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81st Kansas Relays

University of Kansas Memorial Stadium, Lawrence KS

April 16-19, 2008

The Kids are Still the Story

DyeStat's Heartland Regional Editor and veteran Olathe East KS coach Tony Bozarth says the preps are the heart of the action in Lawrence

The 2008 edition of the KU Relays marked my 30th year since I competed in my first KU Relays as an athlete, and my 23rd Relays as a coach.

Over those years, I hope a sense of perspective comes to what I have seen. As with any meet this size, there were performances I missed and wished I had seen. Below are some of my impressions of this year's relays.

The kids are still the story. This meet comes alive when the high school athletes step on the track. Yes, it is great when a Wallace Spearmon or a Christian Cantwell arrives, and that charges up the crowd. However, the purest intensity and attention of the crowd occurs when the high school kids compete. Perhaps it has something to do with the unique nature of the field at the Kansas Relays. Being held in an region where there are vast spaces between metropolitan centers, and even towns in some cases, the Relays are a unique chance to bring together athletes from all over. Those athletes from the small towns often bring the most fans and fun, as mom, dad, grandpa and the cousins all root for them (often loudly) as they bring it to the track and the field. Let's hope the KU Relays always remember where the heart of the meet is – it's in the kids.

The meet’s power to attract outstanding athletes from surrounding states was epitomized by some truly dominating shows, both on the track and the field, and in sprints and distances.

Alicia Usery of McCluer South/ Berkeley MO gets the "Whooooo" award of the meet. (For those too young to remember, comedian Bill Cosby used to tell about the "Whooooo" that would arise from the crowd at Penn when a runner burned down the Franklin Field backstretch and the crowd made that unique noise). Usery got the "Whooooo's" going with dominating wins in the 400 (meet record 54.61) and 4 x 400 (anchor for 3:49.12 meet record).

With great relay legs and a legal 10.40 100 win, Maurice Mitchell (Raytown South MO) was a picture of confident class. No show-boating, no boasting, simply a show of who the fastest man in the meet was at the high school level. In an interview with the Kansas City Star, Mitchell indicated his awareness of the impressions he wants to create. “I just want to go out and have other people think, ‘Man, he really competed with class,’” he said, “not, ‘I’m glad he’s gone he was so arrogant.’”

That's certainly a message some high schoolers could teach to many pro athletes.

Alyssa Allison (Festus MO) led her team to the 4 x mile title in a meet record 22:11.02 after breaking 5:00 earlier in the week. If there is a smoother runner in the Heartland, they would be hard to find. Allison appears to simply dance down the track.

Emily Sisson (Millard North, Omaha NE) has her own style and grace. It is power personified.

Sisson simply imposed her will on very high-class distance fields. In the 3200 (10:25.42) she simply stepped out from the gun and hammered away. In the 1600, she led Allison and 4-time Kansas cross country champ Laura Roxberg (Blue Valley Northwest) for two laps in what appeared to be a close race. As I turned to look at the field trailing her, I suddenly heard a gasp from the front stretch crowd and looked up to see Sisson suddenly 40 meters ahead entering the homestretch going into the gun lap. Her 4:51.24 meet record was all the more impressive when you realize that she put almost nine seconds on runners of Allison’s and Roxberg's caliber in only 500 yards.

The Kansas City Star also reported that Sisson and her family are moving this summer and she will run for Lee's Summit West MO next fall. That will be her 3rd school in three years.

Andrew Perkins (Watertown WI) took a long trip to Kansas to compete. I don't know if the weather in Wisconsin has been as horrible as in Kansas, but I don't imagine it has been better. Perkins ran like a coiled snake, power potential personified. In both the 800 (1:53.76) and 1600 (4:19.92), he held up to the best attacks Kansas athletes could offer early on, and then simply shifted to a gear no one else had, and roared up the homestraight to clear wins, looking as if he could again in a few minutes if needed.

Kevin Williams (D’Evelyn CO) looked so in control of the 3200 you forgot for a moment how fast he was running. Williams 9:02.29 was impressive enough, but when you realize it was Matt Tegenkamp's record he broke, that opens eyes!

The standouts weren’t all from out of state, though. Kansas athletes shone particularly in the throws. John Talbert of Kansas City East Christian, fresh of his nation-leading 213-1 earlier in the week, went over the 200-foot mark again with a winning 200-07.

For the girls, Alex Hartig of Great Bend (45-3.75 SP), Jacquelyne Leffler of Northern Heights in Allen (152-3 DT), and Roxi Grizzle of Tonganoxie (163-11 JT) all show what is right with the relays. All come from towns that would be considered small by coastal (but not Midwest) standards, and all stepped up on the big stage. The nation sometimes forgets what great athletes are on the Heartland farms and in the small towns. All these ladies are multi-sport, multi-talents.

That's what high school athletics should be about.

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