A few lingering afternoon rain drops couldn’t dampen the spirits of those gathered at Portage High School Thursday afternoon for the IHSAA Boys Track and Field Sectionals.
Varsity athletes from Chesterton, LaPorte, Michigan City, New Prairie, Portage, South Central (Union Mills), Valparaiso, Washington Township, Westville, and Wheeler high schools put every ounce of this season’s hard work on the line, and set their sights on advancing to Regionals.
The last few weeks of the season can be particularly challenging, with some many competitions stacked up back to back, explained Jared Nieves, sprints coach for Portage High School.
“All of our workouts from indoor season leading up to this are workouts based on [the athletes] being able to make it through those multiple events without feeling drained.”
As a recent Portage High School track and field alum himself, Nieves speaks from first-hand experience. It means a lot to him to be able to give back to a sport that gave him so much.
“When Coach Haas asked me to coach it was kind of like a no-brainer,” Nieves said. “Yeah, I’ll help out these kids. I’ll share my knowledge that was passed down to me.”
Teammates, and good friends, Cameron McKinney, Gabriel Viloria, and Lewis Williams from Valparaiso High School’s 4x100 relay team appreciated being able to work and compete alongside one another.
“Track is sometimes an individual sport, but when you’re working with a team you want to go harder ‘cause you want to do better with them,” McKinney said. “It feels good, ‘cause I’m running with my team. I’m doing this for my team.”
Viloria was especially grateful to be at sectionals this year, having not made it this far in last year’s competition. The group had made a big effort to get this far after struggling earlier in the season.
“At first our handoffs were kinda not that good, but then we started practicing them more and more,” Viloria said. “I think our handoffs are pretty good now. We’ve been working hard, and now we’re here.”
Williams, who had struggled to make time for practices between school and work during indoor season, was thrilled to have a home on the 4x100 relay.
“It feels good to be here with my friends, knowing that my friends are running with me,” Williams said. For Portage High School runner Tommy Elwood, this year’s outdoor season has felt like a big success.
“I’ve been working pretty hard,” Elwood said. “I had a rough indoor season but that all came together during outdoor. Everything kind of fell into place at the right time.”
Then, just as everything was coming together, Elwood lost his grandfather, and one of his biggest fans.
“He was at pretty much every race,” Elwood said. He was glad for the opportunity to get back on the track at sectionals and do his best.
“It means a lot, being here today,” he said. “I ran the conference meet on the same day as my grandpa’s funeral, so it was just a rough week last week. Today, I got another chance to run as fast as I could.”
Father and son coaching duo Dan and Marc Jones from Valparaiso High School enjoyed watching teammates support and encourage each other.
“You get a group of three or four kids in any given event and their times and their heights go up,” Marc said. “There’s a little bit of competition in practice.” Ultimately, events like these are about watching the kids’ hard work pay off, and having a good time.
“It’s a good group of kids to work with. It’s fun,” Dan said. “I have more fun than the kids do.”