Wichita — Coming into this weekend's state track and field meet, Lawrence High sophomore Sylvester Birdsong had relatively no pressure on him.
He certainly wasn't favored to win the long jump, which was the only event in which he was entered. So why did Birdsong's stomach start tying itself in knots Friday when he began leaping into the pits at Wichita State University's Cessna Stadium?
"I mean, I really didn't feel much pressure out there," Birdsong said of his warm-ups. "Then I began looking around at all the top competitors in the state and started tensing up."
Despite his case of the jitters, Birdsong managed to keep his composure by leaping 22 feet, 93/4 inches good for the Class 6A crown.
"I actually started feeling more pressure out there to perform," Birdsong said of his first-ever state track experience. "I was pumping myself up to compete. It was unusual, and even though I didn't really think I'd have a chance to win it, it was cool."
Win it Birdsong did, and he was the lone city qualifier to claim gold on Friday. But both LHS and Free State High's boys teams put themselves in position to have top finishes today when the two-day meet continues.
"We're in good shape," FSHS coach Steve Heffernan said.
The Firebirds' standing might seem low at 16th place with four points, but their big-point scorers will participate today. Lawrence sits in a tie for fifth with Blue Valley Northwest with 12 points. Free State's girls are tied for 10th place, while the Lions' girls have yet to score.
The day didn't go so well for the smaller class schools, which had the majority of their events postponed Friday because of lightning and heavy rains later in the day.
Meet officials said that with the cooperation of the weather today, all those events could be made up. The field events that were postponed Friday will follow directly after today's regularly-scheduled events. The running events will not hold preliminaries, instead electing to use the top times from two heats.
While the conditions weren't dry Friday, several LHS and Free State participants performed well.
Free State's Adam Fitts finished fourth in the boys shot put, and Lauren Abney was fourth in the girls javelin.
"I think I really pulled a sophomore move," said Abney, who admitted she was a little disappointed that she didn't improve on her mark of 124-2 when she scratched on her last throw. "I kind of got nervous out there, but I definitely learned something for next time."
Still, Heffernan said Abney and Fitts provided a boost for the Firebirds along with pole vaulter Mike Zerwek, who tied for seventh with a jump of 12-feet, on a day when the Firebirds didn't expect to do much scoring.
LHS coach Jerry Skakal was more disappointed at the start of the day saying his team was performing about average than at the finish.
Along with Birdsong's gold, Skakal was pleased with both his girls and boys 1,600-meter relay teams.
"All day (today), whether we're running, jumping or competing, we'll know that we have something to shoot for with those two teams left," he said. "Whether we have a shot to move up a place in the standings in those last races, or we just leave the meet on a high note, it's awesome to have those two teams back there."
Free State's boys 1,600 relay team, which overcame last-lap deficits in both regional and Sunflower League victories, did it again in Friday's preliminary round.
Justin White hardly flinched though when he saw the nearly 7-yard deficit facing him when he took the baton. His big jump propelled teammates Damian Harden, Adrian Ludwig and Nick Ens to their best time of the season (3:25.24) during prelims.
"I really am surprised that we did that in these rough conditions," said Harden, who runs the first leg of the race. "But once Justin gets that baton, there ain't no one he can't catch. He's amazing."
But the gold medal on a not-so-golden day for track belonged to Birdsong.
"He just went out there and competed," Skakal said. "He had a flurry of good jumps and went out and proved that he belonged among the state's best."