By Josh Sigler
The boys track and field coach at Eastern High School from 1987 until last season, Paul Nicholson’s parting message to his team was simple: “Don’t deny the gift.”
That motto left such a lasting impression on the Comets’ returning athletes that they had it screen printed on their 2013 season T-shirts.
With Nicholson in attendance to celebrate with them, new coach Austin Roark and the Comets outlasted host Kokomo to win their first sectional title since 1998 Thursday night, topping the Wildkats by 3.5 points, 124.5-121.
The team insisted Nicholson do exactly as he had instructed them to do when he handed the team over to Roark, having the former coach accept the sectional trophy and lead the team’s final breakdown of the night.
“I just stepped away and coach Roark has done a tremendous job,” Nicholson said. “I’ve seen these guys come from junior high and catch a passion for track. And, with the help of great assistant coaches like coach Roark ... it’s just been great. They say retiring is a lot of fun, but when you can retire and watch this happen, it’s great to see some of the seeds you planted.”
Western took third at 74.5, followed by Northwestern (64), Maconaquah (45.5) to round out the top five teams.
For Roark, it was another earmark in what’s been a memorable rookie season to say the least. The Comets now have a sectional trophy to put in the case next to their fourth straight Mid-Indiana Conference championship trophy.
“I was very nervous coming into this meet, although I felt good about our chances” Roark said. “I’ve said from the beginning that coach Nicholson is the reason all of these kids are out for track. He’s the one who should take the most credit. I said all I had to do was not mess stuff up, and I don’t think I did that, so I’m pretty proud to take over a program that was really good when I got it.”
Roark knew his team was going to have to “steal” some points in the throws to overtake Kokomo. He credited throwing coach Keith Saul for helping his athletes improve enough to do so. He also credited relay coach Mitch Padfield for his work as the Comets took first place in two of the meet’s three relays.
Senior Grant Cole carried the Comets’ banner Thursday night as the meet’s only triple winner. He swept the hurdles events, taking the 110 in :15.28 seconds and the 300 in :40.27.
He also won the long jump in an outdoor meet school record of 23 feet, 1.5 inches, and topped off the night with a third-place showing in the high jump, clearing 6-feet.
“I couldn’t ask for anything better than three firsts and a team win overall,” Cole said. “My teammates did their job and we did what it took to get first. I definitely feel like I still have room for improvement because I didn’t quite feel 100 percent [Thursday]. I’m getting back in the groove.”
Eastern started off the meet with a win in the 4x800 relay, as the team of Lewis Duke, K.J. Myers, Adam Schaaf and Joshua Sommers took top honors in 8:20.57.
The 4x100 relay team of Will Porter, Andrew Turner, Papee Byers and Riley Haupert also took top honors, setting a new school record in :43.69.
Kokomo finished as the runner-up, but boasted four individual titles and advanced competitors in 12 events.
“First off, congratulations to Eastern, they have a very good team,” Kokomo coach Tom Byrnes said. “They were just a tick better than we were. They scored some points in the shot put and discus that we didn’t think they’d score. That’s a couple points there. We had our chances, but you have to put it on the line. I’m proud of our kids. We worked hard and did the best we could. We take our sectional very seriously and are a little disappointed, but I’m proud of the efforts of our kids.”
The Wildkats featured a pair of double winners. Waylon Coulter defended his sectional titles in the pole vault and high jump, clearing 13-0 in the vault and winning the latter with a leap of 6-4.
“It means a lot, it really does,” Coulter said. “I ended up getting all of my vaults and almost all of my jumps in before my 400. I see a lot of room for improvement. I just got a new pole, and it’s quite a bit bigger than the one I jumped on [Thursday]. It’ll throw me up there. I know it will.”
Kokomo’s Darrion McAlister added victories in the shot put (50-3.5) and discus (154-10) after taking second place in both a season ago.
Northwestern’s Cameron Oden was also a double winner, motoring to victories in the 100 (:11.25) and 200 (:22.71) dashes.
Western’s Matt Grider joined the ranks of the double winners, as well, putting forth two dominant performances in winning the 1,600 (4:32.41) and 3,200 (9:37.11), winning the latter by over 32 seconds.
Not to be outdone, Maconaquah’s K.J. Walton also boasted a pair of top showings, winning the 400 dash in :50.78 before running the anchor leg on the Braves’ victorious 4x400 relay team in the final event of the night.