JEFFERSON CITY – If you really want to know an individual, then get deep down into his soul and find out what makes him tick after he fails.
That’s what I did with Blue Springs High School’s Daniel Parker, the big man with an even bigger smile and even bigger athletic ability.
He failed to reach the finals in his specialty, the discus at Friday’s Missouri State Track and Field Championships in Jefferson City.
He came into the event with the No. 1 throw, and flamed out – failing to make the finals as his mother, Jenni, watched in disbelief from the stands.
After he made his final throw, he quietly packed his gear and quietly headed off to the Jefferson City High School grandstands to contemplate what had just happened.
How would he react when he competed in Saturday’s shot put competition?
Would he leave Blue Springs High School without a lasting legacy in track and field? He was one of the most celebrated football and basketball players in Wildcats history, and he really wanted to prove himself in the discus and shot put after failing to qualify for state in either event in 2017.
“I knew Daniel would come back strong in the shot put Saturday,” Blue Springs coach Joe Cusack said, “because that’s Daniel. He’s known adversity, and it’s made him stronger. We expected big things and he delivered.”
Parker threw a career-best 57 feet, 2.5 inches to finish second in the shot put to his good friend and fellow Division I football recruit Daniel Carson of William Chrisman, who won the event with a heave of 58-6.5.
“I knew Daniel was going to be my main competition, I could just see it from the way he was out there before the event,” Carson said. “He was focused. He was a man on a mission.”
And that mission wasn’t to redeem himself for personal glory. No, it was to score points for a Wildcats team that finished in a third-place tie with Kirkwood – the seventh year in a row Cusack’s teams have brought home state hardware.
“I am a child of God, and if it was God’s will that I go out and help my team get a trophy, so be it,” Parker said. “It was all in God’s hands. I worked hard to get here, and I re-evaluated myself after the discus. I was so disappointed, but I could not let that disappointment affect the way I threw today.
“There was too much on the line. No one on this team thinks about personal glory. We just want team success so we can keep that (trophy) streak alive. And I was able to go out and throw a personal best by about four feet. I was happy, very happy, to do that.”
Parker will soon head east to Columbia, Mo., where he is expected to play a role on the 2018 University of Missouri football team.
He is a young man with supreme confidence, the love of a great family – and when I say great family, I mean it. He has as much athletic ability as anyone who has ever worn the purple and gold.
And Saturday, I found out that his mental capacity to achieve greatness is on the same par as his physical ability. And when those two attributes mesh, greatness often happens.
• What a weekend for the Lee’s Summit North and Blue Springs boys track teams.
The Lee’s Summit Broncos won their first state crown since 2007 and the Blue Springs boys brought home state hardware for the seventh year in a row.
Both teams claimed their Class 5 state trophies in dramatic fashion as the Broncos needed a fifth-place or better finish in the final event of the day – the 1,600 relay – to claim first place while the Wildcats’ second-place finish helped them tie Kirkwood with 44 points for the third-place state trophy. Blue Springs had won three of the past four state championships.
I’ve said it many times, but the 1,600 relay is the most exciting event at a track meet, especially when it determines who brings home the hardware.
• Much like Parker, Tre’ Wheaton overcame a disappointing showing in the triple jump to win the long jump Saturday with a leap of 23-2 1/4. He is a young man who is going to enjoy great success in both the football and track and field programs at Northwest Missouri State University.
“I feel so good, so proud of our guys,” Cusack said. “We fed off Tre’ today. Winning that long jump was huge, huge!”
Wheaton said he was motivated by finishing second at state as a junior and his disappointing performance in the triple jump.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever felt this good,” Wheaton said. “I was second last year and I really wanted to win it this year and I was able to accomplish that. And it helps our team get some points, too, so it’s all good! And when you look at that marker and see you have the best jump, that’s a feeling you just can’t describe.”
• I wish I could describe what it was like to watch Blue Springs South senior Tori Findley compete during this memorable undefeated season. She wrapped up perhaps the best distance year of any Eastern Jackson County athlete with state wins in the 1,600 and 3,200. Her team earned a third-place state trophy (tying Liberty with 37 points).
When she stepped on the track, the race was over. No one – not even the star-studded field at the KU Relays – could catch Miss Findley.
Thank you for an amazing journey. The only thing more amazing than your running ability is your humble approach to life and your smile. Good luck at the University of Missouri.
• One final note, as I believe it is important to talk about the way the media is dealt with at the state tournament. I will never understand why, over a two-day period, someone who achieves a bit of power misuses it for all the wrong reasons.
A credentialed photographer asked an official if he might step aside so she could shoot the finish line of a race. The gentleman she was talking to stood still, blocking a lane, and another official stepped over and blocked another lane. She did not make a scene, confront the officials or stomp off in disgust, but when she showed me that photo she had tears in her eyes.
Another official grumbled out loud, “Why do we need to keep training you every year,” when a photographer took a step off the mat that protected the artificial turf at Pete Atkins Field. He really embarrassed the guy in front of his peers for no reason.
The list could go on and on.
Dr. Kerwin Urhahn, the Missouri State High School Activities Association director, is a class act. Every time we have visited over the years, he has been engaging and insightful. Perhaps he is not aware that many of the staff who work this prestigious event take a cue from Barney Fife’s one-bullet approach to dealing with the masses. In Barneys’ case it was shoot first, and ask questions later. That’s why Mayberry sheriff Andy Taylor just gave his bumbling sidekick one bullet.
At state, it’s shoot off your mouth first, then go out of your way to embarrass someone or make their job a bit harder. Then you can disappear for a year or so until the next state meet.
Dr. Urhahn, you are so much better than that. And I wish your state track meet was, too.