Even though they were wearing masks Thursday night at Norman James Stadium, it was easy to tell that William Chrisman activities director Greg McGhee and track and field coach Tyler Rathke were smiling.
With a cavalcade of fireworks lighting up the sky above Independence’s oldest high school, the final race of the night was being run on the Bill Summa Track and the Independence School District Track and Field Meet was coming to an end.
"Even though everyone was wearing a mask," McGhee said, as he loaded hurdles onto an ATV, "I don’t think I’ve ever seen more smiles at a track meet. This was the perfect way to end the week."
Rathke, who pulled off the first COVID-19 pandemic track meet in state history, agreed with his good friend.
"See the kids smile, seeing them compete, made this a special night," Rathke said. "But what really made it special was the simple fact that we proved you can compete – in any sport – during this pandemic.
"Earlier in the week we did it with baseball, golf, soccer and tennis, and tonight we did it with track and field. Mr. McGhee, our coaches and volunteers made this a night none of these athletes will ever forget."
Athletes from Truman, Van Horn and the host Bears competed for what may be the last time for many of them. And while the night belonged to the seniors, many underclassmen attracted the spotlight.
The Falcons had the fewest number of competitors but came away with some of the most impressive performances.
Junior Arlandes Mitchell was a three-time medalist, taking first in the 100 (11.45), 200 (22.95) and 400 (53.09) meters.
"This night belongs to all the seniors, but I am so proud to have represented Van Horn tonight with three gold medals."
He paused for a moment, and grinned, adding, "They didn’t give out any medals, and that’s all right because I can come back next year and hopefully win some medals at the City Championship."
His teammate, junior Sean Mitchell, was a two-time winner, taking first in the triple jump (39 feet, 5.5 inches) and long jump (20-0.5)
"To be able to come out and perform is so very special to me and everyone here," Mitchell said. "I love competing. There is nothing I love more than competing.
"I like sports quotes, and there is one that says, ‘Never be satisfied.’ I am so happy to win two first-place medals for my school, but I am never satisfied because I know I can always do better."
Falcons football head coach William Harris, who is also part of the track and field coaching staff, was thrilled with the performance of the two young men who are expected to be two of his premier football players this fall.
"I’m so happy for everyone who got to compete," said Harris, who never took off his mask throughout the meet. "But I feel like we’re all living in a bad movie, a horror movie. I hope we can get back to normal soon so our kids can come to school and compete in the fall."
The Patriots dominated the distance events as Jewelia Nichol won the 1,600 (6 minutes, 23.72 seconds) and 3,200 (14:18.33) meters, Jack Getman won the 1,600 (4:47.62) and Josh Nunn won the 3,200 (10:14.22).
Truman also fared well in the sprints as Kennedy Rucker won the 100 (13.27) and 300-meter hurdles (51.70).
"I really didn’t feel like I won the hurdles because I was in the same heat with the boys," joked Rucker, "but I don’t care about that. It just felt so good to compete. We’ve been training about two weeks, and to come out and compete against the other schools was from Independence was great."
Truman coach Marcus Summers agreed.
"Our distance girls really exceeded our expectations, and Kennedy was Kennedy – she is just an amazing athlete," Summers said. "Our guys did great too. It just felt so good to compete!"
Other Truman winners were Branden Browning in the 110 hurdles (18.39), Lamourieaa Shaw in the shot put (33 feet, 6 inches) and Alexis McCullough in the javelin (98-2).
A Chrisman legend said goodbye in his final track and field meet and did it in high style as senior Isaiah Jackson, an all-state basketball player who is headed to Northwest Missouri State, won the high jump with a leap of 5 feet, 10 inches.
"Isaiah and Sam (Hawley, who played basketball, tennis and golf and was part of nearly every Chrisman activity the past four years) are representatives of what high school should be all about," Rathke said. "Isaiah is going to a great basketball program like Northwest Missouri State and he still finishes his track career tonight and he played for the golf team, with Sam, earlier in the week. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I respect those guys."
Wyatt Leutzinger was a two-time winner for the Bears. He cleared 13 feet to win the pole vault and won the 300 hurdles in 44.76 seconds.
"It was a hot, humid night but that really helped me warm up for tonight," Leutzinger said. "We owe Coach Rathke, the Independence School District and Mr. McGhee so much for having this meet. None of us thought we were going to be able to compete and we got to have some fun and compete tonight."
Jolee Spinks was a triple winner, taking the high jump (4 feet), the long jump (14-3) and the and the triple jump (30-10.75).
Other Chrisman winners were Comfort Dweh in the 200 (22.95); Lilly Miller in the 400 (1:18.24); Vailea Snead in the 800 (3:12.64); Tanner Jolley in the 800 (2:17.79); Ralph Covington in the shot put (41-10) and discus (129-3); Jaleena David in the discus (92 feet); Mason Walters in the javelin (133-5); and Reana Lagrone in the pole vault (9-3).
The event even had a couple of celebrity former Bears as Camryn Holloman and Tony Hilton, who were part of the track and field program and graduated last year, work the pit area, raking the sand after each jump.
To find out all the area results go to blacksquirreltiming.com.