John F. Russell: State meet brings end to season

For many of the athletes at Dutch Clark and Jefferson County stadiums, the State Track and Field Championships marked the end of the high school season. Football, basketball and wrestling have passed with the chilly weather of fall and winter. This day is fittingly hot -- a sure sign that summer has arrived and another school year is in the bag.

But for the athletes of the Class of 2004, the all-weather tracks of Dutch Clark and Jefferson County offered one last chance to compete at the high school level.

For the underclassmen, it seems a fitting place to bid farewell to another season of high school sports, and for the seniors it was the final page of their high school careers.

But nobody was ready to say goodbye this weekend, especially the athletes.

For two days, they competed in a full slate of activities ranging from the 100-meter dash to the 3,200-meter relay. There also was the long jump, triple jump and high jump.

The state track meet is a three-ring circus without the tent.

The sun overhead burns the skin of athletes, spectators and anyone who forgets to slap on enough sun block to deflect the harmful rays from the most delicate skin.

The fresh air is scented with the smell of $2 hotdogs and sweat. For the casual observer, the state track meet is a strange combination of athletics and an outdoor picnic.

But for the spectator who looks hard into the eyes of the athletes who have qualified, you know that this is about a lot more than just getting outside and running.

For the athletes who have overcome the odds to be among the few who have qualified to compete here, this is serious business.

Their desire to win is easy to see before their events.

It's unlike other state championships, where entire teams are vying for the title. In track, a state title is celebrated among a few athletes and coaches. There is no grand parade, no midfield celebration; just the satisfaction that comes with winning.

A perfect example was Andy deGanahl, who pocketed individual titles in the 200- and 400-meter dashes without any celebrations. He also won titles in the 800-meter relay and the 1,600-meter relay in similar fashion. He said the title he will remember the most came in the 1,600-meter relay, one he surely will remember for years to come.

There is a feeling of respect among the competitors at the state track meet. The athletes are the only ones allowed on the field, so the high-fives from coaches and parents must wait for a few moments.

Athletes go all out for 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600 and 3,200 meters to reach the finish line. There are tears of disappointment for the losers, but there also are tears of joy for the winners.

A few were happy to have won, but far more were left wondering what could have been.

But for all of them, Saturday marked the end of the year -- at least as far as athletics go -- and the final fleeting moments of the 2004 track season.

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