Wichita Lawrence High senior hulk of a man Chebon Dawes stepped down off the medal platform, received congratulatory handshakes from his competitors, rubbed the medal that pronounced him a state champion and looked at the grassy hill beside the shot-put pit and then into the stands of Wichita State’s Cessna Stadium.
He was searching for the two people he wanted to be the first to whom he would show his shot-put-champion hardware from the 99th annual Kansas state track and field meet.
“My mom and dad,” Dawes said, rubbing his eyes to keep them from raining. “They might not think I can hear them when I’m competing, but I hear them in my head.”
Dawes had just won the shot put by dropping the 12-pound steel weight 54 feet from where he released it, a personal best, when he was asked a question there was no way he wasn’t going to answer correctly.
“Bill Nieder,” he said, asked to name the most famous athlete from Lawrence High ever to compete in the shot put. “I walk past his name every day before I go to gym. We have his picture in the rotunda. I always look at that and see the expression on his face. That’s what it took to get up on the wall.”
The expression of all-out exertion, the expression that Dawes sported Saturday afternoon on his way to becoming an individual state champion the same day his school’s baseball team won the state title.
Dawes didn’t set the school record. Nieder still holds that (60 feet, 93⁄4 inches) 57 years later. Four years after becoming the first high school athlete to eclipse 60 feet with a 12-pound shot, Nieder won the silver medal in the Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia, as a senior at Kansas University. Four years after that, he won the gold medal in Rome. He twice set the world record in the event.
“He threw it a lot farther than I did,” Dawes said.
Still, Dawes always can say he belongs to the same club as Nieder in that both men won a state title in the same event for Lawrence High. That clearly meant a lot to him.
As LHS coach Jack Hood hollered instructions — such as, “Faster. You’re too slow in the middle. Faster!” — from the bleachers next to the pit, Dawes’ parents, teammates and the school’s assistant coaches watched from the hill. One teammate, senior Will Pendleton, already had earned eight points for LHS, which finished seventh in the boys team standings. Pendleton placed second in the pole vault, clearing 13-6. A year ago, the best he could do in the regional meet while failing to qualify for state was 11 feet. Pendleton attributed the improvement to a summer camp at Blue Valley North and regular in-season workouts with former Blue Valley North vaulter Todd Dorsey, now a KU student who doesn’t compete for the track team.
Dorsey and Pendleton worked out at Free State a few days a week because Lawrence High doesn’t have a pole vault pit. In last week’s regional meet, Firebirds vaulter Zach Mehl finished ahead of Pendleton, but couldn’t clear 13-6 this time and finished sixth with a vault of 13 feet for Free State, which finished tied for 17th in the team standings.
“Flying through the air like that is just so much fun,” Pendleton said. “I also enjoy the technical work. It’s a lot of form work. I like thinking about it.”
Pendleton’s memorable day included hanging out with former KU javelin thrower Scott Russell, an Olympian for Canada. Russell coached the javelin throwers for LHS this season.
“It’s a really good feeling to have an Olympic athlete tell you ‘Great job,’’’ Pendleton said.
LHS also had a strong showing in the 4X800 relay. The foursome of Ben Wilson, Roy Wedge, Jon Gabler and Calvin Morgan clipped seven seconds off its previous best with an 8:01.74, good for fifth place.
Lions 100-meter hurdler Whitney Demby prevented the girls from getting shut out in the team standings by registering a 16.62, a seventh-place finish that earned a point for her team.
The Free State girls placed 13th with 15 points, 13 earned by Drue Davis, two by Kyra Kilwein.
Davis followed up Friday’s state title in the pole vault with a fifth-place finish in the 100 meters Saturday. She was timed in 12.63.
“I was really happy with fifth, especially since the competition is insane this year with Leavenworth and Olathe East,” Davis said.
The Leavenworth sprinters to whom Davis referred produced the most awe-inspiring performance of the meet, blazing to a 47.27 time in the 4X100, the fastest time ever run in the state of Kansas by high school girls.
A junior, Davis will return to the meet next season. Kilwein, who placed sixth in the 1,600 meters with a 5:13.52, wrapped up her strong Free State career that included a fifth-place finish in the state cross country meet.
Kilwein will continue her distance-running career at KU. Classmate J.D. Wiebe, who placed fourth in the 800 meters with a 1:56.94, also will attend KU, but said he hasn’t yet spoken to coach Stanley Redwine about the possibility of walking on.
Nobody at the meet ran a more aggressive race than Wiebe. He quickly moved toward the head of the pack and with about 250 meters left took the lead and held it until being passed at about the 50-meter mark.
“I knew that if I stayed in the back I’d probably get caught behind the pack, so I wanted to make sure I was out in front with a chance to go,” Wiebe said. “One thing I’m able to do that some other runners aren’t is to be able to kick for 250 meters. Usually, that works better for me than just kicking the last 100.”
Firebirds junior Keene Niemack kicked for 400 meters, placing third in the event with a 49.17. As did Wiebe, Niemack peaked at the perfect time, breaking 50 seconds for the first two times Friday and Saturday.
“We’ve worked on getting through my first 200 a little quicker, in about 23, then finishing in 26,” Niemack said. “I’m going for 48 (seconds) next year and a state title. That’s my goal.”
Wiebe and Niemack teamed with Nash Riggins and Chase Hoag in the 4X400 relay to pick up a point in the meet’s final event with a seventh-place finish.
Manhattan placed first in the boys’ team standings, and Olathe East won the girls’ competition.