By Mike Byrnes
When this organization was founded in 1991, the founding was for the sole purpose of bringing some sort of order to the program for Junior track and field within this country. But this assumes there WAS a Junior program…and there was not. Nor has there ever been, at least not a real one. The "program" existed primarily within the minds of various and sundry USATF officials. There was ONE meet, the USATF Junior Nationals, which was noteworthy for one thing…how few of the nation's Elite young people were in attendance. An example is in order, at a meet in the late 1980's/early 1990's, there were TWO entrants in the Girls 1500m run. Both qualified for the World Junior Championships, were issued proper USA uniforms with all the accompanying bells and whistles; one problem, the second-place finisher posted a time for the 1500m of 5:32! You read it right, 5:32. That was the ONLY competition available for the best of this nation's Elite track and field athletes. In a country blessed with some of the greatest young talent in the world, many splendid coaches and facilities envied by the rest of the world, not a finger was lifted to publicize the competition.
Out of such a feeling of ennui and apathy, the NATIONAL SCHOLASTIC SPORTS FOUNDATION was founded. We did so to show the world just how good the USA could be; we did it to give our young people competitions suitable to their talent level; we did it to strengthen our international teams; and we did it because our youngsters deserved it. We've succeeded beyond our wildest expectations. In partnership with NIKE, today's Elite young athletes can compete in the nation's two best meets, the NIKE INDOOR/OUTDOOR NATIONALS. Travel/housing grants are available so no athlete, no matter how remotely located, can be brought to these competitions. From the NON, the NSSF provides financial support to the top twenty boys and girls to compete in the USATF Junior Championships. Thus, when the team representing the USA travels to the World Junior Championships or the Pan-American Junior Championships, it is a team of which this country can be proud.
But this year has presented us with a problem, a monumental one. For reasons known only to a few USATF officials, it was decided to hold the USATF on the same weekend as the NON event. Thus, the athletes are forced to choose between the finest high school meet in the nation and miss their chance to qualify for a spot on this nation's international team OR to forego a shot at being the unofficial national high school champion, an honor not to be lightly dismissed.
And what of our commitment to our country's Junior program? Do we encourage these young people to skip their national championship and lessen the quality of the competition at our meet? Whatever we do, we lose. We have a responsibility to our partner NIKE to offer the best meet we possibly can. We have a responsibility to our country to send the best possible team we can to the World Junior Championships.
Thus, We are caught ON THE HORNS OF A DILEMMA.
We chose to do what's best for the USA and are encouraging the athletes to compete in the USATF Juniors. We are offering financial support to some of those athletes so they'll have the chance to earn a spot on the international squad. And what of our partner, NIKE? They support our decision 100%. Make no mistake, NIKE is a class outfit and the NSSF is fortunate to have them as a partner.
So, the NON meet is doomed to mediocrity, right? FORGET IT! Believe it or not, this will be one of our finest meets ever. How is that possible? This nation is blessed with such a plentitude of talent, the absence of some of that talent will hardly be noticed. Don't believe it? Read on.
FEATURED RACE OF THE DAY, CENTURY and PERHAPS, ALL TIME!!
Why this rather incredible headline? GERMAN FERNANDEZ and LUKE PUSKEDRA are facing off in the 2 mile with the avowed intention of breaking one of our sports oldest records, Jeff Nelson's 2 mile time of 8:36.3 set in 1979. The two aforementioned athletes currently rank 1-2-US with Fernandez just having run the #2-AT at the California state meet, 8:34.23 for 3200m. That converts to a time slightly slower than Nelson's mark. But it would be foolish to assume Fernandez will win easily. Puskedra's best, 8:46.10, is pretty good in its own right and makes the Utah youngster a legitimate contender.
But the young Californian is on a roll. His double at the Cal state meet was easily the greatest ever by a high schooler, 4:00.29 and 8:34.23 were run within a two hour span! Puskedra chose to make a try for the record at the Prefontaine Classic but came up well short at 8:46.41. Apparently he went out much too fast, couldn't hold the pace, went into oxygen debt and struggled over the latter stages. BUT, he gained invaluable experience and goes into NIKE quite ready to hold his own and, perhaps, more.
