Spring sports championships bring inspiration and memories

For the second-consecutive year, I was not able to get to Columbus for the OHSAA State Track and Field Championships. Being a regular spectator for years, I miss the color and pageantry of the event. In the past, I’d attend the prelims on Friday and often returned for the finals Saturday.

Online I searched for the results of this year’s meet, particularly looking for Division III results. After scouring the podium finishers, I noticed the school that claimed the title and it brought back vivid memories from 2012.

West Liberty Salem won the girls state crown in 2019. Seven years earlier I witnessed one of the most inspirational moments in all the years that I have followed sports: The moment was offered by one Meghan Vogel from the aforementioned school.

Vogel qualified in two events for the state track meet that year. She won the mile early in the day. She also ran in the 3,200 race, but it was obvious from the beginning of the event she had spent all her energy in the earlier race. She quickly dropped to the back of the field and was soon well behind the other competitors.

When the 15th-place runner came around the fourth turn where I was seated, she started to wobble. She too was spent, and starting down the front stretch with only a few meters to go, she fell. As meet officials hurried toward the stricken runner, Vogel appeared.

She stopped and assisted Arden McMath, a young runner from Arlington High School, to her feet. She then put McMath’s arm around her shoulders and assisted her toward the finish line.

As the two struggled down the track in front of the stands, people rose and started cheering. It was moving to say the least and many people had tears in their eyes. When they reached the finish line Vogel removed the girls arm from her shoulder and placed her in front. Though the act was clearly a violation of the rules and both runners should have been disqualified, the meet official allowed the results to stand. Though he took much criticism for doing so, I was impressed with his decision. It was a moment I will never forget.

As I looked over the scoring for the girls champs, I noticed they had several people score points. Sometimes, a team can win a state championship with one or two athletes, but West Liberty won two relays (3,200 and 800) finished second in the 1,600 relay and fifth in the 400 relay.

A freshman reached the podium in the mile, another rookie placed in the 400. Two other underclassmen competed in the 800 and 3,200 but did not score. These four as well as a couple of others combined to run the relay races. There was no senior among them, so that bodes well for future years, though there are no guarantees.

I couldn’t help but wonder if these athletes had been in Columbus in 2012. Were they inspired by Meghan Vogel’s mile win and her incredible sportsmanship gesture? I would think so. Heck, I have even been inspired while watching the action at Jesse Owens Stadium. Many times I headed home thinking it was time to get in better shape.

Fortunately, that feeling had left me before I reached Tiffin!

The state softball tournament was held last weekend. I had written about the Lady Blue Jackets of New Riegel and their narrow loss to Antwerp in the regionals two weeks ago. Antwerp went on to win the state title, leaving the New Riegel girls with that “what if” feeling.

This week is the baseball championships in Akron. I find it interesting that Antwerp’s baseball team is playing. I wonder how often a school’s baseball and softball teams make it to state? Does one team gain inspiration from the other?

Another team that will play for a state baseball title is Jeromesville Hillsdale. It beat my alma mater Seneca East in the regionals. Hillsdale has been a frequent participant in the state softball tournament for years. I recall a pitcher from Hillsdale by the name of Susie Hardy, who beat some very talented New Riegel teams in the late 1970s. I recently delivered a car to a woman in the Jeromesville area and asked her if she knew Susie Hardy.

She responded with; “you know Aunt Susie?” A small world indeed.

Last year at the state baseball tournament the winner of the 1968 championship was honored after 50 years. That was Old Fort and I happen to know many of the members of that team as it too was my graduation year. This year a similar honor will be bestowed on the 1969 champion.

If you are interested you can drive to Akron today to watch New Riegel’s 1969 state baseball championship team be honored. Several members of this team are among my closest friends.

Imagine two successive state champions from Seneca County. That’s the beauty of the spring sports championships held this time of year. It inspires young people to work for a similar result and it provides memories for a lifetime.

Al Stephenson is a columnist for The Advertiser-Tribune.

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