After anchoring the 400-meter relay to a fourth-place finish in the Division I regional meet May 24 at Pickerington North, an exuberant Raymell Byrd celebrated with his Whitehall-Yearling High School boys track and field teammates.
The 400 relay capped a special day for the boys and girls teams, as the program qualified six athletes for the state meet Friday, May 31, and Saturday, June 1, at Ohio State.
After finishing seventh in the preliminary in 43.0 seconds and competing in the eighth lane for the final, Byrd teamed with Rashaad Strickland, Charles Miller and Christian Gordon to finish in 42.64 and capture the final automatic state berth in the event.
"They should celebrate," boys coach Aaron Johnson said. "This is why you coach and it makes you proud to see (them) making it count. We were ranked seventh and to jump to fourth like that, that's something. They didn't want to be left behind. They wanted to step up (and) they raced. They answered the call and stepped up to the challenge. I'm very proud of them."
Byrd, who was named ThisWeek's Super 25 football captain in the fall, will be making his first state appearance in track.
"We always have confidence in our team," Byrd said. "The lane doesn't matter. We all have to run the same distance. I love sports. I'm an athlete. I'm ready (for state). I love competition."
Senior Chris Ceasar also earned a state berth by finishing fourth in the 110 hurdles (14.44).
"I'm very happy," he said. "It's been a long time coming. I told myself I couldn't see myself going to state unless I qualify and make it myself. I'm ecstatic to be there."
The Rams' last state qualifier was 2013 graduate Abiel Kiflu, who qualified in the 800 in Division II in 2013 and finished sixth (1:55.88).
Also at regional, Hezekiah Freeman was seventh in the long jump (21 feet, 7 1/2 inches), Ceasar, Gordon, Miller and Keith Hodge were 11th in the 800 relay (1:32.04) and Byrd tied for 11th in the high jump (6-0). Keon Freeman was 13th (46-6 1/2) and Michael Bivens was 14th (44-2 1/4) in the shot put.
The boys tied for 17th (12 points) behind champion Pickerington Central (101) as 42 teams scored.
For the girls team, Leana Betts earned her first state berth by finishing third in the discus with a program-record throw of 126-7.
"It means a lot," Betts said. "It means that I'm good enough and all this work has paid off. I can do something big and not only win meets during the season, but actually go places and compete with people that I've never competed against before."
Betts accounted for her team's six points as the Rams tied for 27th behind champion Gahanna (89) as 38 teams scored.
"I think I was more excited," discus coach Alexis Kefauver said. "I cried as soon as I heard the (distance for the) third throw. She just left it all out there. ... She came out and had fun with it."
Baseball squad 'certainly improved'
First-year baseball coach Johnny DeRing was pleased with his team's progress.
The Rams finished 3-16 overall, but DeRing said the Rams showed signs of improvement throughout the season.
"The record obviously doesn't show it, but we certainly improved and all a coach can ask for is that we're better at the end of the year than we were at the beginning of the year," DeRing said. "If we can do that, we'll be all right."
Whitehall loses two players to graduation, including Mitchell Webb (INF/P), who batted a team-high .410 and was named first-team all-MSL-Ohio Division.
James Reed (INF/P/OF) was the other senior.
"They're going to leave two significant holes in the lineup," DeRing said. "Reed was very versatile. We put him into some tough spots."
Players eligible to return are juniors Michael Adkins (utility), Garin Barnes (utility), Bradley Buchert (utility), Khadafi Charles (INF), James Lehew (INF/P), Zy'Aire Pooler (INF), Drevon Pinkney (OF) and Corey Snyder (INF/P), sophomore Jace Peck (utility) and freshman A.J. Scott (utility/P).
Whitehall went 0-8 in the MSL-Ohio to finish fifth behind champion Bexley (7-1).
DeRing said Buckeye Valley will join the league next season.
"They're top-notch," he said. "They're very competitive. They're a large program for being such a small community."