleased from what I see out of them.”

PikeView, which also has a strong middle school track program, has had success in the past at the state level, and the Panthers are hoping to continue that in May.

“Hopefully, that is a plan,” Laura Hill said. “We definitely have a good solid team with a lot of girls that could go upstate. Our goal as a team is to win the region this year and I think we have a good shot at it.”

So does Hill’s mother, who happens to be her track coach. Her father, Sam, was Hill’s coach with the PikeView soccer team.

“Last year we had such a young team and we were small in numbers so we didn’t really have a lot of kids qualify for states,” said Angie Hill, who has one relay team and four individuals ranked in the top 10 in the state. “This year we have got a solid group of seniors for boys and girls and we have got an amazing number of young kids that have come in and they are doing a fantastic job.”

The task at hand now is to get as many kids to Charleston as possible, and then make some noise.

“The goal is to get there for sure, and not just to get there, but to score points upstate as well,” Angie Hill said. “We have a handful of boys and girls that I am looking at that can potentially score some points at state this year.”

If anyone knows what it feels like to be a state champion, it is Bluefield senior Brandon Eldridge, who won a state wrestling title in February. He knows just how special winning that final race, jump or throw would be to anyone on the track or field.

“It feels great, if I get a chance to sit down and think about it, I can say I am a state champion,” Eldridge said. “Whenever I am having a bad day, in the back of my mind I still a state champion.  

“It is a one of a kind experience.”

—Contact Brian Woodson

at bwoodson@bdtonline.com

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