At a typical track meet, winning an event carries a lot of weight. There’s a gold medal, big points for the winner’s team and the sense that a first-place finish is far more important than a good mark that doesn’t quite cut it in the medal or points departments.
Free State High’s Barrier Breakers meet Friday threw all of those track traditions to the northeast Kansas evening wind.
The idea for altering the scoring format first came to Firebirds coach Steve Heffernan last season after a large number of FSHS boys runners broke the five-minute mark in the 1,600-meter run and he wished there had been a way for all of them to gain recognition for that accomplishment.
Using that as a jumping off point, Heffernan hatched the idea for the barrier breakers meet. A time or distance was established for each track and field event and any athlete who eclipsed that mark earned both a medal and one point for his or her team. Instead of a team receiving 10 points for a first-place finish, it got one — the same amount it received for second, third, fourth or any other place (even 13th or 14th) that beat the established barrier. (Typically, a team gets eight points for second, six for third, five for fourth, four for fifth, three for sixth, two for seventh and one for eighth.)
At the end of the night, the barrier breakers for each school — girls and boys combined — were tallied, and Olathe East dominated the inventive meet, earning 87 points. Free State finished second with 57, scoring just one more point than its rival, third-place Lawrence.
On a night when victories by the Firebirds’ Alexa Harmon-Thomas in the 100 and 300 hurdles and the high jump didn’t carry nearly as much weight as usual, she said it didn’t bother her.
“I thought it was a cool idea, because it lets so many people have the opportunity to score for their team, and so many people from our team were able to compete today,” Harmon-Thomas said.
The athletes she spoke to from O-East, LHS, Shawnee Mission North, Topeka West and Bishop Miege agreed.
“Everyone loves it,” Harmon-Thomas related.
Free State sophomore Scout Wiebe produced the best throw in the javelin (118 feet), finishing just ahead of Lawrence’s Monica Howard (112-11).
Taking first for the Free State boys were Deshawn Berndt, who won the 200-meter dash, and Kain Anderson, who raced to first in both the 1,600 and the 3,200.
The LHS boys, meanwhile, had the best barrier-breaking marks in four events: Manny Romero won the javelin (163-11), Blake Hocking produced the top marks in shot put (62-2) and discus (151-5) and Philip Gabler won the long jump (21-1.5).
Athletes from both schools didn’t seem to mind being on equal footing with their barrier-breaking competitors.
Even though Hocking’s best throws in shot and discus made the same amount of difference in the final points as a fifth-place shot put from teammate James Kenney or a seventh-place discus throw from fellow Lion Jeffrey Moses, Hocking enjoyed the meet’s different feel.
“It’s more of a team-builder,” Hocking said.
Plus, LHS had a larger turnout than usual for its throwers because of the format.
“I had a little more of a fan group today,” Hocking said with a grin. “It was nice.”
Even a new Free State record in the 200-meter dash (21.42) by Berndt had as much bearing on the meet as a ninth-place finish by his teammate Reuben Wesley in the 110-meter hurdles. That didn’t matter to the new FSHS record-holder.
“I liked the fact that no matter what, you just had to run a certain time and you got a medal for it,” Berndt said, adding athletes weren’t as worried about the times of opponents in the lanes next to them.
In the boys long jump, 14 athletes broke the established barrier of 18-6, including Lawrence’s Steven Hill, Eric Parrish and Robert Lyan, and Free State’s Kyle Freese.
In the girls 800, 17 runners finished below the 2:40 barrier. Among them were Free State’s Bailey Sullivan (third), Molly McCord, Lynn Robinson and Logan Hassig, as well as the Lions’ Leah Gabler (fourth), Riley Shook, Michala Ruder and Brooke Braman.