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As the 2008-2009 high school competition year draws to a close, we asked five staff members who spend a great deal of their time at meets to look back over the last twelve months and select their five favorite events, moments, match-ups, interactions, observations, confrontations or celebrations. The things that stood out, stayed with them, stuck to memory long after the coverage was over and the headlines had faded. The only catch was that they had to actually have been there. Stunned by Anna Jelmini's throws double at her California sectional, but heard about it on the internet like almost everyone else? Doesn’t count. Head spinning when you got word of Albemarle's 4x800 battle against Morris Hills, but you were covering a meet elsewhere in the country? Not good enough. Five favorites you saw with your own eyes.

So, without further ado… a week’s worth of moments we were “in the house” to see.

John Dye | dyestat founder & editor-in-chief

Curtis Beach – the decathlete who never gets enough -  Beach is like baseball Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, who would step out of the dugout at Wrigley Field and say, “Let’s play two”.  Most decathletes dread the closing 1500 meter race; Beach relishes it and piles up points.  Most decathletes want a couple of weeks off after competing; Beach comes back the next day for more.

In his sensational senior year at Albuquerque (NM) Academy, Beach broke all three national decathlon records (different implements) and placed #2 all time in the indoor pentathlon.  I saw him win the pentathlon at the National Scholastic Indoor Championships in New York in March, and I saw him set the decathlon record with international implements at the Great Southwest Classic in his home town in June.   With all due respect to Bob Mathias, who was the Olympic decathlon champion at age 17 in 1948, Beach stands as the greatest US high school decathlete ever.

Dazzling as these achievements were, the thing that stands out in my memory is what he did the NEXT day.

In New York, Beach came back and won a “slow” section of the 800 in 1:52.72, good enough for fourth overall and perhaps a spur to Robby Andrews getting a national record 1:49.21 in the seeded section.

In Albuquerque, Beach came back and ran a 1:50 anchor split on New Mexico’s winning 4x800 relay team.  Then he hung around for hours as a fan to watch the rest of the meet, looking forward to the showdown of New Bern NC against a US all-star team in the 4x400, with New Bern gunning for a national record.  But wait . . . the US all-stars were short one man.  Could Beach fill in?  You betcha. Could Beach hold his own with national stars in the 400?  You betcha.  He split 46.45 to protect a lead that the US all-stars never relinquished as they vanquished New Bern,  3:06.35 to 3:13.18.  My lasting memory is the joy on Beach’s face as he embraced his teammates and coach Russell Tate.   Now I can sit back and watch from a distance as another “DyeStat alum” moves on to bigger stages.   Beach will be at Duke next year.

New Bern 4x400 at Nike Outdoor Nationals - New Bern has been a favorite of mine since megastar author Nick Sparks rescued 800 meter star Karjuan Williams’ family, made homeless by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and brought them to New Bern for Karjuan’s senior year.  Karjuan put New Bern on the map at the 2006 Nike Outdoor Nationals by winning the 800 and leading a 1600 SMR victory.  You expected New Bern to slip back to obscurity after that.  But at the 2007 Nike Indoor Nationals, New Bern was building a new powerhouse.  Nick told me to watch out for the Hendrix twins, then sophomores, as future stars, and his own son, Miles, was a freshman.

In 2009, the Hendrix-led New Bern relay squad barnstormed the country in search of national records.  They got the 4x400 record indoors and the 1600 sprint medley record outdoors.  Finally, they took aim on the 4x400 outdoor national record (3:07.40 by Hawthorne CA in 1985), one of those high school records that seem unattainable.   They flew to Eugene OR to compete against collegians.  They flew to Albuquerque to face an all-star squad in the Great Southwest.   None of these efforts broke 3:10, let alone 3:08.  It looked like New Bern had run out of steam.

Then came the NON 4x400 at Greensboro in June.  Last event of the last day of the meet.  New Bern already had three relay wins at NON, including a national record 1:28.20 in the 800 meter sprint medley, and was the overwhelming favorite in the 4x400.  Instead of running out the string with a routine win, New Bern made everyone stop moving toward the exits.  When Miles Sparks finished the second leg, the clock read 1:34.  Double that and you have 3:08!  Could they do it?  As anchor Andrew Hendrix turned for home, the clock had not yet turned 3:00.  Hawthorne could hear footsteps.  The last few meters were agonizing as the clock counted up – 3:01 . . . 3:02 . . . 3:06 . . . 3:07 – and stopped at 3:08.  Did they get the record?  No, but the official time of 3:08.05 was the second fastest ever by a high school team.

Shade Weygandt at Great Southwest - Senior pole vaulter makes a “comeback” - After setting national class records as a freshman, sophomore and junior, Weygandt started her senior year out of sync.  She won Simplot in February at “only” 12-3, which would have been sub-par for her as a freshman.   With an early high school diploma in hand, Weygandt almost gave up her senior season by entering college early. 

But she came to the Great Southwest Classic in Albuquerque in June for one last try as a prep.  When the bar was raised to 14-0, Weygandt soared over on her first try for a new PR.  She leaped up and down in circles and slumped to her knees in tears.  “I’ve been trying so long for this.”  She missed three tries at a national record, but she could go to college now on a high note.

Chalonda Goodman at Taco Bell – There is a remarkable consistency about Chalonda Goodman -- powerful win, big smile, gracious comments, and hugs from Mom and Dad.  We went to Columbia SC in early April for the Taco Bell Classic to see if Goodman was on track to defend her national championships in the 100 and 200. 

She was. 

Goodman breezed to 11.30 and 23.32 wins, which held up as best in the country until she bettered them at the Nike Outdoor Nationals en route to her third straight 100-200 national championship.  Next she will wear the burnt orange of the University of Texas.  We expect more of the same.

Octavious Freeman – Is the slender soph the next big thing in girls sprints? We first saw Octavious Freeman at the 2008 Golden South, where she doubled in the 100 and 200 as a freshman.   We went back to the Golden South this year and there was Freeman again, repeating her double and earning MVP honors this time. 

A week later we were in Albuquerque for the Great Southwest and saw Freeman double in 11.20 (+6.9) and 23.36 (+1.5). 

We were starting to wonder if Freeman could challenge Chalonda Goodman at Nike Outdoor Nationals 2 weeks later.  The thought must have entered Freeman’s head too; she was inconsolable after losing the NON 100 decisively, 11.38 to 11.66, and mounted the awards stand with a grim face. 

But Freeman came back strong in the 200 the next night with a PR 23.20, pushing Goodman to her first ever sub-23 at 22.94.  Goodman got her threepeat, but Freeman could smile on the awards stand.

Hopefully, we will see a showdown next year between Freeman and California’s Ashton Purvis, who ran 23.15 at the World Youth Championships in Italy in July. 

 All photos by John Dye, except New Bern NC, by Donna Dye

My Favorite 5 Index