Look for a very evenly paced race with no more than a stride separating the pair for most of the race. Fernandez runs with amazing consistency and should they be even with 600m to go it will be anyone's race. And you're going to see history!
THE SPRINTS: (100-200-400) Two of the nation's fastest head the Boy's and Girl's fields. TJ GRAHAM (10.31w — 20.82) and CHALONDA GOODMAN (11.31 — 23.71) WILLIAMS (10.39) and MIKE SHAW (10.39) as well as DENTARIUS LOCKE (21.02.) Goodman's path to the ring symbolic of earning the title, NIKE OUTDOOR CHAMPION appears easier. ENGLISH GARDNER comes in at 11.49 and STACY-ANN SMITH tops the 200m challengers at 23.90. Once considered part of the Middle Distance group, today the 400m is a sprint. Junior TAVARIS TATE, currently ranked #2-US at 46.41 sits atop the field with BERNARD GOODWYN, 46.48 a stride back. NATALIE STEWART (53.39) and sophomore BRIANNA NELSON (53.52) along with DIAMOND RICHARDSON (53.78), KENDRA CHAMBERS (53.81) and MICHELLE BROWN (53.91) will treat the crowd to a great race.
THE MIDDLE DISTANCES: (800 AND Mile) JOSEPH FRANKLIN leads the US at 1:48.97 but will be challenged by a bevy of solid contenders like JASON WALTON (1:50.14), MAC FLEET (1:50.40), HARUN ABDA (1:50.74)YAND MATT SMOODY (1:50.71.) GET THIS! The 2nd heat has 10 kids between 1:52.29 to 1:52.90! That's 21 entrants under 1:53! The Girl's field is loaded with underclassmen, with 8 of the top 12 returning. Millrose Mile champion and NIN winner JILLIAN SMITH (2:05.26) leads the way with NACHELLE STEWART (2:08.48 — sister of 400m leader Natalie) close by. The slowest athlete in the field comes in at 2:13.32! The MILE features ROBERT FINNERTY (4:01.09) with JORDAN CARLSON (4:07.18) a definite factor. CHARLES WHITE (4:07.62) is no slouch and will definitely contend. EMILY INFELD's superlative 4:43.31 gives her a five second edge over frosh AMANDA WINSLOW (4:48.36.)
(An interesting historical note; one of indoor track's most revered events is the Millrose Mile. Back in 1977 the record, 4:08.0 was set by KEVIN BYRNE. Today, running in the frosh mile is his son, KEVIN BYRNE! A split off the old stopwatch ! ugh, that's horrible, sorry.)
THE DISTANCES: (Two Mile and 5000m) The Boy's two mile has already been covered but two other names should be mentioned, COLBY LOWE (8:57.32) and KEVIN WILLIAMS (8:58.27.) While neither is expected to contend, Lowe and Puskedra and staged several memorable duels this past season, so a superlative performance by Lowe will not be too surprising. On the Girl's side, four of the top five return lead by ASHLEY BRASOVAN (10:15.00) and MELANIE THOMPSON (10:17.18) with senior KATHLEEN MCCAFFERTY (10:21.28) definitely in the mix. The 5000 meters is a difficult race to call since it's rarely run in high school meets. ZACH ORNELAS and JOE BOSSHARD should make things interesting. For the Girls it's an entirely different story. ASHLEY BRASOVAN may be the nation's best pure distance runner. Her 10:15.00 two mile performance puts her over 30 seconds ahead of the next entrant, JORDAN JENKINS. The challenge for Brasovan is going for the HSR of 15:52.88 set by Caitlin Chock in 2004. She's definitely got a shot.
