Calling Travis Napper of the Olentangy Orange High School boys track and field team a pioneer would, given the school's nickname, simultaneously be a pun and the truth.
A senior and the Pioneers' first wheelchair track athlete, Napper has enjoyed a standout season after overcoming a few early obstacles and is within a week of clinching a berth in at least two events in the state meet June 7 and 8 at Ohio State.
"It's just been a great experience, starting something new and starting something I hope to become a tradition throughout the state and even just here in the (Olentangy school) district to do this for the kids who have disabilities," said Napper, who has spina bifida and walks with help from braces.
Last June, the Ohio High School Athletic Association added wheelchair competitions to the state track meet, beginning this season, in the shot put and the 100, 400 and 800 meters.
Orange boys coach Buck Weaver and girls coach Ingrid Simpson immediately thought of Napper, who tried out for the baseball team as a freshman and has played wheelchair basketball for four years. Simpson approached Napper in the hallway this past winter and didn't need to do much talking.
The idea was an immediate hit with both Napper and the team. Napper is front and center in the team picture, sitting on the bike-like apparatus on which he races.
"I think it's cool that he has these opportunities and we get to watch him do his thing," senior Josh Parker said. "He has the spotlight when he's competing. Everyone stops running and we get to watch him. It's really cool. That he is our teammate makes it that much better."
Napper pushes himself around the track on the bike. To get it to turn fully, he pulls back on a screw located on the left side of the bike. It had issues in the first two meets of the season, including rubber coming off the rims of two of its tires, but that didn't stop him from easily meeting the qualifying marks in two events to compete at state. His throw of 14 feet, 3 1/2 inches in the shot put April 30 shattered the state standard of nine feet. Needing to break 40 seconds to qualify in the 100, he did so with a 23.81 effort April 12 in the Panther Invitational at Hilliard Darby.
Napper has yet to qualify in the 400 and 800, but he will compete in all four of his events in the OCC-Capital Division meet Thursday, May 16, and Saturday, May 18, at Hilliard Bradley.
"When I contact the other coaches about Travis competing, all of them are awesome about it," Weaver said. "Track meets are so schedule-oriented, one event right after the other, so you do have to schedule it and work it in. But all of them are great about it, 100 percent."
While Napper has qualified for state, he won't be certain if he is competing until the entry submission deadline of 11:59 p.m. Sunday, May 19. Even if an athlete meets the state's standards, he or she must be in the top eight of his or her event to participate.
Whereas Napper uses a modified bike for his track events, he uses a standard wheelchair in the shot put and makes a few downward motions to gather momentum before he throws.
"He gets up to the front of the ring facing out as if he were about to throw, he locks it in and he just goes straight down and up a few times and throws it," said Orange senior thrower Katelyn Daniels, a Michigan State signee. "It's really interesting to see someone with his work ethic. He's always out here practicing strides and stuff. Plus, it's a special opportunity to work with him."
Napper also participates in marching band and is instrumental in Rachel's Challenge, an anti-bullying initiative. He plans to start college at Columbus State and seek a wheelchair basketball scholarship, eventually transferring to Wright State.
"It's been a great opportunity for him this year and it's been awesome for him," Weaver said. "It's been awesome for everybody."
Liberty boys, girls finish 2nd at Elite 8
For the first time this season, the Liberty girls team fell short of an invitational championship when it finished second (146) behind host Big Walnut (159) in the Delaware County Elite 8 meet May 9.
The Patriots got wins from three sophomores -- Stephanie Paul in the 400 (1:00.83), Claire Wiles in the 800 (2:20.79) and Trinity Wiles in the 3,200 (12:15.47) -- and their 3,200 relay (9:51.57).
Rounding out the girls field were Orange (84), Olentangy (54), Buckeye Valley (39), Delaware (36), Delaware Christian (2) and Village Academy (1).
Daniels won the shot put (46-1 1/2) and discus (149-11), and Olentangy sophomore Emily Ginter won the high jump (5-2).
Powered by senior Zach VanGundy's wins in the 1,600 (4:26.96) and 800 (2:00.15), the Liberty boys were second (127) to Big Walnut (131). The Patriots' 800 relay also won (1:32.78) as Liberty and Big Walnut finished ahead of Olentangy (97), Delaware (69), Orange (57) and Buckeye Valley (42).
Olentangy's wins came from its 400 (43.68) and 1,600 (3:28.66) relays, and senior Colin McShane in the 200 (22.79).