If the axiom ‘pratice makes perfect’ applied to Public High League track and field teams this spring, they may have had a hard time sustaining any semblance of success this spring. After all, they had trouble finding adequate facilities in which to train and there were no league-sanctioned meets all season.
But for a league which endured serious logistical issues and practice field challenges during the regular season, the Public High League acquitted itself quite well in the state track and field finals, which concluded this past weekend with the large-school championships.
Due to major renovations at Gateway Tech High in South St. Louis, which has been the only official Public High League regulation track and field facility for regular meets, this season The historic Field Day championships were canceled, there were no invitational meets with elite non-conference schools participating, there were no relay championships and not even practice meets.
“It was the worst situtation we’ve ever had,” said Soldan-International girls coach Richard McPherson, at a makeshift practice session at neighboring Beaumont High late in the regular season. “We just haven’t gotten the work in we’ve needed.”
At the same time, PHL boys and girls teams were also unable to engage in mid-week practice meets at Gateway Tech or a previous venue Beaumont, which has limited running lanes but this spring had damage to its field event jumping pits. Thus, PHL track and field teams were relegated to a few weekend invitational meets as their only means for postseason preparation.
But somehow, some way, the best of the PHL athletes were able to carve out an impressive niche at the state meets this spring. At last weekend’s large-school classification titles (Class 4 and Class 3), PHL athletes claimed several high-consolation medals in Class 3. But the previous weekend (May 18-19) in the small-school (Class 2 and Class 1) championships, the ROTC Commanders boys team captured the Class 2 team title, to open two weekends of state championships at Lincoln University in Jefferson City.
In the Class 3 girls division, the PHL played a prominent role in the outcome of the sprint races, as Beaumont’s Tiffeney Cannon took third place in the 100 meters in 12.26 seconds and also third in the 200 meters in 24.93 seconds. ( In both events, Cheyenne Hoerr of Affton won with times of 12.11 in 100 and 24.06 in 200, while Aiesha Irvin-Muhammad of St. Elizabeth Academy was runnerup both times with marks of 12.17 and 24.34.)
Meanwhile, Gateway Tech’s Danyell Kates placed in two events as well, she took third place in the triple jump with a leap of 35-feet-5 inchesand she placed fourth in the 100-meter hurdles with a time of 15.43 seconds. Elsewhere among PHL finishers,Soldan’s 4×400-meter relay unit of twins Tia and Kia Brimer, Traci Mills and Haneefah Staples took fifth place in roughly 4 minutes, 13 seconds.
In the Class 3 boys division, the PHL hurdlers, sprinters and sprint relay teams made their presence felt. In the 110-meter high hurdles, Vashon’s Devin Herndon claimed third place with a time of 14.60, while another PHL hurdler, Paul Rice took sixth place in the 300-meter hurdles in 39.56 seconds and his teammate Demond Champion took sixth place in the 100 meters in 11.06 seconds. (Contestants who first down to sixth place claimed medals.)
Herndon’s third place finish was more impressive, given that the winner of the race, Dapo Akinmoladun of Grandview, set a new Class 3 record with a time of 13.56 seconds, breaking the mark of 13.96 set by Julius Jiles of Kansas City Central back in 2004. Ironically Ezekiel Elliot of John Burroughs, was the top ranked and favorite to win the event, but he had to settle for second place in 14.13.
Like Soldan’s 4×400-meter girls relay unit, Gateway and Career Academy’s boys team brought back medals in sprint relay events. Rice and Champion also ran on the Jaguars 4×200-meter relay unit with Laron Moore and DeAndre Taylor took second place, while Career Academy’s quartet of Marvante King, Daren Fulks, Cameron Reese and James Stewart took fifth at state in the same event. But in the 4×100 meter relay, the order was practically reversed for the two PHL schools, as Career Academy’s unit of King, Fulks, Stewart and Lamore Wise placed third, while Gateway’s foursome of Champion, Rice, Mubarak Nasiruddin and George Norise grabbed fourth place.
But it was the Class 2 boys championship back on May 18-19, where the PHL in general, and the ROTC Commanders in particular, took a back seat to no teams. The upstart Commanders edged out Lamar for the overall team title 51-50 points. (In track scoring, the point system is staggered at the top with 10 points going to first place, 8 to second and 6 to third place, going down to one point for an eighth place finish.)
Sparked by first-place finishes by Michael Wells in the 100 meters ( 10.75) Dominic Ball in the 110-meter high hurdles(14.89) and the 4×100-meter relays (43.66), which included Wells and Ball, as well Diamond Hodge and Devonta Kazee, the Commanders claimed the school’s first-ever state track and field crown.
“It was a great performance,” said Commanders coach Tony Jefferey. “The good thing about being in Class 2 is you don’t have to be as deep. We only had nine guys. Lamar came out of nowhere and blind-sided us to get second.”
In registering a time of 10.75 seconds to win the Class 2 title, Wells exceeded expectations as an unheralded sophomore. But Jefferey credits Tony Glover, who is Wells’ summer coach in the Police Athletic League, with helping accelerate the sprinter’s learning curve . “I figured by the time he (Wells) was a senior he would be an elite sprinter,” said Jefferey. “But Tony Glover has helped him out a ton. I didn’t figure we would develop that quickly. He laughs a lot and jokes a lot but when he gets on the track he’s all business.”
But ROTC didn’t have the only individual event champions from the PHL. A fellow PHL runner, Antonio Marcano Jr. of Metro edged out Wells for the 200 meters title. Marcano came in at the finish line in 22.03 seconds, just two fractions ahead of Wells at 22.05. The PHL also had an individual state champion in Class 1 girls when McKinley’s won the 100-meter hurdles in 15.83 seconds.
The last PHL school to win a team title at the state track and field meet was Gateway Tech, which won the Missouri Class 4 girls crown in 2004. The Lady Jaguars scored 78 points in that meet to edge Eureka and Jefferson City, both of which scored 75 points each.