Wichita Should anyone really be surprised that Bill Freeman's coaching career ended with a state championship?
"Deep down I felt we'd win," said Freeman, Lawrence High's retiring track and football coach, "but being a coach as long as I have, I know you have to be realistic. I've seen some strange things happen."
His 36-year coaching career ended Saturday in markedly unstrange fashion. The Lion boys racked up 123 points at Wichita State's Cessna Stadium and, as expected, ran away with their second consecutive Class 6A state title. Runnerup KC Wyandotte finished with 50.
"I feel pretty fortunate to have this be the last event I'll coach and go out a state champion. . .pretty fortunate," he said.
It wasn't good fortune that made LHS the first team to repeat as 6A state champ since Topeka West in 1982-83.
TWO VICTORIES by senior distance runner David Johnston; a first-, second- and fifth-place finish by Howard Harris; a pair of open runnerup finishes and winning relay legs by Kendall Meade; and several other strong performances did.
"You have to be pleased we were able to repeat," Freeman said. "We placed fourth or better in every event, and we didn't take anybody by surprise."
The Lions scored nine fewer points than last year. But that, Meade said, was to be expected.
"Definitely people were shooting for Lawrence all year, and at state they got their chance," he said. "They get extra intensity."
LHS didn't win every event. Harris failed to defend his state high jump title, placing fifth.
But he did come back to win the 110 high hurdles in a school record 14.00. He took second in the 300 intermediate hurdles by .02 second, yet his time of 38.59 broke his own school record of 38.9.
"I WAS VERY very disappointed (after the high jump)," Harris said. "I was so disappointed that I went up in the stands and sat and started feeling sorry for myself. I couldn't believe I didn't win. . .that I almost didn't even place. I let my mind wander. That was the worst part.
"Then someone came over and said, `You have a chance to redeem yourself.' So I went out early to warm up and got my PR in the 110s. Then I had a good rest before the intermediates, and I ran my best in that."
Two other school records fell Saturday. Christian Adair and Joe Pickett both eclipsed the 400 standard set when Meade won the event at last year's state meet. Adair finished in 48.74, Pickett in 48.99. Meade's mark was 49.09.
Adair and Pickett both tucked in behind KC Wyandotte's Steven Henry, who set a new meet record, and rolled.
"HE BEAT the same person who beat me," Adair said, referring to Henry. "I was going to 48.5, and I figured if I stayed with him he'd pull me. I caught him in the first 100. We were about even, and I figured I'd stay with him, but the last 220 he took off. I guess he was stronger than I was."
Pickett wasn't shooting for a sub-49-second time.
"I expected to break 50, even though I'd never done it," Pickett said. "Coach kept telling me, `You can do it. You can do it,' and I thought that, too. By the time we crossed the finish line I heard the crowd and thought Steven must have run a great time, and I was pretty excited because I figured if he did, I did too."
The last school record came in the last event when Pickett, Brad Meade, Adair and Kendall Meade won the 1,600 relay in 3:17.97, improving on the mark they set at state last season.
Lawrence's girls placed 13th in the team standings with 19 points. Wichita Southeast won with 50.
"WE RAN pretty much according to form," Lion girls coach Steve Sublett said. "We were on a high and rolling last week at regionals, and we weren't quite able to maintain that edge. Still, they did a good job."
The biggest surprise on the girls side was senior Nicole Johnson's disappointing meet. Johnson, who transferred this year from Ottawa where she won three 5A titles in the 800, a 5A championship in the 1,600 and a cross country gold, anchored Lawrence's 3,200 relay to a fourth-place finish and claimed only a fifth in the open 800.
"Today wasn't my day," said a disappointed Johnson. "I don't know what it was. I don't know if it was the competition or that it was a cloudy day or what it was. I'll eventually learn from this."