High School Sports

How State College’s ‘Mr. Versatility’ helped lead the Little Lions to district gold

State College’s Luke Knipe won the gold medal in the long jump at the District 6 Class 3A Track and Field Championships on Thursday at Altoona’s Mansion Park. He had a winning distance of 24-4.25.
State College’s Luke Knipe won the gold medal in the long jump at the District 6 Class 3A Track and Field Championships on Thursday at Altoona’s Mansion Park. He had a winning distance of 24-4.25. jmoyer@centredaily.com

Injured ankle or not, State College senior Luke Knipe wasn’t about to miss his final crack at the district track and field championships.

He taped up his right ankle — so, to most onlookers, it simply looked as if one white sock was longer than the other — and he popped two ibuprofen prior to Thursday’s meet for both the pain and swelling. By the end, even if he had to deal with some discomfort the next morning, Knipe intimated his decision was well worth it.

The senior finished with two golds at Altoona’s Mansion Park, winning the pole vault (15-3) and long jump (22-4.25) and placing second in the 400-meter relay (42.83) at the District 6 Class 3A championships. State College also cruised to the team title, tallying 216 points compared to runner-up Altoona’s 161.

“I try not to think about it, to be honest,” Knipe said, referring to his ankle. “I just wanted to go in with a clear mind and do what I could do.”

Little Lions coach Artie Gilkes said he’s not the least bit surprised Knipe decided to compete.

Three days ago, Knipe wasn’t sure if he’d be able to take part in the long jump — the same event where he tweaked his ankle a month ago at Shippensburg. But Knipe begged for practice time right after the injury, and the coaching staff made it a habit to rebuff his pleading. What if I stay away from the long jump? How about taking it slow on the track?

In the last month, prior to Thursday, Knipe had only taken part in the pole vault at the prestigious Penn Relays. The night before that, he wasn’t sure whether he would be able to go. Then he won a silver medal. So, no, Gilkes wasn’t concerned about districts.

“He means everything to our team,” Gilkes added. “He’s the focal point of our leadership, for sure.”

Knipe is known as the most versatile athlete on the State College track and field team, a crown not easy to come by with teammates and fellow district champs such as Alex Hynoski (200), Lokey Howell (110H), Zachary DeCarmine (300H), Conrad Moore (high jump) and Lance Hamilton (triple jump). Gilkes affectionately refers to Knipe as “Slash,” the nickname first given to former Pittsburgh Steelers’ do-it-all Kordell Stewart. Assistant coach Joe Sarra simply calls him “Mr. Versatility.”

Knipe can pole vault and long jump, run the 100 or 200, and contribute a leg on the 400- and 800-meter relays. On Thursday, during the long jump finals, he fouled his second attempt and scratched his third attempt — so he could hustle over to the other side of the stadium to warm up in the pole vault. Then he left that early so he could take the podium for the long jump, before hustling back to the vault.

All with white tape covering an ankle that kept him out of practice for nearly a month.

“It’s really inspiring for all of us,” said freshman Ian Dorefice, who competes with Knipe on two events. “It’s really cool to see him succeed with such little practice time and a hurt ankle. He’s able to come in and just kill it.”

Knipe has the ability and athleticism to compete just about anywhere. In the indoor track season, Gilkes spotted the 5-foot-7 Penn State track signee dunking tennis balls with ease one day in the gym. So, with the long jumpers struggling, he inserted Knipe into the lineup, which motivated them and helped lead to two of his teammates winning state medals. Earlier in the outdoor season, the staff even joked about him running the 1,600.

“If we asked him to do it, he would do it,” Gilkes said. “He literally would do it. He would do absolutely anything just to be competitive.”

That’s just fine with Knipe, who rushed from one event to another Thursday with tape on his ankle, gold around his neck and a smile on his face.

“It’s just business as usual,” he said with a laugh.

Lady Little Lions head coach Jim Schaper explains why his team can win the District 6 crown.