THE HURDLES: The nation's top two kids face off in the Quest for the Ring! BRANDON TUCKER (13.44) vs SPENCER ADAMS (13.51)! DEVON HILL will give chase. So will DEVRON WALKER who comes in with 13.87 credentials. The greatest 14-15 year old hurdler of all time, JASMINE STOWERS (14 — 13.90; 15 - 13.52) appears to be the class of the field BUT (there's always a 'but') DESTINY LUMAS (13.66) will give Stowers all she can handle. In the 400mH we have another tough event to predict since most of the nation's high schoolers run this race at the 300m distance. But CHANCE CASEY just clocked a 51.59 at the NSSF-sponsored CARRIBBEAN SCHOLASTIC CLASSIC and takes over the favorites role. His 36.32 in the 300mH is #3-US and he's also gone a windy 13.69. MARCUS POPE has the advantage of having run the longer distance and his 52.22 makes him #3-US in the longer race. The aforementioned Tucker (52.38) and Adams (52.60) are no slouches. This should be a good one.
On the distaff side, look for the country's best, ELIZABETH MOTT (58.54) to be fitted for the ring. Two juniors, MELISSA BELLIN (60.71) and KENNISHA HOLDEN (61.33) to give chase.
Is the 2000m Steeplechase a 'hurdle' event or a distance run? In my opinion it's a hurdling test. (Ed. Note: We run this event at the 2000m distance since for years the USATF Junior Champs were the week following our meet and it was felt asking the kids to run two 3000m races in the space of two weeks was asking too much.) Junior ZACH ORNELAS, the Texas Relays winner brings a 5:59.84 to the table with Great Southwest champ BEN JOHNSON (6:05.06a) a slight favorite since Ornelas was the runner-up in Albuquerque to Johnson. Defending champion HANNAH DAVIDSON (6:45) will face tough opposition from EMMA COBURN (6:46) and last year's runner up SHELBY GREANEY (6:49.4) with NICOLE ROSARIO (6:50.40) also in the mix.
THE ONE MILE RACE WALK: TYLER SORENSON (6.48.51) is far ahead of the field as is soph DESTINY LALANE (7:21.32.) These could be almost 'walk-overs' for the two favorites. But, KAYTE DUMONT (7:35.70) could surprise.
THE RELAYS: (One of the rules of the meet is that all runners on relay teams MUST come from the same school. There are no All-Star squads allowed. Since many states do not permit school names to be used, the names of teams will make them hard to identify. I'll do my best.)
THE 4x100mR: SHEEPSHEAD BAY, NY stands atop the entry list at 40.99. If they handle the baton the way they can, four rings will head to Brooklyn. WESTERN BRANCH, VA at 41.44 will provide the main opposition. It's pretty much the same story on the Girls side, the overwhelming favorite is SKYLINE, TX (45.74) with Oak Ridge (46.22) hoping to get under the magic '46.00' mark.
4x200mR: The official team name is WAGGONER'S RAIDERS. The 'unofficial' name, TROTWOOD-MADISON. They possess the fastest non-Texas time in the nation, 1:25.44. Just off that pace, EASTERN HILLS HS at 1:25.96. Due to the weather, the Ohio track season is about 3 days long. Give these kids some good weather and they could take over the top spot US, 1:24.06 (Hightower, TX.) Another 'Raider' group, this one from ELEANOR ROOSEVELT, MD heads the field in the Girls side at 1:36.0. But SKYLINE, TX isn't making the trip to NIKE to sightsee. They've run 1:37.30 and think they can win.
4x400mR: The nation's best, DOMINGUEZ, CA (3:09.59) is not only #1, they're also #2-3-4! Having clocked the top four times in the US. Anybody close? WAGGONER'S RAIDERS (3:13.46.) NEWBURGH, NY (3:14.30) and BETHEL, VA (3:14.71) should push the Californians. Probably the best Girls team in the nation, ELEANOR ROOSEVELT has posted the top two times US, 3:37.50 and 3:38.40. Their competition? BOYS and GIRLS out of NYC (3: 40.17) with SKYLINE, TX at 3:42.25.
