For most track and field athletes, life is spent competing in near anonymity.
At most regular-season meets, there might be a hundred or so fans watching, mostly friends and family. By the time the better athletes get to the district meet, the crowds are bigger.
But getting to run at the PIAA Championships, especially in a final, comes with an additional reward of loud cheers from packed bleachers.
Penns Valley’s Rebecca Bierly savored the moment Saturday morning in the 3,200-meter run. She finished sixth, about 50 meters behind the winner, but was close enough to hear the fans bellow as she made the final turn for the finish line.
For her first, last and only race on Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium track, it was a special moment.
“It’s crazy because everybody’s just yelling,” Bierly said. “You can hear certain people like my coaches and stuff, and even my grandparents. I could hear their voices as I came down that straight stretch. It’s great that everybody’s giving you a boost as you come down that stretch.”
Even for a veteran like Nick Feffer, the experience is still special. He has won gold medals and broken school records on the track in three appearances, but he still felt assistance from the fans during a race to the finish line in the 3,200-meter relay.
“You feel that. It’s an emotional race,” Feffer said. “It’s like who wants it more and the crowd is urging that on, trying to see the competitive spirit and it takes the intensity even higher.”
When Stanley Hamilton hit a big personal-best mark in the triple jump at the District 6 meet last week in Altoona, he said he was motivated to stand out and make a statement because of the many incidents, deaths and troubles for young African-Americans around the country, and he was still inspired Friday.
“It’s the young black males that you hear in the media … but it’s also the silent killings that you don’t hear about,” Hamilton said. “That fuels me to try to get this position to get some things out there. Even a few words I feel will get some sort of conversation started.”
He knew it wasn’t a typical stance for a sophomore track athlete, but his father, for Penn State football player Harry Hamilton, also has been outspoken on a number of issues. The young triple jumper was hoping he might get the attention of a few people by speaking out.
“It’s the subtle things that happen that aren’t portrayed in the media enough that let it just happen without anybody knowing about it,” Stanley Hamilton said. “It’s a platform I would like to take in an athletic, and academic, sense with putting it out there for people to know.”
While many other athletes had plans to head off to college, some even to compete, Jordan Bair is preparing to enlist in the Navy. She reports for basic training in Chicago in late July, then heads to Fort Meade in Maryland, planning to be a mass communications specialist.
“It’s pretty cool. I’m excited,” she said. “I really didn’t know what I wanted to study in college, and I really feel like I owe it to my country to serve.”
She’s also following a family tradition of her step mother (Army), father and grandfather (Navy).
When her tour is done, however, she is not ruling out a return to competition, especially after medaling in both the shot put and discus this weekend.
“That would be great if I’m not rusty,” Bair said. “Hopefully, I’ll still be able to do it. I really enjoy it.”
Nittany Lions to be
A pair of future Penn State football players had golden days Saturday.
Meadville’s Journey Brown, who will be stepping on the Penn State campus in a few weeks, stamped his name in the Pennsylvania history books in a big way,
Brown burned down the Seth Grove Stadium track in 10.43 seconds. The time broke the state record set in 1985 by future U.S. Olympian Leroy Burrell when he was at Penn Wood.
Brown, who defended his Class 3A title in the event, hopes to run track for the Nittany Lions along with his running back duties in football.
“It’s fantastic just to be mentioned with Olympians,” Brown said. “Just to be able to break, or tie, a great record like that, it’s fantastic.”
Camp Hill junior Zack Kuntz won the Class 2A 110-meter high hurdles in 14.47 seconds. He ran in the 300 hurdles later Saturday and was seventh in the high jump Friday.
The 6-foot-8 Kuntz is following older brothers Christian and Brandon to the Nittany Lion football team. The tight end plans to enroll early in January, so this was his last high school track meet.
“It gives me an extra kick at the end,” Kuntz said. “Take a couple hundredths off with a lean. Like a senior year, you’d call it. I’m just excited about it … cause I’ll never do it again.”
Among Penn State track recruits, Jordan Williams won the Class 2A 1,600 in 4:59.01, with Moira O’Shea of Greensburg Central Catholic second in 5:02.07. Nick Wagner of Penn Trafford took second in the Class 3A 800 in 1:51.79.