The jaw-dropping performance by Pickerington High School Central in the state boys track and field championships June 1 at Ohio State had longtime officials, coaches and media members scrambling through the record books for answers.
The Tigers not only racked up a record 87 points to repeat as Division I champions, but they did so in amazing fashion, outscoring second-place Toledo Whitmer by a whopping 63 points. Olentangy Orange took third.
Central won all four relays en route to seven overall titles; both achievements are firsts in the 112-year history of the meet.
“You can never predict something like this in a state meet,” Central coach Jason Roach said. “Friday night, Evan Matthews tweaked a hamstring in the 110 hurdles, and we wondered if it all might start unraveling.
“People might look at two or three or four stars that we have, but we used every single one of the kids we brought here to chip in on the relay heats. To keep people fresh, we ran different kids to qualify through in the relays. Everyone contributed something to this.”
Denzell Feagin took home four gold medals, sweeping the 100 meters (10.67 seconds) and 200 (21.44) and anchoring the first-place 400 (41.49) and 800 (1:24.42) relays. The latter time broke the 14-year-old state record of 1:25.09 held by Cleveland Glenville and ranks No. 4 in the country. Other relay members were Matthews, Lorenzo Styles and Terry Simuel.
“We came in with that as a goal, to set that record,” Feagin said. “All the handoffs were smooth, and the legs were smooth. It was the perfect race.”
Matthews won the 300 hurdles (36.88) and ran on two of the relays. Simuel ran on three of the relay winners, and Styles and Garner Wallace on two each. Styles also chipped in a third-place finish in the 100. Central closed the show by winning the 1,600 relay (3:16.34).
“We really weren’t talking about winning all four relays or even thinking about it,” said Matthews, an Ohio State signee. “We kind of surprised people when we won that 4x8 relay on Friday, and everything just fell into place.”
Despite Pickerington Central’s dominance, other central Ohio athletes managed to shine in the big-school meet.
Area winners were Jaeschel Acheampong of Olentangy Orange in the long jump (24 feet, 2 3/4 inches), Sam Bethea of Mount Vernon in the 110 hurdles (14.42), Justin Braun of Thomas Worthington in the 400 (46.76) and Aman Thornton of Mifflin in the 800 (1:51.16).
For the third straight meet, Acheampong put out the mark to beat on his first jump.
“That really helps to get you relaxed knowing that the competition is chasing you,” Acheampong said. “After that first jump, I just did my thing without having to deal with the pressure. I didn’t even get here last year, so you can’t imagine how unreal this feels.”
In somewhat surprising fashion, Bethea became Mount Vernon’s first state track champion.
“My grandpa and I have been working toward this since I was in sixth grade,” Bethea said. “I got a very strong start, and after I got over the first couple hurdles, I thought ‘This race is mine’ and the competition took me the rest of the way.”
Just a freshman, Braun raised the bar on a potential dynasty in his specialty.
“I was running in the 49 (second) range almost all year, then I hit a 48, and as the competition got better, things just took off,” Braun said. “Honestly, I never knew I could achieve something like this.”
Thornton capped a remarkable postseason by holding off Dublin Jerome’s Elliott Cook at the finish.
“I graduated today, I’m halfway sick with asthma, I got clipped and tripped up halfway through the race and almost went down ... but I wanted a (championship) ring so badly,” said Thornton, a senior who said he had no college-scholarship offers before winning a regional a week ago. Kent State and Ohio State contacted him last week.
One day after high jumper Anthony Bowman became Africentric’s first state champion, teammate Anthony Tyler made it two by winning the Division III 300 hurdles (38.73).
“I had a goal from the beginning of the season to win state,” Tyler said. “I ended up winning the big four: the City, district, regional and now the state. I couldn’t be happier.”
Central Ohio boys collected 12 firsts, eight seconds and eight thirds on the weekend.