4x800mR: ALWAYS a great event here! DANBURY, CT (7:42.25) will be hard pressed by GAITHERSBURG, MD [Quince Orchard] (7:44.67) and MOTOR CITY TC, MI (7:44.79.) For the first time in quite a while, the Girls field is a little weak. WARWICK VALLEY RUNNING CLUB tops the field at 8:55.61 over ten seconds faster than LENAPE TC's 9:05.83 with another New Jersey team, HUNTERDON HAWKS (9:06.00.)
4x1 Mile Relay: The JACKALOPES [Pinckney, MI] (don't ask) (17:21), FISCHER'S HS, IN (17:22.0), MOUNTAIN VIEW HS, AL (17:27.40) and THE WOODLANDS, TX (17:28.37) will make this a fascinating race. (Ed. Note: Tough to predict. A team in New Hampshire has three kids who just ran 4:13, 4:15 and 4:17, all good times but not good enough to get into the fast section of the mile. So the coach makes them into a 4x1 mile team that's terrific. So, coaches are asked to estimate what their team will run. I never knew a coach who wasn't wildly optimistic about his prediction.)
Two teams from upstate New York, the so-called Rift Valley of America, will fight this one out. BURNT HILLS TC (20:14.20) and SHEN TC (20:23.00) are far ahead of the rest. Another top quality race but more of a mano a mano type competition.
THE 800m MEDLEY RELAY: (100-100-200-400) A great relay! Fast, exciting and many coaches terrified about a blown stickpass. Times are mostly estimated as the event is rarely run. Top contenders on the Boys side include BETHEL, FRANKLIN, M180 and UNION CATHOLIC. For the Girls, look for M180, OAK RIDGE, WALNUT HILLS and CH FLOWERS.
THE MILE MEDLEY RELAY: (200-200-400-800) TRACK EAST CAROLINA, 3:26.50, COLONIE HS (3:26.79), CRUSADER TC (3:28.00) and NEWBURGH, NY (3:28.45) will square off. TEC is the defending champ and they are loaded!
Again the name ELEANOR ROOSEVELT stands out. Their 3:52.00 is EIGHT seconds faster than their leading contender CRUISIN' CLIPPERS (4:00.54.) Should be 'no contest' but…
THE DISTANCE MEDLEY RELAY: (800-400-1200-1600) A few years ago, the Alan Webb anchored South Lakes, VA team set the national record, 9:49.78 with Webb running a 3:59+ leg. None of us who'd been around the sport and our meet thought this mark would be challenged for years to come. The following year Auburn, WA came to NIKE. Their anchor leg would be run by Chris Lukezic. After the first three legs, Auburn was substantially AHEAD of the South Lakes time! This year's race doesn't have 9:50 potential but… SOUTHLAKE CARROLL, TX leads the list at 10:02.47 set at the Texas Relays. Can they cut twelve seconds off? Doubtful. Will they win? Who knows. TRABUCO, CA (10:05.00), DANBURY, CT (10:07.49) and JAMES B. CONANT (10:09.70) will make a tight pack heading into the final lap.
THE KINETIC TC (Saratoga Springs, NY) brings an 11:42.63 to the track but can that hold off the WARWICK VALLEY TC (11:44.44?) And then there's ELEANOR ROOSEVELT (10:48.00) but so used to winning. Great race looms.
THE FIELD EVENTS: (FYI: The NON meet was hit especially hard in the field events. We still feel we did the right thing.)
HIGH JUMP: Three 7' footers are here. DWIGHT BARBIASZ (7-1), MONTEZ BLAIR (7-0) and TYLER CAMPBELL (7-0) with three more 6-11+ right behind.
MONIQUE ROBERTS and TAYLOR BURKE, both 5-09 with five others at 5-08 make this another highly competitive event.
POLE VAULT: JASON PELLETIER (16-10.25) stands out with SCOTT HOUSTON (16-07.75) and RILEY EGAN (16-07) ready to pounce. STEPHANIE FOREMAN (13-06.25) is the favorite but LESLIE BROSE (13-03) could easily be fitted for the gold as could three others over the 13' barrier. ABBY SCHAFFER (13-02), MORGANN LELEUX (13-01) and TORY WORTHEN (13-00.)
