I can’t imagine a better place to celebrate my 30th anniversary at The Examiner than with some of the finest athletes and coaches in Eastern Jackson County at the Missouri Track and Field Championships this past weekend.

I can’t imagine a better place to celebrate my 30th anniversary at The Examiner than with some of the finest athletes and coaches in Eastern Jackson County at the Missouri Track and Field Championships this past weekend.

If you’ve never been to a state competition, do yourself a favor and head to Jefferson City’s Dwight T. Reed Stadium next year to witness the type of heartwarming moments that so often go hand-in-hand with big-time sports events.

Two young ladies from Eastern Jackson County stole the show as the one-and-only Samantha Nightingale finished her brilliant prep career with two exclamation points and sophomore sensation Asia Cole gave us a glimpse of her golden future in the shot put and discus.

Nightingale, the premier cross country runner in the Midwest, will leave a legacy at Blue Springs South that now includes two gold medals in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters to go along with the gold medals she earned the past two years in the state cross country competition.

“She’s one of a kind,” South coach Ryan Unruh said. “I feel so fortunate to have coached her the past four years.”

And I feel so fortunate to have witnessed her rise to area stardom. I can’t believe the quiet, timid freshman I interviewed in Sharon Cole’s office at the Blue Springs Freshman Center has become one of the most amazing athletes and finest young ladies I’ve written about the past three decades.

Cole, who has been an amazing three-sport athlete at Fort Osage, found her niche this past weekend as she won both the shot put and the discus.

Her calm demeanor and steely determination – along with an amount of God-given talent that doesn’t seem fair to us mere mortals – could signal the beginning of something that could go beyond high school and college to reach Olympic standards.

Everyone loves a good story, and there were enough to fill an entire sports page at Jefferson City over the weekend.

Blue Springs senior Tyonna Snow promised her mother she would go out for track her senior year, and The Examiner’s Basketball Player of the Year wound up winning three medals – in the long jump and two relays.

I may never witness a better all-around female athlete than Snow – although Cole is certainly in the Blue Springs senior’s ZIP code.

Truman’s Sara Ruckman (appendicitis) and Roy Bay (compound fracture of his left ankle) overcame serious medical issues to medal for the first time at state. Ruckman, a three-sport standout who is the class of her senior class, finished third in the 800 and Bay, a determined junior, was fourth in the 100. Ruckman earned her dream medal and Bay learned that he’s going to have to take it up a notch to come home with the gold his senior year.

How about that William Chrisman third-place 400 relay team? Junior Nieka Wheeler – another amazing all-around athlete – and the freshman trio Crystal Cook, Kyana Mason and Di’Jionae Calloway broke their own school record for the fourth time this season and pretty much stunned everyone at state with their performance.

And no one had a brighter, or wider smile, on the top rung of the state championship podium than Lee’s Summit North senior Remy Abrought, who finally emerged from the shadows of her former teammate – the two-time state champion Madison Smith – to win gold in the 100 hurdles.
Her smile was as brilliant as her performance.

And I can’t write about state without a mention of Kris Solsberg, one of the classiest coaches and gentlemen I have met over the past 30 years. He made the Lee’s Summit North boys track and field team a powerhouse. He is saying goodbye to coaching and teaching and he will be missed.
Finally, the smile on Joe Cusack’s face, when he learned his Blue Springs boys team finished in a second-place tie with McCluer, provided my favorite Kodak moment.

His Wildcats were 25th at state last year and helped Cusack bring home the school’s first state trophy since 1998. Whether he’s leading cheers in front of the student section at a basketball game or working with the Wildcats track team, he is a guy who bleeds purple and gold. I am so honored to have been standing in the shadows at Lincoln University when his team stepped on the podium to receive its second-place trophy.

Like I said earlier, you had to see it to appreciate it.