Thomas Worthington High School boys track and field coach Andy Cox believes the Gary Smith Invitational could be a breakout meet for his team.

Thomas Worthington High School boys track and field coach Andy Cox believes the Gary Smith Invitational could be a breakout meet for his team.

The Cardinals will play host to the annual meet -- originally called the Worthington Invitational before being renamed in 2001 in honor of former track and cross country coach Gary Smith -- on Saturday. Field events will begin at noon and running events will start at 12:30 p.m.

"We're aiming for the Gary Smith to be our coming-out party," Cox said. "I'm actually excited to see what we can do. What we've shown so far is not very much, but that's OK. We roll with what we have. We're improving."

Smith, who died of pancreatic cancer at 53 in June 1998 after coaching more than 30 years in the Worthington School District, retired as boys track coach after the 1996 season but continued to work with the distance runners until his death.

Cox, who had served as an assistant under Smith, took over before the 1997 season.

"We just ran into (former Kilbourne coach and former Thomas assistant) Matt Chrispin and we were reminiscing about Gary and the time we spent with him," he said. "We all have stories about Gary.

"I'm always asking myself, 'What would Gary do?' I kick myself because I didn't ask him more questions. I was a young coach (when Smith died). I often say, 'Man, I wish I (had been) more of a sponge and soaked up more (coaching and training advice) from Gary.'"

Girls coach Nancy Beattie was hopeful in the days leading up to the meet Smith's wife, Nicki, would speak to the athletes about her late husband.

"She normally comes in and talks to them to keep his spirit alive," Beattie said. "It's really important to keep his memory alive.

"I think about him a lot, not just at the Gary Smith but at the OCC and district meets. Anybody who's been around awhile knew Gary, and everybody has a story to tell."

Beattie believes Smith "would be very proud" of the Gary Smith Invitational.

"I think it's a really quality meet," she said. "And not just because we do it."

Sixteen boys teams, including Thomas, will compete. The others are Beechcroft, Brook-haven, Cleveland St. Ignatius, Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit, Dublin Coffman, Dublin Scioto, Grove City Christian, Mifflin, Northland, Shaker Heights, Solon, Upper Arlington, Watkins Memorial, Westerville Central and Whetstone.

"It's going to be a pretty strong field," Cox said.

Fourteen girls teams will be participating, including the Cardinals. The others are Beechcroft, Cleveland St. Joseph Academy, Coffman, Grove City Christian, Mifflin, Northland, Scioto, Shaker Heights, Solon, Upper Arlington, Watkins Memorial, Westerville Central and Whetstone.

"It's going to be a really solid meet," Beattie said.

Last season, the boys team finished fourth (69) of 14 teams behind St. Ignatius (145), Solon (121) and Walsh Jesuit (82.5). The girls team was second (110.5) of 13 teams behind Solon (128.5) after winning the meet the previous four seasons.

The boys team last won the meet in 2006.

ĽAREA LEADERS -- Thomas senior Allie Wood set the program record in the pole vault for the sixth time by clearing 11 feet, 5 inches in the Dublin Coffman Invitational on April 18. The previous record was 11-4, which she set last season when she was 10th at the Division I state meet.

Wood's latest record-breaking height ranked her first in the pole vault on the area honor roll last week.

Also on the honor roll were Claire Graupmann in the 800 meters (2 minutes, 26.28 seconds), Jamie Meegan in the discus (117-5), the 400 relay (51.24) and the 3,200 relay (10:04.89). Kilbourne did not have any girls among the area leaders.

Among the leaders for the boys were Kilbourne's Brian Skura in the discus (160-1) and Joe Huber in the pole vault (13-6).

At a glance

Below are recent results and the coming schedule for the Kilbourne and Thomas boys and girls track and field teams:

KILBOURNE

*April 21 -- Boys: Lost to Westland 65-63; Girls: Defeated Westland 109-28

Last Friday -- Boys: Finished fifth (36) in five-team Lancaster Fulton Relays behind champion Pickerington North (84); Girls: Finished third (61) in four-team field behind champion Hilliard Darby (89)

*Last Tuesday -- Competed against Hilliard Davidson

Friday -- At Gahanna Invitational

*Tuesday -- Home vs. Central Crossing

THOMAS

*April 21 -- Boys: Lost to Dublin Coffman 91-37; Girls: Tied Coffman at 64

Last Friday-Saturday -- Boys: Finished 10th (23) in 16-team Eastlake North Ranger Relays behind champion Solon (147); Girls: Finished third (76) in 16-team field behind Cleveland Collinwood (92) and Solon (89)

*Last Tuesday -- Competed against Westland

Saturday -- Home Gary Smith Invitational

*Tuesday -- Home vs. Hilliard Darby

*OCC-Central meet