LONG JUMP: National leader RYAN BUTTS (24-10.5) heads a field that includes REGGIE WILLIAMS (24-0.50) and OLU OLAMIGOKE (24-0.). Tarheel JACINDA EVANS (20-03.5) takes on two talented sophs , A'LEXUS BRANNON (21-01.5w) and JENNIFER CLAYTON (20-00) in, perhaps, the meets most competitive event. There are nine entrants over 19' with another eleven surpassing 18-08. In an event such as the long jump where board presence, steps, wind… all play a role, anyone could win.
TRIPLE JUMP: One of track and fields most fascinating events whoever thought of this and why? It has NO relationship to long past combat (javelin), escape (sprints), a feat of strength (shot put), the need to get over tall fences (pole vault) nor anything else. But here it is, probably the worst coached event at the high school level there is and one in which the US lags far behind the rest of the world, at least at the Junior level. To be sure, in World Junior competition, the US has some minor success on the Men's side having won a silver and a bronze. Leonard Cobb leaped 16.65 (54-07.5) in 1994 in Lisbon while Greg Yeldell went 16.44 (53-11.25). In World Junior competition only one American, Erica McLain has ever made the final. Her jump of 13.30 (43-07.75) advanced her in Grossetto, 2004. In the final she placed 11th, 12.39 (40-07.75.) The winner went 13.94 (45-09). Hope you liked that little rather opinionated historical vignette. CHRIS PHIPPS (50-05) heads the entry list but is not a strong favorite due to the presence of DAVID WILSON (49-11.25) and TORRY BURNETT (49-0.5.) This is yet another event up for grabs. On the feminine side, the aforementioned A'LEXUS BRANNEN (4A1-01.5) holds a substantial edge over CHARASCHIESA LOCKHART (40-01) and soph JALESHA JARMON (40-00.) BUT, consider, there are TEN others over 39'0. As in the long jump, anyone could win.
SHOT PUT: Make sure you walk over to see this event. You could be looking at the future of this event in the person of FROSH(!) NICK VENA recently SHATTERED the former frosh record (63-0, Kevin Bookout, '99) with a throw of 67-10.25! Will he challenge Michael Carter's prodigious 1979 effort of 81-03.5? That remains to be seen but the kids off to an awfully good start. The more important question, will he win this meet? Behind Vena are five others over 66' lead by junior STEPHEN SAENZ (67-06.75) with BRANDON POUNDS (66-09) and junior COREY JONES (66-03.75) ready to move up should anyone falter. BECKY O'BRIEN (50-11) has a clear edge over EMILY VANNOY (48-07.75.) No one else is close.
DISCUS: Another "Best of the Meet" events will see the nation's 1-2 performers facing off. Junior MASON FINLEY (222-1) will seek to keep GEOFFREY TABOR (210-8) in second place while Tabor will go for the upset. Not to be overlooked, another junior, STEPHEN SAENZ (204-0) For the young women, BECKY O'OBRIEN (158-04) should take the gold with ASLYYNN HALVORSEN (155-08) providing the competition.
JAVELIN: BEN LATHAM (212-0) sits atop the entry list with BRIAN FLOREK (206-0) poised for the upset. There's far more suspense and anticipation with the Girl's event. The USL is a frosh, HANNAH CARSON (167-11) which leaves her a mere 2" behind the national frosh record! Can she get it in Greensboro? There should be no competitive pressure as the youngster is almost 20' ahead of the #2 entrant. (Meet management LOVES national records!!)
HAMMER: MIKE GAMA (222-06) is the favorite but look for WESLEY WRIGHT (217-04) to provide ample competition. Improvements come in big jumps in this event and it's one of the best events in any meet to watch. No suspense on the Girl's side. USL ALLISON HORNER (194-00) puts her far ahead of her peers. VICTORIA FLOWERS (179-02) and MEAGHAN McGOVERN (163-0) will vie for the silver.