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KSHSAA state track and field is one for the books

"There's lightning in the area, please exit the stadium," the voice of the Kansas State High School Activities Association state track meet announced over the loud speaker. Competition had just gotten underway on the first day of the state track meet after an already substantial weather delay.

I was in the long jump coaches' box watching my senior compete in his first event of the weekend. He had one jump left in the competition when the meet was delayed. As we gathered the team together, we made the decision to leave our bags, expecting the delay to be temporary. We gathered under an awning outside the stadium as the rain started pelting. Pulling up the radar, we realized the delay would be lengthy so we waited for a let-up in the downpour and hightailed it to our bus--parked ever-far away.

As it turned out, we wouldn't be allowed back into the stadium that day, except for being escorted up to retrieve our bags--something teams behind us weren't even allowed to do. We waited around for hours until KSHAA made the announcement that all competition was suspended for the day. The meet would resume the next morning where all races would be run as finals.

We left Saturday, again before the sun woke up, ready for a full day of competition. My long jumper would start us off, finishing his final jump...a difficult feat to be sure. Other athletes from our school would also compete during the day, including my triple jumpers in the final section of field events for the day/meet.

For awhile, the meet rolled without interruption. Race after race started and completed--24 sections of each race 400m and below. The state track meet in Kansas is one of a kind. Every classification in the state, 1A-6A, arrives at Cessna Stadium at Wichita State University to compete against the top athletes from across the state. Each classification, male and female, has 16 athletes competing in each event, equaling about 3,500 athletes. It's massive and impressive. The first time I competed there as a high school sophomore, I remember driving up to the stadium and about losing my breakfast. I'd never seen anything like it. Each year I arrive as a coach, I remember that feeling and imagine what my own team experiences as they arrive for the first time.

Mid-way through the afternoon, clouds heavy-laden with rain started to roll in. I kept checking my schedule realizing there was no way my triple jumpers would be allowed to compete that day. The event was too backed-up. The time of their originally scheduled event came and went, and the clouds crept closer.

"There's lightning in the area, please exit the stadium," the announcer repeated the same song, second verse.

A collective groan from the massive crowd rose up. Athletes, coaches and fans left in the same direction. Out. We made it to the bus before the skies opened. Word eventually came that the meet was again suspended. We'd be back for an unprecedented third day of competition--my two triple jumpers still needed to compete along with other jumpers and 200m+4x400m sprinters.

The mood was one of disbelief as our team's bus fought for a spot to exit the parking lot. I had a fleeting thought that we were in a scene of Cars 3 and Miss Fritter was going to barrel in on us any second. Bus after bus exited before and behind us. Some who were close, like our team, headed toward home. Others left to find hotel rooms for another night. Tomorrow we would make history when we came back for another day. Competition had never stretched to Sunday.

The next morning the sun was out when we left. I was glad not to see 4:45 am. My guys--the only ones left to compete from our team--were smiling and in a good mood. I was glad. After waiting so long to compete, you never know how attitudes might swing. We arrived at the stadium in time to see KSHSAA employees trench and shop vac the sand pit. After two days, I still thought it a funny sight to see someone vacuuming a sand pit!

My jumpers had a partial and full section ahead of them. Once the full section began, they were off, ready to warm-up and compete. A group of class 2A triple jumpers formed, waiting for their turn.

Sprinkles. Rain.

"There's lightning in the area..."

There's nothing you do at that point except roll your eyes a little and laugh. Madness. This would only be a delay, and what's another hour when you've been waiting three days anyway?

Eventually the rain gave up and the clouds moved on, taking the lightning and its delay with them. The sand-vac returned.

My guys hopped up as if spring-loaded and made a beeline for the competition area. The previous competition finished.

"Class 2A boy triple jumpers, please report." Finally. We'd been waiting to hear those words for so long, and they were magical.

I took my place in the coaching box beside the head coach and we waited for the first flight to finish. The live timing system was gone, so we tracked jumps by hand. Getting on the podium would be doable so long as they hit the board.

It was a few jumpers into the second flight and my sophomore was called. It was his first time competing at state. His parents had told me that after coming to the meet as a freshman to watch his teammates, he had decided that would be his goal for next year. He worked hard all year and he made it. After waiting patiently-ish it was his turn. And he scratched. I motioned from across the track for him to settle down and breathe--something I've talked about a lot this season with multiple jumpers. We've talked about consciously making sure to feel the breath hit the lungs when we're nervous. How doing so helps settle the body down and focus.

The order arrived to my senior jumper. His week of practice after winning regional long jump and triple jump had been tough. He hadn't hit the board since the regional meet over a week ago--not even for his state long jump competition. Would he hit it or not? He came in fast and I instinctively knew he was going to be on--watching him jump season after season gave me a clue. He hit the board, getting that coveted foot-on-board sound every horizontal jumper loves, and landed in the pit. I knew it would be good. He got a PR and sailed into first place.

My sophomore came up in the line up again. Scratch. My head coach said he felt he needed to call him over to chat, and would that be OK with me? Absolutely. Inspired, I watch my jumper's head come up and his demeanor change from frustration and panic to determination. My senior jumped another 44+ and my sophomore came back around. He ran down the runway, also got the foot-on-board pop and nailed his 3rd jump, increasing his PR by around 10 inches. His 4th jump was the same. Don't tell, but I teared up behind my sunglasses...I was SO proud!

My guys ended up 2nd (sr.) and 4th (so.) in class 2A triple jump. With that, the coaches started calculating team totals. We suspected we were in the running for a team trophy. We looked at each other, slowly realizing that our guys were going to come away from the state meet with a runner's-up trophy, something that hadn't happened at Hillsboro High School for quite some time.

It was a meet for all kinds of record-books.

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